January 13, 2013

South End land trust idea gets warm reception at Waterville meeting Sunday

Proposed nonprofit would improve neighborhood, increase home ownership, protect historic structures, proponents claim

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- The idea of developing a community land trust for Waterville's South End got a warm reception Sunday.

Nancy Williams, executive director of the multimillion-dollar Lake George Land Conservancy in New York, and Waterville city Planner Ann Beverage hosted a meeting Sunday at a house Williams owns in Waterville to discuss the idea.

They said land trusts could be spread to other parts of the city, but they want to start with the South End.

A trust would buy houses and land, renovate the properties and sell them at affordable prices to people with low and moderate incomes. The homeowners could later sell the homes if they wished, but the trust would retain land ownership and a substantial amount of any profits.

The idea is to increase home ownership, improve neighborhoods, help prevent deterioration and restore the historic fabric of neighborhoods.

About 30 residents of the South End and other areas attended the meeting, as did members of both the City Council and Planning Board, business owners, legislators representing Waterville and those interested in planning issues.

The land trust would be a nonprofit organization funded through grants, gifts, monetary donations and in-kind donations, such as labor. It would be operated by a board of directors made up in equal parts of people living in the South End, residents of Waterville and people whose qualifications would benefit the board, according to Williams.

She showed a video about the successful Burlington (Vt.) Community Land Trust, which she said is the second-largest such trust in the country and has 4,000 members.

"Land trusts and property owners do pay taxes," she said. "As you improve houses within a neighborhood, other houses privately held become improved as well. The tax base for the city does go up."

If a home is headed for foreclosure, the trust can step in and prevent that, she said.

About half of the buildings in the South End are rental properties, and a land trust would increase home ownership there, Williams said.

"You need rental properties, but home ownership is key to certain types of stability in a neighborhood," she said, adding that home ownership reduces turnover, encourages maintenance and desirability of properties, and improves social conditions.

The South End Neighborhood Association years ago developed a plan to help improve the neighborhood and has made great strides, according to Beverage. A land trust would enhance that work, which could include developing parks and public spaces.

"That's actually in the South End neighborhood plan, creating a park," she said.

Lifelong South End resident Charlie Poulin, 70, said he welcomes the idea of a land trust if it helps improve the neighborhood.

"I'd like to see it," he said.

Jim Blakeslee, a 30-year South End resident, believes older homeowners in the neighborhood would eventually want to sell their homes and move into apartments or condominiums, which would be easier for them. He said he believes they would sell their homes to the land trust.

"I like it, absolutely," he said of the land trust idea.

City Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 2, said the Maine Farmland Trust allows young people to lease property at affordable rates to farm, and a city-based land trust can do the same.

"I don't see where you can go wrong, nor can you come up with negatives," she said.

Williams said land trusts have worked very well across the country.

"I think people will really enjoy this. It's having a direct impact on the community," she said.

She and Beverage said they will be sending emails and letters to gauge interest in further discussions. Anyone wanting to receive information is asked to email Williams at nancywilliams@verizon.net or Beverage at agbeverage@yahoo.com.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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