New Law Would Correct Land Trust’s Improper Origin

by | May 13, 2021

The Town Council is weighing an ordinance that would establish the EG Land Trust as a town advisory board two years after it was discovered the Land Trust had been established incorrectly. 

There was a first reading of the ordinance at the council’s meeting Monday night. 

According to Council President Mark Schwager, the Land Trust, which was established in 1987, was given authority to own and manage property similar to how an independent charitable corporation would run. However, Town Solicitor Andy Teitz pointed out, municipalities do not have the authority to create a corporate entity through an ordinance; rather that power lies with the General Assembly.

The council first had to vote to repeal the entire section about the Land Trust from the town code. They then unanimously voted to replace the section with a new ordinance reestablishing the trust as a town advisory board instead of an independent organization. The council will hold the second hearing and public forum on the two changes at its next meeting. The decision will become final after a third hearing. 

Teitz told East Greenwich News that about half of the state’s municipal land trusts are independent charitable corporations created through the General Assembly, while the other half are instead town entities. He said both models are valid, but East Greenwich had elements of both that made it technically unlawful.

“The problem was that EG was neither fish nor fowl,” Teitz said. “The ordinance said [the land trust] was a stand alone 501(c)(3) but the reality of it was that it was not functioning as part of the town, so we had to make it a part of the town.”

Teitz explained why it’s taken two years to get to this point. 

“This came to my attention fairly soon after becoming solicitor in East Greenwich,” he said. “I can’t even remember what brought it up. It didn’t really affect anything because we were already operating that way and we had more pressing matters to deal with. Then COVID came and a lot of stuff got sidelined, so it’s just one of those things being dealt with a little after the fact.”

Ultimately, citizens should not expect major changes to the land trust because of this.

“It’s been functioning as a municipal entity all along,” Teitz said. 

That said, for members of the Land Trust, a long-time emphasis on the day-to-day concerns of Boesch Farm has shifted to new projects, including the acquisition of new parcels.

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