Block Island aims to protect shoreline property from development

NEW SHOREHAM officials and Block Island conservancy groups approved the $10.5 million purchase of shoreline property Wednesday night near Champlin's Marina and Resort from Overlook Realty LLC. The land is the vacant property to the right of the building near the center of the photo. / GOOGLE LLC

NEW SHOREHAM – The New Shoreham Town Council and conservancy groups are seeking to purchase about four acres of property near the Great Salt Pond to prevent it from being developed commercially.

The property abuts Champlin’s Marina and Resort in New Harbor, which was purchased by the Cranston-based real estate investment firm, the Procaccianti Companies, in December 2020. The marina has been involved with a controversial closed-door approval by the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, which granted the company authorization to expand 150 feet into the pond against the wishes of Block Island’s conservancy groups.

The Town Council and Block Island Land Trust discussed the proposal in closed session on Wednesday night prior to approving the purchase and sale agreement for acquisition of about four acres of shoreline property for $10.5 million from Overlook Realty LLC. The town would spend $4.5 million, the Land Trust, $4 million and conservancy groups, $2 million, as part of the transaction.

The purchase is contingent upon the buyers securing funding, and New Shoreham voter approval at the town’s May 3 financial town meeting.

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The parcel is a portion of six acres of land owned by Overlook Realty LLC that will have to be subdivided. The land sits between Champlin’s Marina and Resort and Ball O’Brien Park.

While over half of the property would be designated as conservation land, about 1.75 acres would be developable and could be utilized to install a harbor facility.

Councilor Mark Emmanuelle said he went back and forth before voting to approve the property purchase. “Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite frugal,” he said. “I didn’t take this lightly. But I thought it was so desirable that we have to at least take it to our voters.”

“I am enthusiastic about the purchase – but it does come with a high price,” said Emmanuelle, noting that purchase of the property would “foreclose others from purchasing the property.”

Emmanuelle said the purchase will provide the public with needed access to the pond for recreational use.

Councilor Sven Risom said the harbor facility would be addressed down the road from a budget standpoint separate from the purchase. The facility, he said, would include amenities, such as bathrooms with showers, and include housing for town employees on the building’s second floor.

Risom said he also had reservations about spending $4.5 million on the land purchase, before realizing that it presented the town with a unique opportunity.

“If this is the last commercial lot that is undeveloped on the Great Salt Pond, the last piece of land that could become available, do you jump at it, or do you say no?” said Risom. “We have said no over the years about different lots, and I think many people bite their tongues now.”

Risom said it took him a while to get over the expense to purchase the land and the tradeoffs before seeing the true value in it. “This could be a centerpiece for Block Island,” he said.

Steve Filippi, manager partner of Overlook Realty LLC, who is selling the land, said, “We look forward to working with the Land Trust, [conservancy groups] and the Town of New Shoreham towards selling this incredible waterfront location. A few big city developers approached us with much higher offers, but we decided to sell to local conservation groups because of our common goal of preserving Block Island’s natural beauty.”

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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