An approved subdivision that could have placed up to half a dozen septic systems in West Tisbury’s Mill Brook watershed will instead remain undeveloped, following a Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchase and another expected to close later this month.

Land bank executive director James Lengyel said his organization has an agreement to purchase 26 acres near Priester’s Pond for $2.5 million from Stillpoint Meadows LLC and its principal, Claudia Miller.

Map by Graham Smith

“It’s important for conservation because it’s right on the Mill Brook [and] anything in the Mill Brook valley goes into the [Tisbury] Great Pond,” Mr. Lengyel said.

“So it’s septic systems taken out of the picture. It’s more than just conservation in the Mill Brook valley, it’s reducing the septage.”

Ms. Miller is also selling an adjoining 14 acres, including a barn built by South Mountain Co., for $2.3 million to a new nonprofit led by Thomas Bena, the founder and former executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.

Initially consisting of 52 acres, the property — once the site of small mills along the brook — was owned by a Connecticut developer, who obtained approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in 1988 to create a subdivision called Priester’s Pond.

Although the commission approved the subdivision as a development of regional impact (DRI), the property was never developed.

Ms. Miller purchased it in early 2008, and in 2012 built a 2,700-square-foot barn, which she used as an event and art space.

In April 2019, Ms. Miller placed her 47-acre property, consisting of 13 lots, two houses and the 2,700-square-foot barn, on the market for $17 million. The price was later reduced to $10.5 million.

One of the 13 lots, a three-acre parcel that included one of the houses, was sold in September 2021 for $3.25 million to William and Cynthia Cavanaro of Cohasset, land records show.

The second house and a shared open space account for two more lots, with the land bank and Mr. Bena’s foundation purchasing the rest.

Mr. Lengyel credited Ms. Miller and the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation’s land protection fund for making it possible to keep the land undeveloped.

“The land bank is very grateful to Claudia Miller for having had the vision and the will to put so much of this property into conservation,” he said. The donor-supported land protection fund is modeled after one created on Chappaquiddick some years back, aimed at making up shortfalls in funding on conservation purchases.

Mr. Bena’s new Stillpoint foundation — he said he obtained permission from Ms. Miller to use the name — aims to make the barn a gathering place for thoughtful conversations, similar to the Inwards series of talks held as part of the film festival’s 2019 schedule.

“Every event I went to, it just felt like an epiphany,” Mr. Bena said.

“That was really when the lights went on for me: Although I really love film, that wasn’t my future any more,” he said.

Vineyard Haven architect Ben Robinson has been Mr. Bena’s longtime advisor in exploring potential land purchases, first for the film festival and more recently for his new nonprofit.

“We were really close on some properties, and even up to the point when Stillpoint came on the scene we were really close on other properties,” Mr. Robinson told the Gazette in a telephone conference call with the foundation organizers Thursday morning. “This one just seems so perfect,” he continued. “It was magical that there was a building.” While the barn will need some work, such as the addition of an accessible bathroom, it is largely in turn-key condition, Mr. Robinson said.

Better still, its existence removes the need to build something new on finite Island land.

“That was always a question that arose,” said Mr. Robinson. “As we think about development on the Island we need to be reusing and repurposing what we have, and not think we can just continually add to it.”

The quality of the barn is a boon, as well, Mr. Robinson said. “It’s really well built [and] well thought out. It is a building a not-for-profit would have a hard time building,” he said. “It can be open to a broad spectrum of our community — as broad as we can imagine.”

Educator Jake Davis, who proposed and co-curated the Inwards talks on topics such as power, extinction, civility and dying, is working with Mr. Bena on designing Stillpoint’s programming.

Mr. Davis described the vision as “creating a forum, a space where people with a whole range of different views and different opinions on different topics can really understand each other [and] how they came to the values and the views that they have.

“Something happens when we approach someone with the attitude that, there’s a good reason you feel the way you do,” he continued. “We can find out where people are coming from, and that makes for a very different conversation than when we’re just trading insults.”

Dana Nunes, organizer of the Beetlebung Corner kneel-ins after the George Floyd killing in 2020, is another member of Mr. Bena’s advisory circle.

“He came and spoke to me about this project that he had in mind,” she said. “This new endeavor . . . to me sounded absolutely wonderful.”

A longtime film festival volunteer, Ms. Nunes attended one of the Inwards talks in 2019.

“To see that happen more fully in the community would be a wonderful thing,” she said. “No matter what you think or what side you vote on, if we can get people to come together and have a civil conversation, without interrupting and without judgment — to listen to what the other person is saying and try to see their viewpoint — I can’t think of anything more important right now.”

The property itself will be a spectacular addition to the Island’s open spaces, she added.

“It’s like the Onassis property,” Ms. Nunes said. “Thank God for the land bank.”

Outside these broad strokes, the nonprofit’s plans are still developing, Mr. Bena said. He wants to hear what West Tisbury town officials have to say about using the property, first.

“The town permitting process is going to be interesting,” Mr. Bena said. “We’re going to the May 2 planning board meeting.”

Stillpoint organizers also want to know what everyday Islanders think and would suggest.

“That’s the whole point of Stillpoint, is discourse,” Mr. Bena said.

Audience sizes would likely be no more than 20 to 40 people by day and perhaps 90 or 100 for an evening event, he said, describing early plans.

As for when Stillpoint programming might begin, Mr. Bena said it would likely be after the summer.

“We would love to be up and running, but I know we have to tread carefully,” he said.