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Nantucket property

Conservation and property value

value and conservation

Nantucket land

I am often asked why real estate on Nantucket is “sooo expensive”. There is no easy answer to that! I usually say “it’s a combination of things: the historical aspect of the island itself and the attraction of being part of history; the uniqueness of being part of a little sandbar that is hard to get to and just wanting to tell people that you live on an island; simple supply and demand; people enjoy saying they are part of “Nantucket” because it has sort of a funny name and rhymes with things that make limerick lovers giggle; the island’s own recognition of its uniqueness and its attempts to preserve its character and conserve its land and its ability to fully embrace its past as a prescription for its future; among so many others! (like the beaches are beautiful, everyone waves to each other on the road, and it is further out to sea than the Vineyard!). As the island is slowly shrinking, literally and figuratively, taking care of what we have left is of vital concern to all of us.

With tremendous foresight, and with a general understanding of how fragile Nantucket really is, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation was founded in 1963 with an incredible vision. NCF acquired most of the land which it safeguards from development and manages for the public benefit by privately donated land gifts from very generous benefactors who recognized the importance of preserving, in its unspoiled state, the character of the island. Together with the help of other conservation agencies that sprang up following NCF's lead, including the Nantucket Islands Land Bank; approximately 13,500 acres of Nantucket, Tuckernuck and Muskeget (roughly 45% of Nantucket) are currently being actively preserved and managed as permanently protected open space. Largely because of these efforts, Nantucket is home to many rare and endangered plant and animal species and specialized habitat found no where else in the world.

Looking out over the Moors, it would be hard to imagine what it would be like to see thousands of houses instead of these stunning wide-open vistas. From 1980 to 2000, nearly 4,500 new single-family building permits were issued on Nantucket. Thankfully those new homes were not built in places that we now cherish as open space. Zoning by-laws only came into effect on Nantucket in 1972, so prior to that there were no land use regulations at all. I think we dodged a huge bullet! Build-out of the remaining developable land is still probably perhaps 50 years off (wait for a future article on this!), but it is possible that it could be much sooner with the help of all of the wonderful conservation agencies and their generous benefactors helping to preserve and conserve what we have left.

The real estate industry is often blamed for encouraging and promoting development of the island. Counter-intuitively, since the Nantucket Islands Land Bank was established in 1983, the first land bank of its kind in the country, real estate transactions have actually helped to preserve the unspoiled character of large parts of the island, including the acquisition of public beach properties and the protection of scenic vistas.. The Land Bank is primarily funded by a 2% transfer fee which has allowed it to purchase properties that might otherwise have been developed and might not have been saved by other conservation agencies due to limited resources. In other words, the more real estate transactions there are, the more of the island gets preserved! In 2011, approximately $11 million in transfer fees was collected! During the height of the most recent real estate boom, peaking from 2005 – 2007, the Land Bank took in about $20 million on average for those peak years. The Land Bank currently owns over 2,700 acres, with an additional 370 or so acres permanently protected by conservation restrictions. According to the 2011 Nantucket Annual Town Report, the Land Bank has spent over $219 million on preserving open space since its inception.

Not only does the conservation of open space protect the island and its habitats and natural beauty, but it also contributes to an increase in property values. The conservation of open space itself keeps Nantucket's unspoiled character intact, which in turn makes the island more attractive, increasing its desirability as a place to visit and to own property, and ultimately increasing property values. Imagine if the Moors were dotted with houses, or access to 40th Pole beach in Dionis was not possible, or even if there was no Sanford Farm to go walking in, or Tupancy Links for the dog owners; Nantucket would certainly have a much different feel.
There is also a general 'supply and demand' theme going on here as well. The more of the island that is protected and conserved (or even eroded into the sea), the less supply there is of available developable land.

Economics 101 will tell you that a dwindling supply, coupled with a steady demand, equals increased prices. So, conservation benefits everyone and real estate transactions help us all! Visitors, property owners, the island as a whole, the species, the habitat – all of us.

Nantucket leads by example, in the preservation of our historic district and two-to-three hundred year old buildings, (which is another topic for future discussion) and in the conservation and preservation of our land and open spaces.

Because of these commitments to saving and conserving and preserving Nantucket’s historic character and unspoiled beauty, our little sandbar holds a special place in the hearts of so many.


Great reminder about how conservation is interwoven with property values on-island.  The issue for us is:  with a shrinking availability of real estate how to we preserve reasonably-priced housing?

Great article, Rob. You highlighted one of the many strategically successful initiatives that have made Nantucket a wonderful place to call home. I clearly remember writing my check to the Land Bank during settlement on my house. Not only was I elated that a life long dream of "owning my piece of the rock" was coming true - but, in that moment of personal joy - I was also able to become an active participant in this community's well-being. Georgia also makes a good point about "reasonably priced housing". Conservation's by-product cannot only serve to drive property values beyond its residents' means. Conservation should represent the protection of the island's natural beauty and health and our ability to co-exist as a healthy community within it. It was illuminating for me to spend my first winter walking along streets void of house lights ... It cannot be that we've strived only to preserve paradise for those lucky to live it a few weeks each summer? And, trust me - as a long time summer resident, it is sad to see "locals" struggling to keep their family homes and students struggling to find affordable summer housing while serving our needs to earn money for school fees. Where "Main Street" is merely a memory of times when its name meant engagement with the whole community - and not just art galleries, t-shirt shops and jewelry stores targeting a seasonal tourist trade. Fortunately, initiatives like the upcoming Dreamland, our FAB pair of book stores, a few great year-round restaurants, Antheneum activities and lively local theatre are excellent examples of how "preservation of paradise" means more than a beautiful view and healthy water table. There is much to celebrate here ... and, much that we can still accomplish with enlighten long-term planning for affordable housing, energy conservation, sustainable aqua-culture and an interesting, relevant commercial community.