Town employee housing project underway

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 7:15pm

Construction of a single-family residence for a senior town employee on the Thomas Property is underway, and could be completed this fall. The cost for installing the modular construction home, as it’s described on the building permit application, is $559,285.

The house is expected to become the domicile of Town Manager Ed Roberge, who is living in a temporary housing situation. 

The $1.5 million Thomas Property project was voter-approved at the Financial Town Meeting in May of 2018. It was placed on hold for several months while Town of New Shoreham officials wrestled with how to address litigation involving the project.

Second Warden André Boudreau spoke with The Times following Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, and said the town is “moving forward with the project” because a lawsuit filed by resident Cathy Payne did not halt the building process. Payne filed a lawsuit in Washington County Superior Court after having her local appeals of the project denied. “So we’re moving forward because we can,” said Boudreau.

Boudreau said the Town Council discussed the matter during closed session in July with Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla, and decided to proceed with construction since the court did not order a stoppage. “In August they started building the house,” he said, adding that the town council “should have announced that to the public.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste said the town received advice from the Attorney General’s office regarding how to proceed with the project, as well as a consent order.

“There was concern about the building process, and restrictions on the deed,” said Lacoste. “Our Town Solicitor contacted the AG’s office,” and the AG and the estate of Violette M. Connolly granted the town permission to proceed.

The Thomas Property project calls for construction of a single-family residence on the southeast corner of the Thomas Property on High Street, and renovation of the existing Thomas House duplex, converting it into four one-bedroom apartments for town employees.

Building Official Marc Tillson told The Times that the town decided to move forward with construction of the 1,664 square foot structure. He also said the single-family home could be completed in the fall.

Tillson said on Tuesday that Bain Transue’s equipment was on the property, ready to begin construction, and the foundation was in the process of being installed. He noted that the project has the required approvals: Zoning Board, Planning Board, Rhode Island State Building Code, etc. Tillson said he issued a Building Permit for the project on August 28, 2019. “The project has every approval that it needs,” he said.

Tillson echoed Boudreau’s sentiments concerning Payne’s litigation. “The decision was made by the town that the litigation has nothing to do with construction of the home.” He also said no building permit application has been submitted to his office regarding the other phase of the project: renovations of the Thomas House. 

“I issued a building permit for the single-family home for the southeast corner of the property,” said Tillson, adding that, “The Thomas House apartments aren’t moving forward” at this time.

As for the litigation, Payne filed an appeal of the Planning Board’s approval in February claiming she was an abutter, and alleged that the Thomas property is deed restricted, and requires legal authority for development from Superior Court. The Zoning Board denied her appeal in March, citing “lack of standing,” as Payne is not an abutter to the Thomas property.

After the appeal was filed, Roberge was not optimistic about the project, and said Payne’s legal action could lead to costly delays, and a possible vacating of the project by the Town Council.

Roberge has a $2,000 per month housing stipend in his personal services agreement with the town that ends when he finds permanent housing.

Boudreau said once Roberge moves into the home “his housing stipend will end, and he will have to pay rent to the town.” Boudreau said rent for the home will be about $2,500 to $3,000 per month.

Town Finance Director Amy Land said rent from the home would be deposited in the Town of New Shoreham’s “general fund, recorded as Thomas Property rent.” 

Tillson said the single-family home would be a two-story, shingled structure set back from High Street with a long driveway and an attic, front porch and chimney. It will have three bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a half-bathroom.

“It’s being built in a factory in Pennsylvania” by Ritz Craft Corporation, based on a design drafted by Connecticut Valley Homes, said Tillson. “That requires a third-party inspection by people using the Rhode Island State Building Code.”

Tillson said modular homes are built quickly, since they are constructed in a controlled environment using special equipment. “A home can be built in days,” he said. “They’re built on giant steel tables.” He explained that with the use of modern technology the process is much quicker than stick-built. 

He said the Thomas House apartment project will be stick-built, and could take longer to install. That project has been approved for the construction of four apartments within the existing Thomas House footprint.