Church apartments receive HDC blessing

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 9:00am
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The Harbor Church’s affordable rental housing project is progressing towards its January 2019 goal for occupancy. Church Trustee Tony Pappas, who is spearheading the $450,000 project, was granted unanimous final approval (4-0) for adding a deck and stairs on the building’s west exterior, and removing an east side window, by the Historic District Commission on March 26. Pappas needs to obtain a building permit from Building Official Marc Tillson to commence with the work.   

The project will be funded through a grant and private donations. The project will involve gutting the church’s third floor and transforming it into four 400 square-foot year-round apartments with full kitchens and bathrooms.

The exterior decking and staircase is being installed per the state’s Fire Marshal, said Pappas. “There is a door currently there that exits onto a flat roof. We propose to put some decking down with a railing around it, so it will be safe. And then we will add a staircase down to an existing deck on the story below, which exits down to the ground. The Fire Marshal has approved this concept.”

Pappas said the reason for the window removal is “because the interior design layout requires a wall to be constructed” on the inside of the church. “It’s structurally stronger to remove the window and build a wall there,” he said.

Pappas said the historic building was first constructed as an 11-room hotel in 1888, and became a church in 1940, with the under-utilized third floor recently used for events like Halloween parties. “This past year we decided to transform the third floor into four year-round apartments.” 

Resident Mary Jane Balser said, “I’ve always felt that the church has done an excellent job of keeping the property in very good condition. And I applaud them — as you know I am a big advocate of apartments. I have always believed that the downtown area, particularly, was very suitable for them.”

HDC Chair Bill Penn noted in his findings of fact that the “use is totally appropriate” within the historic district.

At the beginning of the hearing, Penn and fellow board member Martha Ball said although they are church members, and sit on its boards, the “project would not impact” them financially. Penn said the church was a “positive” in supporting Block Island’s affordable housing initiative. The apartments will count toward Rhode Island’s Affordable Housing requirement that 10 percent of a municipality’s housing stock be identified as affordable housing units.

In response, Pappas said, “It’s blessed.”

The new Old Island Pub

The HDC granted unanimous final approval (4-0) to the Gaffett family for their ADA-compliant walkway layout changes, the addition of two rain gardens near a new sidewalk, and window and outdoor staircase adjustments, per the requirements of the state Fire Marshal.

The Gaffetts are constructing a new two-story building at 85 Ocean Avenue, adjacent to the Poor People’s Pub, to relocate their Old Island Pub restaurant.

Paige Gaffett told Penn that the new sidewalk will be located on their property, as was required by the Planning Board. She said the project will now go before the Planning Board for approval.

The next HDC meeting is Monday, April 23 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.