Housing Board seeks inspiration for next project

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 5:45pm
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Members of the Housing Board continued discussions planning the next affordable housing project for the island at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9. The available property is across the street from the Ball O’Brien Park on West Side Road (Plat 18, Lot 2-3). The board has been collecting potential ideas and guidance over the past few months.

Member Rosemary Tobin referred to the Housing Board’s survey of the current housing needs.

“The greater need is for rental,” said Tobin. “I feel with this piece of land, it’s better with more [rental] units than houses.”

“[The Housing Board Survey] is really relevant as we discuss our hope and dreams for the West Side Road property,” added Chair Cindy Pappas.

Pappas noted 67 percent of the respondents were looking to own their own home, and around 46 percent of respondents were looking for a rental.

Members John Spier and Stacy Henshaw said the board should take into consideration what people want and can also afford.

“I think that from looking at that survey, we need to meet some of the different demographics and [determine] what people are looking for,” said Henshaw.

Pappas and Spier updated the board on recent conversations with the Land Use Department about the scope of the project.

“Our best approach is to apply for a zone change for the Ball O’Brien property and have it rezoned to New Harbor Commercial, which is what is across the street. Most of the area is New Harbor Commercial. That would give us enough density for any of the projects we were talking about,” said Spier. He offered to prepare the application and to bring it back for the next Housing Board meeting before sending it in.

“It is a multistep process – we should get moving on it,” said Spier.

Pappas also mentioned conversations with the Land Use Department that suggested utilizing the services of Town Engineer Jim Geremia for a topographic map of the property.

“I like that idea,” said Spier.

Pappas stated she had written a letter to Rhode Island Housing with a brief overview of their project “asking for guidance and direction in hopes of sharing some of the projects they have been involved in.”

“I have not heard back from them,” said Pappas.

She added she had better luck in a recent conversation with the principals of Manitou Architects, who provided their insight into the project.

“I had a two-hour conversation with Paul Kelly and Ed Dusek that was very encouraging and very interesting. They have done a lot of work on Block Island over the decades, and have a good sense of the island vernacular. Basically, I wanted to pick their brains. They sent a lot of information [we can use] if we are interviewing architectural firms and designs – what information we will need at our fingertips, and some of the questions we would ask them. They feel that we should stick close to home, and that we would be best with Rhode Island- or Massachusetts-based companies, just because of the geography,” said Pappas.

Spier added: “I spoke with [Town Facilities Manager] Sam Bird and he suggested some things. One is the [American Institute of Architects] state chapters because they have access to a searchable database. He suggested reaching out to my contacts in the magazine business. There is a green building site, which he and I are members of. I can post on that and see if anyone is interested.”

Tobin also added she had been talking to a city planner and other individuals in Newport as a resource for different types of housing. Pappas reminded the board to also keep in mind checking out previous projects and housing on the island and in other neighborhoods for inspiration.

“As we go around the island, think of what is here on the island. If anyone sees any potential developments in neighborhoods, take a picture – visuals get us moving,” said Pappas.

She suggested taking a tour of the Martin House development on Ocean Avenue as a source of inspiration. The board agreed with the idea of touring the housing sometime in the next two weeks.

“Let’s try for a weekend. I’ll reach out to my homeowners and I’ll try to line it up for a weekend,” said Pappas.