A coalition of Cape Ann conservation groups led by Essex County Greenbelt is negotiating to buy and protect Salt Island.
While the broker for the island’s owner says there is not yet any agreement, he acknowledged that he remains in “a few dialogues” in an effort to sell the 5-acre island just off Gloucester’s shore near Good Harbor Beach.
“We’ve been approached by different types of buyers, from families and groups interested in maintaining the island in its current or near-current state, to larger groups exploring development opportunities,” Eric Shabshelowitz of the Boston-based realty firm Cabot & Company said Monday.
His company is marketing the property on behalf of owner Susan McGrath of Melrose, and the estate of the late James E. Kimball, which took over the island for $1 in 1961, according to Gloucester assessors’ records. The island is being marketed for $750,000, though it is classified by city assessors as “unbuildable” and has been assessed at $8,000 each year since 2014.
Those groups “interested in maintaining the island” essentially as is includes a Cape Ann partnership of local groups led by Essex Greenbelt, backed by such a diverse entities as the city’s Historical Commission, Friends of Good Harbor, the Brier Neck Association and Save Our Shores Gloucester. Save Our Shores is the nonprofit that formed and then generated more than $101,000 through an online fundraising drive over late 2015 and early 2016 to buy four Back Shore lots classified as “unbuildable” that an architect from the Berkshires had targeted for building a series of houses on pillars that would have been anchored into the rocks off the ocean side of Atlantic Avenue.
Mary Ellen Lepionka, who heads the city’s Historical Commission, said all of the groups have just one goal: to preserve an island that is accessible at low tide for those who want to walk across a sandbar and explore its surroundings.
The island has a history nearly as rich as Gloucester’s itself, dating from a time when it served as a storage site for salt, to its serving as a backdrop for a motion picture in 1919. According to the writings of the late Joseph Garland, a Gloucester historian, a movie company built a Gothic castle on the island, then blew it up as the grand finale to a film called “Bride 13.”
“It’s really unfortunate it ever went into private hands in the first place,” said Lepionka, who added the commission helped pull together a meeting of stakeholders to pursue the property. “But can you imagine if somebody owning it privately attempted to control access to it — or tried to build something on it? That would be horrible. And you never know.”
Lepionka said the city cannot realistically be part of any financial package toward acquiring the island. To that end, Christopher LaPointe, Greenbelt’s director of land conservation and the person who’s been leading any talks with Cabot & Company, said Monday the group has not yet talked about how it would raise money for the purchase, if it is able to secure a deal.
“Right now, we’re still trying to negotiate a (lower) price,” LaPointe said. “There have certainly been some discussions about how fundraising might go, but right now, it doesn’t make sense try to raise money unless you have a price and have a contract to purchase the land.
“I’m hoping we can get to that point, but we’re taking it one step at a time,” he added. “We want to do the first things first, then go from there.”
Save Our Shores representative Barb Silberman acknowledged that her group was part of the initial local meeting to consider putting together a bid, but has also not talked about any more specifics of raising money for a potential purchase.
“We certainly agreed that the project would be something where we would be interested in helping,” Silberman said. “We haven’t been asked (to organize any fundraising drive). If we were, we would take it up, but it hasn’t come up yet.”
LaPointe added that, despite any eccentricities to a sale — or the island itself — negotiations have a familiar ring.
“It’s just like any real estate negotiations,” he said. “We put some terms out there, we’re waiting for some feedback (from Cabot & Company), and we’ll see where we can go. That’s where we are right now.”
Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or firstname.lastname@example.org.