Recently, Councilor Grace Klinger and I have been asked why we voted against conducting an appraisal of the property located on Carolina Back Rd (Map/lot 25-10).
We both value the town's open space and rural character and support responsible management of the town-owned properties. The town must determine how we are going to manage and maintain that open space before acquiring more property with walking trails that will need maintenance.
Currently, the town owns seven properties, termed “open space,” totaling more than 460 acres. Six of these have walking trails that are maintained by the Charlestown Conservation Commission. This volunteer commission is responsible for monitoring these properties, ensuring safe passage, and keeping the trails clear.
Additionally, the town owns more than 26 other properties that the Conservation Commission must monitor on a yearly basis. The town also owns various other properties that no one monitors.
There are several reasons we voted against the appraisal of the Carolina Back Rd. property.
1. Before purchasing more land with walking trails, the Town Council should first develop a plan to manage what is currently owned. The DEM grant requires walking trails and a parking lot. This takes time and money. The town cannot rely on seven volunteers to maintain seven properties. The parcel on Carolina Back Rd would add 90 acres, totaling more than 550 acres that seven volunteers would be responsible for. Until a few years ago, the town only budgeted around $4000 for the Conservation Commission, which barely covered signage, chain saws, saw blades, kiosks, etc. Two years ago, I advocated to put $19,000 in the budget, and the council agreed. This paid to hire outside companies to help clear and maintain the trails. It is dangerous, and a huge liability to have volunteers using chainsaws on town-owned property. Thankfully, no one has been injured so far. Before the town acquires more open space, it needs to develop a responsible plan for how to manage and maintain the land owned. It will likely need to hire either a Property Steward or add the responsibility to an existing department. Either option will require additional funding, and likely additional staffing for the Department of Public Works.
2. When the town partners with other agencies in purchasing property, we are then bound by the terms of the agreement which will limit what we can do on the property. A perfect example is Blue Shutters Beach. Because the town accepted money from outside sources at the time of purchase, parking cannot be restricted to "residents only."
3. The most recent open space bond did not garner the same level of support as previous bonds that were approved for open space and/or recreation. The town doesn't have much bonding authority left for open space purchases. We need to choose our bonding options wisely. There are currently more than 10,000 acres of conservation and open space land in Charlestown owned by various agencies. Approximately 20 years ago, the voters of Charlestown approved a bond for $2 million for open space and/or recreation. When that money was spent, the voters approved another bond for $1 million and then in 2006, the voters approved a third bond for $2 million for open space and/or recreation. All three were approved overwhelmingly, with the last $2 million for open space/recreation being spent approximately seven years ago. The council in 2015, placed a question on the ballot for an open space bond for $2 million with no recreation component. It passed by only 11 votes. Slightly over $1 million of the $2 million from 2015 has already been spent. Based on the results of the last bond vote, there are no guarantees that future open space bond referendum would be approved.
We believe before we acquire any more land, we need to develop a responsible plan for managing what we currently own and for future purchases as well.
All too often, information that is not factual gets printed and I believe this is part of what leads to the lack of civility and animosity we see not only in town, but also on the state and national levels.
President, Charlestown Town Council