Land Bank Acquires Beachfront Properties, Inland Sheep Pasture

By IAN FEIN

The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank this week announced a series of conservation acquisitions that will expand the size of two of its existing up-Island preserves.

A scenic sheep pasture on Middle Road will bring the Tiasquam River Reservation in Chilmark to 110 acres, and four new barrier beach parcels purchased in West Tisbury will double the size of the land bank's Tisbury Great Pond Beach, resulting in a total of 400 feet of south shore oceanfront that will be formally opened to the general public for the first time this year.

The land bank purchased the beach parcels for a total of $480,000, and will buy the 11-acre Middle Road property for $1.65 million.

"The land bank always looks for freestanding properties of significance. But we also stand on the borders of our existing reservations and look over the stone walls to see if something makes sense," land bank executive director James Lengyel said this week. "In both these cases, looking over the boundaries made sense."

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Long eyed by the land bank for preservation, the sheep pasture is located next to Brookside Farm, straddles the Chilmark-West Tisbury town line and offers up-close views of a freshwater pond created by a dam on the Tiasquam River.

The land bank this week signed an agreement to purchase the pasture from current owner Polly Murphy. The agreement includes provisions that will allow Mrs. Murphy to retain ownership of her home, and also allow Allen Healy, who operates Mermaid Farm and Dairy on the other side of Middle Road, to continue to lease the pasture for his sheep. The agreement also includes a series of trail easements, which will help the land bank in its efforts to connect the Tiasquam River Reservation to the King's Highway trail.

Mr. Lengyel said a draft management plan for the larger Tiasquam reservation, which is not yet open to the public, may be released later this year. The land bank purchased 90 acres of the property in 2004, and last spring added another nine-acre Middle Road pasture to the reservation. Located primarily on the northern side of Middle Road, the larger Tiasquam property also abuts at its rear the Waskosim's Rock Reservation. Added together, the two land bank properties will now total almost 300 acres of continuous protected land.

Chilmark resident Christopher Murphy, who lives near his mother Polly on the other side of the Tiasquam, said his family was happy to work with the conservation organization because they enjoy walking on land bank trails across the Island. He said the sale would also help them avoid future estate taxes, which could have forced the family into selling the land later as house lots.

"It was very important to my mother to protect the land, and to keep it in the best condition we can," Mr. Murphy said this week. "Now what you'll always see from Middle Road is a pastoral view of fields and animals. Who could beat that?"

The land bank's acquisition of the barrier beach parcels in West Tisbury will not only double the size of its holdings there, but should also resolve some issues that arose in its earlier plans for the Tisbury Great Pond Beach property.

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The new beach parcels are located directly to the east of a stretch of beach purchased by the land bank three years ago for $320,000 through a straw agent representing a blind trust.

During the cloaked negotiations for those earlier lots, the land bank agreed to deed restrictions that limited the total number of people allowed on the 200-foot stretch of beach to 28 people. But when the land bank released its management plan for the beach this winter, other pondfront property owners argued that enforcement of those restrictions - by delineating property lines and regulating access - would have dramatically altered the traditional use and unregulated character of the barrier beach.

In an attempt to rectify what he saw as problems with the land bank plan, Island real estate agent Robert Kendall contacted the land bank in January and helped arrange a deal with longtime Island seasonal residents Nicholas and Lydia Katzenbach, who sold their three nearby beach parcels to the land bank for $360,000. Seasonal residents Richard and Diana Reische, who owned the remaining strip sandwiched between the land bank lots, agreed later to sell their parcel to the land bank for $120,000 also.

The land bank in its press release about the acquisitions this week noted that none of the new beach parcels contain deed restrictions.

Mr. Kendall said all of the parties involved were pleased with the result of the transaction.

"Given what the land bank had done before, they had kind of painted themselves into a box. And seeing how that's Island money, I just assumed it be spent and used well," Mr. Kendall said.

"We didn't go through a straw," he said. "We were very open, and talked to the neighbors. And now, I think this will be a first-class recreational opportunity and not a political hot potato. Maybe we can get back to people just enjoying the beach."

Mr. Lengyel said the land bank will incorporate the new parcels into the management plan it approved for the Tisbury Great Pond Beach this winter. The property should be open to the public sometime this spring, with the land bank's Sepiessa Point Reservation - off Tiah's Cove Road on the other side of the pond - as the official access point to the barrier beach.

Mr. Kendall encouraged people to visit the property.

"It's almost a spiritual experience out there," he said. "Even if you only go out once in your life - by kayak or sunfish - it's an experience of a lifetime."