Housing Board eyes next development project

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 5:30pm

With the Cherry Hill Lane subdivision project completed and occupied, the Housing Board is wasting no time in its efforts to identify the next phase of the island’s affordable housing needs.

To that end, the Board is putting the finishing touches on a new island-wide survey that will help guide the board in its process to design and build the next housing project, which will occupy an undeveloped parcel of land across from the Ball O’Brien Park on West Side Road. The Housing Board discussed its survey and the Ball O’Brien property at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Board member Rosemary Tobin had sent copies of the draft survey to the other members of the board for discussion purposes. When the survey is issued, board members agreed that it should be made available to as many outlets as possible to ensure that it is seen and taken by as many island residents as possible.

“We’re doing this to inform our planning and decision-making for future developments, most specifically the West Side Road property,” said Board Chair Cindy Pappas. “We want to know who is our client and how we can best serve their needs. What we need to know is: who are we talking to, their current island status, their preferred housing needs, what their financial capabilities are. Those are the critical questions. I think the survey really hit on all those issues pretty well.”

There was some tinkering with and removing questions, such as one about reselling the home at a profit, because, Pappas said, “all affordable housing will have resale limits on them.”

Board member John Spier said, “I think this is an excellent survey. The question now is how do we reach a bigger survey group, not just the people who are our clients? If we get a good return on this there is plenty of data for what we need.”

Tobin said the survey will also be translated into Spanish, while adding that just putting the survey out to the public “may get people to think they can help with housing.”

“This is great progress,” said Pappas.

Development on West Side Road

Spier said that he had done a site visit at the West Side Road property a couple of times. He said the land had been cleared pretty well. The next steps would be to figure out “what we want to do and how to decide what we want to do.” He added that the upcoming survey would ultimately inform the decision on whether the project would be “single family homes, condominiums. A mix?” Spier said the parcel was “an easy piece of land to develop in a lot of ways.” He recommended having a conversation with Town Planner Allison Ring to find out what could be done with the land. “I think it’s a blank slate there,” he said.

Pappas said she wanted to talk to the town’s water and sewer companies to see if they could accommodate new development in that area. Both Water Company Supt. John Breunig and Sewer Company Supt. Dylan Chase have asked to have their departments be consulted on new construction projects due to the amount of building currently going on. One project in particular — new employee housing for the Block Island Beach House, known as the Grove — has asked for and received an allocation of 6,800 gallons of water and sewage per day.

“I think it would behoove us to see if there are any allocations that would have to be requested or if there are any impediments to town water and sewer,” said Pappas.

“With everything going on you’d think they would hit capacity at some point,” said member Shannon Cotter-Marsella.

“We should make sure we have that allocation available to that property,” said Pappas.

The board also scheduled a site visit to the Ball O’Brien property for later this month to, as Pappas said, “get our creative juices flowing.”