Housing Board continues discussion on next affordable development

Thu, 01/14/2021 - 6:30pm

During the Housing Board’s virtual meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, members shared their research for the next affordable housing project on the island. At a previous, hybrid meeting, on Friday, Dec. 11, members of the board toured a parcel of undeveloped property across the street from the Ball O’Brien Park on West Side Road (Plat 18, Lot 2-3) in person to gather ideas for the project. Chair Cindy Pappas asked for the board members to seek inspiration from other such developments and to come to the Tuesday, Jan. 12 meeting with further ideas.

Member John Spier opened up the discussion with a few examples of resources he had found.

“I did discover some interesting things, not highly relevant, but nice to be able to share. For now, there was a good article in the Providence Journal on community solar that was done in West Warwick,” said Spier. “I also have a couple pictures from a designer building sustainable communities in Maine.”

“The other place I looked at was South Mountain Construction on Martha’s Vineyard – they are doing a lot of interesting work,” said Spier.

Member Kay McManus asked Spier what exactly he was looking for and had in mind for the housing project.

“I’m looking for the process by which a group like us identifies or solicits people with design proposals, sketches, and concepts. We are looking at something a lot more complicated, cutting-edge, and larger scale,” said Spier.

“That’s where my search took me – into the solar realm of things,” said member Stacy Henshaw.

Member Kay McManus and Henshaw’s research also delved into the concept of tiny home developments.

“I looked into [the tiny home developments], and one of the major issues are the building codes in your area, and the zoning and building regulations. You have to have people committed to living this lifestyle,” said McManus.

Pappas adding the idea of having a rental component to the housing project.

“If we have a rental component, that might get [Rhode Island Housing’s] attention [for funding]. We definitely should research that, yet again, with the new project before us,” said Pappas.

Member Rosemary Tobin suggested offering a possible scholarship program for students or interested individuals to design affordable housing projects.

“What if we did a scholarship program or something where people designed affordable housing?” asked Tobin.

Pappas stated the board had put a similar idea on the table “a couple meetings ago” for discussion.

“If the budget made no difference to us, you could tap into the students and their imagination and go all out. But we need that to be tempered with people who understand how much it costs, and I think that could be a challenge if we go the student route,” said Pappas.

“It’s already a challenge,” said Spier.

Pappas also suggested reaching out to architects Paul Kelly and Ed Dusek of Manitou Architects as a point of reference for the project.

“They are certainly familiar with the island. I’m wondering if we can track them down, or if they would have referrals, or direction to point us in. They might be able to point us in the direction of how to start the concept of this,” said Pappas.

“I could reach out to them,” said Spier. “I did quite a few projects with them.”

At the end of the meeting, Pappas ask members to continue researching plans for the undeveloped property. She noted she would reach out to R.I. Housing for guidance on the new project, and suggested the board to “take a look at the work we did for Cherry Hill” for assistance in directing the project.

“All of us should try to beat the bush for architectural concepts,” said Pappas.