The Scituate Land Trust was established by an act of the Rhode Island General Assembly
in 1990 and by town ordinance. The purpose of the Land Trust is to preserve suitable open
spaces. To accomplish this, the Land Trust has the authority to acquire, hold, and manage
real property and interests in the town including development rights of open, residential,
agricultural, recreational, historical, or littoral property including existing and future
well fields, aquifer recharge areas, fresh water marshes and adjoining uplands, wildlife
habitats, land, or buildings providing access to or views of water bodies or for bicycling
and hiking paths, or for future public recreational use and land for agricultural use or
the air space thereof. The Trust shall hold all property or development rights solely as
open space (except for historical or recreational use) or agricultural use or for water
purposes or for public access or to prevent the accelerated residential or commercial
development thereof, as the Trustees may determine. All acquisition activities of the
Trust must be approved by the Town Council and the funding of which must be included in
the town budget and approval voted
at a Town Financial Meeting.
The Trust is administered by seven (7) trustees appointed by the Town Council, four (4) of whom shall be current members of the Scituate Conservation Commission.
Presently the Commission members are:
THOMAS ANGELL, CHAIR (ALSO CONSERVATION COMMISSION)
RUTH STRACH, VICE-CHAIR (ALSO CONSERVATION COMMISSION)
DAVID D. ELLINGWOOD, SR.
SARA ADAMS (ALSO CONSERVATION COMMISSION)
MICHAEL CAPIRCHIO (ALSO CONSERVATION COMMISSION)
Scituate and the Reservoir
The Town of Scituate consists of approximately 35,000 acres. Approximately 13,000 acres of town land is owned by the City of Providence (Providence Water Supply Board). Almost 85% of town land, about 29,000 acres, are within the reservoir watershed. That means that about 38% of the total town land area is devoted exclusively to the production of water (for about 70% of the state's residents). Only very limited parts of the town are serviced by public water, (parts of Hope and North Scituate). Excluding watershed lands, already developed land, land with constraints, and publicly owned land, the approximate vacant land available for residential development is about 9,000 acres . . . only 1,500 (approximate) acres of this total lies outside the watershed. (These facts are contained in the Scituate Comprehensive Plan of 1995.)
The Scituate Reservoir was begun in 1915 as a means of supplying the City of Providence with a clean supply of water for its residential and industrial uses. To the Town of Scituate, however, there was a significant price to pay. Schools, churches, and a railroad were flooded along with 300+ houses, 200+ barns all in six villages - all gone. From an agricultural point of view, more than 25 dairy farms were lost, forever limiting agriculture in town. The current reservoir has a shoreline length of 66 miles and is about seven miles long at its maximum length. It has an average depth of 32 feet with a maximum depth of 87 feet. Its maximum width is 2 1/2 miles, and it can yield 92 million gallons per day. At its maximum elevation, it can store 41 billion gallons. The drainage area into the reservoir which includes several towns adjacent to Scituate is approximately 93 square miles or about 59,000 acres. The watershed area of the reservoir is paramount in the amount of annual rainfall runoff that flows into the reservoir. About 40 billion gallons of water flows into the reservoir each year. The production of water is the largest industry in the town. It dominates most land use decisions, and because of its size and placement, the reservoir controls and limits what can and cannot be developed or built in the town. It has made the property tax the primary source of income to support town services, and severely limited any but "clean industry" located in town.
Why Preserve Land in Scituate
Land for parks, productive farmland, land that supports wildlife, and land that holds
and cleanses our drinking water is disappearing. Open spaces are important to our heritage
and environment, and are under pressure for
development. As a society, we have aggressively promoted development outside of our cities. We are consuming non-urban land at a rate which in some South County towns will result in a "built out" - meaning no more land left to develop or protect. Since 1985 in Rhode Island, 26,000 acres have been developed for residential and commercial purposes, even though the state's population has remained relatively the same - around 1 million. With the current pattern of development, it means that within the next 100 years, there will be no rural towns left in Rhode Island. Scituate residents need only to look to the east and the south to see its future unless we maintain a constant vigil and act when the opportunity presents itself. While not all undeveloped land can and should be protected, it is undeniable that protecting appropriate open space land is a fiscally prudent option for our town. A recent study of community services in Rhode Island found that town services demanded and used by new residential development cost more than the tax revenue generated by that type of development. Protected open space on the other hand uses about 1/3 of the taxes it generates for services.
Property values for homes that are located adjacent to permanently protected forests, farms, etc. tend to appreciate in value faster than homes in traditional subdivisions where there are no open protected lands. It is
important to note that about 95% of all open space land in Scituate is privately owned. This includes all the reservoir holdings which are owned by the City of Providence. These privately owned lands can be sold at any time without any town involvement. The town owns about 100 acres of open space protected land. The town does not have one single large diverse land holding which can provide or be converted to passive recreation for hiking, bird watching, wildlife habitat, or just general outdoor enjoyment. Preserving land is also important in maintaining water quality. More than 90% of Scituate residents rely on private wells for their water. Protection of land that contributes to the purity of those wells is of the utmost importance.
What can you do to preserve open space in Scituate?
Private land owners are uniquely positioned to contribute to the goals of open space.
Privately owned properties can be negotiated with the Land Trust in numerous ways, i.e.
through a fee simple transaction, donating or selling development rights, or placing
conservation easements on property. It is possible for landowners to receive tax benefits
for such transactions. Estate planning techniques are available to protect land and lower
estate tax liabilities. Proper estate planning could save you money now and your heir's
money later. Land owners can contact Land Trust members through the Town Hall at 647-5526.
All inquiries will be kept in strictest confidence without public disclosure until a
commitment has been finalized. The Land Trust does not
have funds to apply to open space purchases. Public funds must be allocated by the Town Council. The Land Trust will work with the town, the state, and other private philanthropic organizations to maximize the amount of dollars available. Your support of these efforts at the local level will ensure that the Land Trust can work actively to secure and protect Scituate's unique and precious environment.
Other Resources and Information Regarding Open Space, Sprawl, and Tax Issues
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
Rhode Island Statewide Planning
United States Environmental Protection Agency - Region One
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Land Trust Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Audubon Society of Rhode Island
Sierra Club of Rhode Island
For more information, send us an email.