First foot forward

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 3:30pm

“Let’s talk about concrete plans,” Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas suggested to the group. The board was discussing ideas for the newly acquired O’Brien property. Pappas started the discussion by explaining how the project felt stalled, as she had been unable to get things moving on a topographical survey of the adjoining property, E. Searles Ball Housing. Block Island Economic Development (BIED) owns and manages E. Searles Ball Housing. Pappas had spoken to BIED President Gerry Pierce about developing the entrance for the O’Brien property through BIED’s property.
But the survey had not materialized, and there was no formal word from BIED. Pappas reported she had reached out to the surveyor “ten or twelve times in the past month,” with no reply.
“Everyone’s heart seems to be in the right place,” Pappas said, but she expressed disappointment that no real progress had been made.

Member John Spier reminded the group that the housing board already had its own survey of its property. “We could proceed with the access we have,” Spier said, explaining that a road into the property can be built anywhere along the frontage on West Side Road.
The board had been in preliminary discussions with architect Barbara Bestor about possible visions for the property, and Pappas mentioned that Bestor “visualizes” the entrance coming in from the BIED property.
Member Millie McGinnes suggested the board move forward rather than wasting time. Spier agreed, saying the board could provide the architect with “density and number of units,” and then let the creativity of the architect work out “how to put them in” the space.

The board then moved on to a discussion of what size units to build and how many of each, with Spier suggesting the density could be roughly half the size of E. Searles Ball, which has 60 bedrooms, divided into 20 three-bedroom apartments. He went on to suggest that, in fact, 30 bedrooms might be too many, with Pappas suggesting 24. The other board members agreed and the discussion moved to how to divide up the 24 bedrooms into units.

The first suggestion was eight one-bedrooms and eight two-bedrooms, which Spier suggested could lead to 32 vehicles that would need to be parked somewhere. He said he preferred a setup with the cars all parked together in a parking lot, rather than in front of each unit.
Pappas said she “would like to see one or two three-bedrooms,” in the configuration, with Member Stacy Henshaw pointing out that a three-bedroom occupant might have fewer cars, easing the parking burden. Henshaw also pointed out that since most of the previous projects had offered three-bedroom units, it would be good to “open things up.” Member Shannon Cotter-Marsella brought up the letter written to the board by Josh Maldonado, and signed by several others, expressing the desire for smaller living units.

After a brief discussion, Cotter-Marsella proposed a configuration of two three-bedrooms, seven two-bedrooms, and four one-bedrooms. Pappas suggested adding another three-bedroom unit, but McGinnes pointed out that the board had received more two-bedroom applications than three-bedroom applications for the last project, Cherry Hill Lane.

Spier agreed with the notion of a changing demographic, as “millennials” shape the population.
“It’s a changing world,” McGinnes said.
The board agreed to contact Bestor to set up a meeting to determine if she wanted to move forward with the project. Member Kay McManus suggested sending the parameters and details the group had talked about so that Bestor could make some simple sketches for the meeting. The board listed access to common spaces, congregant parking, electric car charging, solar panels, and the basic breakdown of the 24 rooms as details to include. The board also agreed the streetscape was important, as well as maintaining a buffer with the cemetery.

The board was encouraged by their progress in nailing some details down and moving forward with a plan for the architect to work on. “It’s a good, first foot forward,” McGinnes said.