Housing Board looking ahead
Pleased by the favorable reception the Planning Board gave the Cherry Hill Lane affordable housing development on May 9, the members of the Block Island Housing Board turned toward implementing that project and others at their May 15 meeting.
“We were thrilled with the Planning Board's support, and look forward to their decision,” Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas said. The five-home subdivision off Cooneymus Road has been the target of neighbors' objections throughout the permitting process.
Once the Planning Board issues a decision — expected at its June meeting — the next pending issue will be preparing Requests for Proposals for construction, Pappas told the Housing Board. She added that Town Manager Ed Roberge has volunteered to help, drawing on his expertise in developing RFPs.
An infrastructure RFP comes first, and will include the access road, drainage and septic systems, wells, water lines and other underground utilities.
“We know the road standards,” Pappas continued, referring to engineering protocols for the right of way that will serve the new homes and provide a throughway to abutting properties. The septic system design is done and awaiting approval by the state. Member John Spier advised including the final landscaping in the infrastructure RFP, to ensure that the first site work will not have to be redone at the end. Landscape design has been one of the sticking points with the abutting property owners.
Whether the new homes will use modular or stick-built construction is also yet to be determined. Pappas said she will follow up with a modular home builder in Connecticut, and Spier said he will keep in contact with the project's architect, Frank Karpowicz.
Consulting on Merck project
The Housing Board is working with island property owner Josie Merck on the sale of two existing homes, converting them to affordable housing units in the process. Kim Gaffett represented Merck at the meeting to discuss agreements and covenants that will apply to those homes. The homes will be occupied by the current tenants.
“It's well in Joe [Priestley]'s hands,” Gaffett said, referring to Merck's attorney; “he has all the templates.” Gaffett said some “site-specific” conditions may be added, such as limiting mowing of open space and agreements to share maintenance costs of a well and an access road.
Other provisions could establish precedents for future affordable housing projects on the island: Requiring a homeowners' association be created — even for a two-unit development — with a member of the Housing Board serving as an “arbitrator” between the owners, in Spier's phrase; and allowing the owners' children to inherit the property, with the original covenants and conditions continuing to apply.
“We will say the kids can inherit unless told otherwise,” said Gaffett.
Pappas replied that while the Housing Board hasn't taken a position on inheritance policies, “The point is to keep the house in the affordable pool in perpetuity.”
“That's what we're striving for,” Gaffett said. “We're still optimistic that the details will all work out.” Merck's proposal will go before the Planning Board in June.
The Housing Board commented briefly on two other housing matters. Spier said of a parcel recently acquired from the Ball-O'Brien families, “We'll decide what we want to do, and then find out what we can do.”
Pappas replied that she was “still hoping for a mix of homeownership and rental housing” on that parcel, which is adjacent to the E. Searles Ball rental apartments on West Side Road. Spier noted that “homeownership tends to produce a better neighborhood than just rental.”
Pappas also reported that Town Manager Roberge had recently convened a meeting to talk about housing. “Obviously, the town is very interested in housing issues,” she said, noting the vote at the Financial Town Meeting to issue bonds to construct housing for town employees on the Thomas property across High Street from the Block Island School.
However, the Thomas property is not an affordable housing project as described now, she said.