This Joint Press Release is offered by the Land Bank, Town Select Board (“Town”) and Steamship Authority (“SSA”) to explain and request support for Articles 102 and 103 appearing on the 2023 Annual Town Meeting Warrant.
As has been covered in the press, the Land Bank, Town and SSA have been collaborating to acquire 31 Easy Street. The property is currently unused. As we will explain, it is in the public interest to acquire it now so that it can be included in our planning for future public use. Accordingly, this year’s Annual Town Meeting Article 102 would authorize the Town to acquire 31 Easy Street by purchase, gift, or eminent domain. Article 103 would then authorize the Town to sell, convey, or dispose of the property (or portions thereof) to the Land Bank, County, or SSA. We have agreed, in concept, to share the cost of the acquisition three ways, with each entity ultimately paying its prorated share for the land area it receives.
Public Purposes for Acquisition
A. Traffic Safety
Acquisition of this property is in the public interest and critically necessary for improving access roads leading to Steamboat Wharf. It would allow for separating vehicular and pedestrian traffic by placing a pedestrian walk along the edge of the harbor. Vehicle danger and congestion could be eased by revising the turning radius for trucks and other delivery vehicles.
B. Enhancement and Preservation of Steamboat Wharf as the Gateway to Nantucket
As all of us know, Steamboat Wharf is our main point of entry for the majority of the island’s food, supplies, and other resources that are utilized daily. It also is the point of entry for many visitors. Developing an overall plan to improve this vital transportation infrastructure is a significant and complex undertaking that is expected to take years of planning and permitting. Securing 31 Easy Street will allow it to be included in the plans, which will benefit both local residents and visitors.
C. Addressing Coastal Resilience Concerns for Downtown.
According to the Town’s recently adopted Coastal Resilience Plan, “The first priority for Downtown Nantucket is maintaining access to and from the island for people and supplies via Steamboat Wharf. The Wharf is both the most essential and most at risk facility on Nantucket.” Collectively we recognize that this transportation infrastructure is essential to the future health and wellbeing of our community. Further, it would be integral to the community’s successful recovery after a major disaster.
Most residents are familiar with the flooding that currently occurs in the area of Steamboat Wharf during major storm events. The frequency and intensity of flooding is projected to continue to increase at an accelerated rate in the future.
Current Condition of 31 Easy Street
The structure has been vacant without a tenant for several years and visibly needs substantial maintenance. We understand that there may be community concerns regarding the historical portion(s) of the building. Being able to secure this parcel sooner rather than later will ensure there is adequate time to assess and identify the portion(s) that are truly historic and explore ways for them to be reused/relocated elsewhere.
Efforts to Negotiate with the Current Owner
Several efforts have been made to negotiate with the current owner. As is customary, the discussions have occurred privately. Such efforts have so far been unsuccessful. Consequently, Articles 102 and 103 are necessary to facilitate acquisition of 31 Easy Street. To be fully transparent with the public, we are describing here the private efforts which have happened to date.
The Land Bank has made generous offers to the seller on behalf of the group. Instead of receiving a counteroffer or negotiation of terms, in response we received an article about an appraisal concept known as “enhancement value” which suggests that a property is worth more to a direct abutter than another buyer. Subsequently we were told that negotiations will not commence unless the Town/SSA/Land Bank first sign a nondisclosure agreement which would preclude all negotiation discussions from being discussed in public or later introduced as evidence at a trial about the value of an eminent domain damage award. As public entities, this is not an agreement we are able sign.
Prior to the more recent attempts, the SSA also attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with this seller.
We pledge continued efforts to negotiate, but the Town needs eminent domain authority as a last resort. In the event of a taking, the seller would be paid the fair market value of the property as established by certified appraisal.
Remaining Privately Owned Parcel at 29 Easy Street
While there is one additional parcel that is not publicly owned between Easy Street Park and Steamboat Wharf, the Land Bank has been in constructive conversations with the owners of this property and believes they understand how critical both properties are to future infrastructure planning.
In sum, securing 31 Easy Street for public use is the first step in a long-range planning effort to stabilize, protect, and improve the Steamboat Wharf as the gateway entrance to the island for future generations. We strongly believe it is needed to enhance public safety, coastal resilience, and economic security for the next century.