Owners of Cohasset’s James Island Considering Sale to Public Land Trust

As the fight to build their dream home enters its third year, the Steinmetzes could sell the land for conservation.

Photograph by Robert Paniconi for "The Battle of James Island"

Photograph by Robert Paniconi for “The Battle of James Island

The Cohasset couple who fought to build a controversial dream home on James Island for more than two years is now considering selling the property for conservation purposes.

John and Jane Steinmetz purchased property on the craggy peninsula in the middle of Cohasset’s Inner Little Harbor for $1.2 million in September 2014. Their plans to build a three-story home there touched off a heated dispute, with the Steinmetzes alleging corruption in the town’s Conservation Commission in a flurry of lawsuits.

Now, the Steinmetzes have given the Boston-based Trust for Public Land the option to purchase the 6.7-acre parcel for conservation purposes. The asking price would be its appraised fair market value, subject to a floor price of $2.75 million. The property was recently listed for $2.995 million.

“I have been directly at odds with the [James Island Preservation Group] for the past two years as I have worked towards building a home for my family on James Island, and this matter has, unfortunately, become quite contentious,” John Steinmetz said in an email. “We now have a wonderful opportunity to work together to achieve the JIPG’s goal of preserving James Island for conservation.”

Last month, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection decided in the Steinmetzes’ favor, ruling that the project would not have an adverse impact on the nearby fragile wetlands in question. Kelly Boling of the Trust for Public Land says one appraiser’s projected fair market value of around $3 million reflects the DEP’s ruling.

“It’s not yet clear if James Island is a conservation priority for Cohasset residents and town officials, however, given all the controversy and acrimony over the recent development proposal for the property,” Boling said, “The Trust for Public Land thought it prudent to secure a purchase option so that residents and town officials can decide whether or not they wish to conserve the property.”

Boling said James Island’s relatively small size and location within an affluent, residential community made it a less than ideal candidate for state and federal funding programs. Any conservation effort would have to rely on municipal Community Preservation Act cash and private capital, he said.

“For conservation of James Island to become a reality, however, the members of the JIPG will have to work as hard as they did to try to defeat my house plans, and use that same energy to come up with the funding to conserve the land,” Steinmetz said.

As Cohasset town officials weigh their options, Steinmetz is also marketing the property for sale to a private buyer for development in case the conservation effort falls short. But he isn’t ruling out his dream home either.

“If it is determined that conservation is not a realistic option because the funding is simply not there, which I am hoping is not the case, I will either continue with my efforts to build our family home on James Island or will sell the land for development,” Steinmetz said. “I am looking forward to working with the members of the JIPG on this exciting conservation opportunity for James Island. It is a truly amazing and beautiful piece of land.”