Yes for land bank REET | Letters
October 25, 2011 · Updated 11:17 AM
My wife and I are relative newcomers to Orcas Island. We purchased our property on the East side about 10 years ago, and built a vacation abode, which recently became our primary residence. One of the main reasons for selecting Orcas as our home was the beauty of the land, and its accessibility for recreation. We first learned about the Land Bank when we noted, and questioned, the 1 percent real estate excise tax collected in escrow for our original land purchase. It was a significant amount, but when we discovered that the money was reserved for the acquisition and maintenance in perpetuity of beautiful and historical parcels on the island, we deemed it well worth our investment. From that perspective, the investment has continued to pay ample and even expanding dividends, as we have come to explore and love the existing preserves and fantastic new ones, such as Turtleback Mountain.
Another reason we selected Orcas as our home is the extensive dialogue that surrounds issues of public policy. It is generally civil, and conducted with the overarching goal of enhancing the Orcas community. Even when neighbors disagree, they seem to be working toward the common good (which can’t always be said about public policy discourse). We hope the debate over renewing the land bank can be kept friendly and factual, without rancor. There are reasons to disagree with the renewal proposition, which have been and we hope will continue to be articulated with the best interests of Orcas in mind.
For our part, we hope the land bank will be renewed, to maintain the current preserves and acquire new ones in the future for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.
The San Juan Preservation Trust, the non-profit land conservation group in the San Juan Islands, traditionally steers clear of political campaigns. With our private, market-based approach to protecting special places, the Preservation Trust’s constituency attracts people from every political persuasion. We understand that much of our appeal and our membership support are strengthened by standing apart from our county’s often-contentious political processes.
Despite this, the 20-member Board of the Preservation Trust, representing a cross-section of islands and political perspectives, has unanimously agreed to endorse the renewal of the San Juan County Land Bank.
These two organizations are often confused. Both strategically protect landscapes that are particularly valuable to our communities, but the distinction is as simple as the difference between public and private. The San Juan County Land Bank is a unique public agency that is authorized by our citizens to collect a 1 percent excise tax (from buyers in real estate transactions) to protect open space in San Juan County. The San Juan Preservation Trust, on the other hand, is a private organization that relies completely on private donations of land, conservation easements and money to protect important land.
While both organizations have successfully completed a long list of remarkable projects on their own, a powerful synergy emerges when they come together in partnership. By blending public and private resources, we leverage our respective strengths to acquire special places that we couldn’t dream of saving on our own. Beloved – and expensive – places like Turtleback Mountain (Orcas), Watmough Bight (Lopez), Beaverton Marsh and the Sundstrom Farm (San Juan), Disney Mountain (Waldron), and the Henry Island Isthmus, to name just a few, have been permanently conserved by this partnership.
We all feel lucky to live in the San Juans. But our ability to bequeath the beauty, health and character of these islands to future generations would be profoundly diminished should we let the San Juan County Land Bank slip away from us. The board and staff of the San Juan Preservation Trust ask you to vote “yes” on Nov. 8 to renew our land bank.
Please visit www.RenewOurLandBank.org to learn more.
The San Juan Preservation Trust
I strongly recommend a “yes” vote on the renewal of the land bank.
The future of our community and how much the land bank can do to assist in keeping these islands the livable and special place that it is for all of us – regardless of our age – depends on all of us. More lands will be developed and taken out of forest and agriculture use in the future. We need the land bank to continue to secure conservation easements and purchase properties so that special places like Turtleback Mountain and Judd Cove can be protected and accessible for generations to come. If we renew the land bank, the growth that will inevitably occur will help fund the protection of areas our community deems important.
The land bank is very good at leveraging its resources and partnering with other groups, governmental and nonprofit, to help accomplish projects the individual entities would be strained to do on their own. The land bank has much more work to do. Please join me in supporting renewal of our successful Land Bank.
We are disappointed by the editorial concerning the land bank appearing in this paper. We think it presents a confusing and detrimental recommendation that would result in an impaired vision for our future. We disagree that the 21-year investment in the land bank should be put in jeopardy by voting against its renewal just as we begin to appreciate the powerful benefits it has brought by protecting open spaces and scenic views, public access to our islands’ special places, and the preservation of farmland.
The 1 percent REET, paid by the buyer on the sale of real property, is a fair and effective way for development to help pay for conservation. In addition, the land bank has brought more than $23 million non-REET dollars into our community. Reducing the REET funding base would automatically reduce the land bank’s ability to successfully attract outside funds in the future. And we all lose.
We decided to seek renewal early because, among other reasons, projects frequently have a long gestation period, and there are some in the pipeline that will take longer than 2014 to complete. For example, the land bank is working on a project on San Juan Island (with $2.8 million of outside funds); a shoreline project on Orcas ($1 million of outside funds); and an important farm conservation easement on Lopez. Such projects require a willing seller, some delicate negotiations and enough time to ensure that they are done right.
The editorial touches on other issues with which we disagree, but the primary issue is our island quality of life and the future economic health of our communities. The land bank has a record of improving both! The San Juans remain a destination for those seeking what can be found here and what has been harmed, if not destroyed, elsewhere. The land bank’s work is not done and our communities, our lives and our legacy will all be richer for its renewal. The opportunity is now. Your “yes” vote will allow the land bank to continue its work and keep what makes living in the San Juans so special.
Sally and Tom Reeve