Planning Board examines large house survey results

Fri, 04/29/2022 - 6:15am

The Planning Board will be holding two special sessions in May to discuss the results of the Large House Survey it conducted earlier this winter from Jan. 25 to Feb. 15. There were 233 responses to the online survey, which was conducted to elicit feedback, or “policy preferences of the community” as they relate to Zoning regulations governing the size of single-family homes on Block Island, and whether the regulations need to be modified.
When Planning Chair Margie Comings asked her fellow board members if they had any comments or questions on the results, member Socha Cohen said: “I have a bunch of stuff I want to say.”

According to the survey results, 57.5 percent of the respondents identified as “year-round resident,” and 76 percent said they owned a home on the island.
In response to the question of whether the survey-taker was an island real estate agent, 14 said yes. As for those in construction on the island, 17 said they were involved. Twenty people said they either work for or are on the board of a conservation organization.
Almost 70 percent of the respondents said they supported regulating the size and massing of residential real estate structures on Block Island. Those not supporting regulation numbered 19, just over 8 percent, while others were in the “somewhat” and “not sure” categories.
When it came to answering just what people considered a “large house,” answers mainly clustered in the range of 3,001 to 4,000 square foot range. Choices ranged from under 1,000 square feet to “7,000+” although some indicated 10,000 or 15,000 in their responses.

Cohen thought that the large range of responses might be indicating a confusion on the definition of footprint, versus “living space.” The survey simply refers to “square feet.”
Although others at the Planning Board meeting also thought this might be a problem, there were many survey respondents who commented that the size of the house should be dependent on the lot size, not the square footage.
One wrote: “Loaded question. It more depends in how much land the property is on. Is it interfering with others? I don’t think traditional strict zoning policies actually protect what they are intended to, while at the same time some standard process is needed to not allow the Marriot to build a hotel or a rich New Yorker, could be anyone, want to build a monstrosity that doesn’t fit the character of the island.”
Another wrote: “I am not great on Sq Ft....and I do not think most people are. It would have been better to talk about example houses. The problem of Sq Ft as the only dimension is that housing can be relative to the lot.....for example, some of the houses north of Scotch Beach are really bad whereas Champlin’s Farm fits in to the property. Curb appeal should not be the goal.”
The idea of the survey is to determine if the existing guidelines are still appropriate, or need tweaking. The current zoning ordinances already address house size relative to lot size under the maximum lot coverage guidelines, and a maximum house size in general. If one wants to exceed it, a variance is needed. The process is inherently subjective, as it is determined by a board of human beings.

One respondent said: “I don’t have a specific answer for this. I don’t think it should be subjective though. I think our boards have made subjective decisions recently that will invite lawsuits.”
The Large House Survey results are on the Town of New Shoreham’s Clerkbase page under Planning Board attached to the agenda for the April 13, 2022 Planning Board meeting.