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What is the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank?
Why do I have to give them my money, and what is the money used for?

The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank is a conservation entity charged with the task of acquiring, holding and managing a diversity of important open space resources for the use and enjoyment of the general public. To accomplish this task the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank imposes a 2% real estate transfer fee which is levied against the purchase price on most real estate transfers on Martha's Vineyard Island.

Yes, it's true --- you will have to shell out 2% of the total purchase price of your new property on Martha's Vineyard in the form of a fee, due in full at the time of closing. This is not a tax and there is no way around it. However, first-time home buyers can get a break in the form of the "M" Exemption.

What is the First-Time Home Buyer “M” Exemption? I always find it interesting to look back at the policy changes on subjects relating to real estate. Here is a rundown of changes in how the Land Bank has offered assistance to first-time home buyers.

Definition: First-time purchasers of real estate who are eligible will receive a credit toward the Land Bank Fee of 2% of the purchase price of real estate on Martha’s Vineyard.

Prior to September 1, 2004, the “M” exemption was $100,000 and in order to qualify all parties on the Deed may not have ever owned real property at any time, not just on Martha’s Vineyard but anywhere.

Subsequently, the credit was increased to $300,000 and the exemption was available to first-time purchasers of real estate who would be required to domicile on the property within two years and hold the property for at least five years from the date of transfer. In the case of spouses, either spouse could have owned or possessed an interest in real property prior to the time of purchase, but not both spouses.

Then on December 5, 2011, per a continuation of a previous amendment to the land bank law, first time purchasers would be able to continue claiming the "M" exemption and the exemption was increased to $425,000.

On September 1, 2012, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank changed the law and once again in order to qualify all parties on the Deed may not have ever owned real property at any time, not just on Martha’s Vineyard but anywhere. All of the other requirements of the "M" exemption were unchanged under the Enabling Legislation Section 12m . As I recall, the reason for the change was because the credit was being abused by real estate investors.

At the end of 2017, an amendment to the Land Bank policy raised the "M" Exemption threshold from $425,000 to $450,000 effective January 1, 2018. Then on January 1, 2019 the treshold was raised once again to $480,000 with all other requirements of the "M" Exemption unchanged.

In 2020 the "M" exemption was increased to $565,000, and on January 1, 2021 the Land Bank once again increased the "First-Time Home Buyer Exemption"to $595,000 with all other requirements remaining the same.  REMEMBER: The "M" Exemption only applies to those Buyers who have NEVER owned a home anywhere -- in the world, not just on Martha's Vineyard.

2020 brought Martha's Vineyard to a place we never thought we would see. The world was attacked at the end of 2019 by the Coronavirus disease, the consequences of which no one could imagine. A mass exodus began as people in urban areas fled to what they perceived to be safe havens and offices emptied as workers began to work from home, or look for a home to work from. Martha's Vineyard was besieged by thousands of desperate people who threw their money at any property they could buy. The median sale price went from $875,000 in 2019 to $1,150,000 in 2020. On December 21, 2021 the Land Bank voted unanimously to extend the "M" exemption for another year and raise the threshold to $715,000 for 2022

IMPORTANT: "First-time home-buyers who have received an "M" exemption for all or part of the land bank fee routinely have a lien recorded against their property at the Dukes County registry of deeds. The lien is to ensure that the land bank will be notified if the owner attempts to sell the property, which is subject to the lien, before the five-year residency requirement has been completed. Sales within this five-year period will trigger the fee to become due and payable to the land bank, which may also include interest and penalties."

Other wonderful conservation entities committed to acquiring and preserving the natural resources on this Island are: The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF), Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, Trustees of Reservations, etc.). However, the Land Bank is the agency that you will first encounter, so let's find out something about them.

Why do we need a Land Bank on Martha's Vineyard Island?

Martha's Vineyard has witnessed unprecedented change in the most recent decades. Farming declined; centuries-old pastures and fields were left to knot into vines and shrubs. The "freedom to roam" was curtailed as fences were erected across trails, beaches were gated off and hunting was restricted.

Few of these problems could be solved by planning boards and conservation commissions only; the Vineyard needed a new type of land agency. In the midst of an upward spiraling building boom, island voters created the land bank in 1986 and charged it with reversing their losses.

More than 20 years have elapsed, and more than 2700 acres have now been conserved. Although this sounds impressive, it is actually small; just 4% of the land area on the island. The commission's revenue-generated by a 2% public surcharge on most real estate transfers occurring in the six towns-is modest compared to need, ensuring that islanders can expect the Land Bank to protect only a fraction of their community.

And this money must go far. Farmers, hikers, beach-combers, birders, hunters, and many others are all constituents of the Land Bank, and all deserve to have some land set aside for their special needs.

Fortunately, the Land Bank's private-sector counterparts help out. Private trusts on the island such as the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation and the Nature Conservancy specialize in creating wildlife sanctuaries of their lands. Their extraordinary work across the Vineyard frees the Land Bank to pursue a more diverse mission, where some Land Bank properties are reserved for wildlife and others are used for agriculture, hunting, and other types of conservation uses.

Balance is key in Land Bank property management. Environmental protection leads the list of Land Bank goals, with public access encouraged where and when possible. Trails avoid sensitive areas, signs advise of special precautions visitors need take, and attendants are hired when necessary to oversee use.

The Land Bank is a rare breed. Neither a sanctuary program nor a park system, it is a middle ground where the highest virtues of conservation can be realized: public enjoyment of nature, where limits and restraint secure the natural world's future and prosperity.

Visiting Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Properties

Land bank properties are, except during the hunting season, open daily to the general public from sunrise to sundown. Trails are marked throughout and boundary markers indicate where public land ends and private land begins.

The land bank posts map signs at many properties' trailheads and is installing others where needed. Hand-held maps of each property showing their trail networks and natural features are available at the land bank office and at some trailheads.

The land bank has begun to make a number of its properties more accessible to people who use wheelchairs and to people who have difficulty walking or other disabilities. Pecoy Point Preserve (off Pulpit Rock Road in Oak Bluffs) and Great Rock Bight Preserve (off North Road in Chilmark) feature boardwalks, hardened trails, and parking spaces designed to accommodate those with mobility impairments. Great Rock Bight Preserve also offers an accessible toilet. Chappy Point Beach in Edgartown features an accessible trailhead and boardwalk with views of Edgartown harbor. The slopes and surfaces of these trails may still pose difficulty to some disabled visitors; some disabled visitors may require assistance. Universal access improvements are underway or planned for a number of other properties, including Farm Pond Preserve, Featherstone Farm, Chappy Five Corners Preserve, and Duarte's Pond. You can either call the land bank office for a copy of a map which shows each property and provides directions, or follow this link to view a Map To All Land Bank Properties .

Guided walks conducted by the land bank's scientific and management staff are scheduled regularly. The land bank also sponsors a day-long cross-island hike on National Trails Day, which is the first Saturday in June. Watch the island newspapers for details.

"Why do we need a Land Bank on Martha's Vineyard Island?" and "Visiting Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Properties" provided by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank .

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