Conservation Comm. okays housing plan

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 8:00am

The Block Island Affordable Housing Board appeared before the Conservation Commission on March 20 for at least the third time seeking a favorable advisory for its planned five-lot subdivision called Cherry Hill Lane.

At previous meetings, landscape plans, or the lack thereof, were of particular concern to the Conservation Commission, especially as abutters and neighbors of the planned subdivision on the west side of the island expressed objections to the project. One of those objections was the lack of screening.

Although the Housing Board had presented rudimentary plans, Conservation Chair Ned Phillips, Jr. wanted a more detailed, professionally laid out landscape plan. Phillips called the initial plans a “sketchy sketch.”

Landscape Architect Derek van Lent presented the Commission with a formal plan that he had developed. Van Lent said the focus of the plan was on buffers and there are three main planting areas for that purpose. He said that the buffer plantings were comprised of both deciduous and evergreen trees, which will provide a canopy, and shrubs. 

There is an emphasis on native species, with eastern red cedars, red maples, and pin oaks. For the shrubs, winterberry and two types of viburnums have been selected.  Van Lent said he wants it to look like a natural planting. The plantings were “applied to places that need the most screening,” said van Lent, adding that he “didn’t see the need to apply plantings to other areas of the site.” Despite that, the plan does include some ornamental cherries planted nearer to the proposed homes in keeping with the name of the subdivision.

Phillips asked if there was a maintenance plan for the plantings.

Van Lent said there was no specific plan as of yet, but one would be developed with the homeowners “once we know who they are.”

Lack of a maintenance plan was of concern to several members of the Conservation Commission who worried that without a plan the plantings may not survive.

Van Lent said that if his firm were doing the planting, it would be maintained by them, but since the project would need to go out to bid, there was no assurance that he would be the one doing the work.

Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas said there shouldn’t be a significant time-lag between the initial plantings and when the homeowners association would take over, but that the Housing Board would take responsibility as they were making “a big investment” in the landscaping.

From the audience, resident Nigel Grindley asked about the inclusion of rain gardens in the plan. He said that during heavy rains, “water goes pouring down the drive and into Worden’s Pond.”

Pappas said there were four rain gardens included in the plan. Per van Lent’s design, the largest rain garden is along the lower portion of the entrance into the site.

Resident Cathy Joyce said: “So it should be better than it is?”

“That’s the plan,” said Pappas.

Phillips made a motion for a favorable advisory to the Planning Board “based on the site plan as presented,” with the stipulation that the Housing Board be responsible for maintaining the plantings until the homeowners association takes over. The motion passed.

The Conservation Commission also had a brief discussion regarding snow fencing. Member Marea Mott asked where the “new” fencing, put up by Chris Warfel, and made of jute net instead of wooden slats, was located. 

The Conservation Commission was active in erecting snow fencing along nine beach access paths in the aftermath of Super-storm Sandy, but has lacked funds to continue adding new fencing and to maintain existing ones.

Warfel has in the past proposed the jute fencing directly to the Conservation Commission, but the Commission was not in favor of it due to aesthetics. 

Phillips said the new fencing was at the first pathway at Fred Benson Town Beach. “It’s experimental, and we’ll see what happens,” he said. Later he added that Warfel was “doing this through the town, not us.”