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Block Island Times: Affordable housing project sparks further debate at Zoning Board meeting

Published on June 6, 2017

By Cassius Shuman, Fri, 06/02/2017 - 11:00am

The Block Island Housing Board’s Cherry Hill Lane development sparked an impassioned discourse between two parties on opposite sides of the issue at a recent Zoning Board meeting. The Housing Board is seeking a special use permit from the Zoning Board to proceed with construction of the development to address the island’s need for affordable housing. The project has received the approval of the Planning Board.

While Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas expressed the need for affordable housing on the island at the meeting, noting that the development’s footprint would not be altered, and that the board “wanted to be good neighbors,” abutters opposing the project said it raised “density” concerns and would “create suburbia.”

Cherry Hill Lane is a 4.5-acre parcel located on the corner of Cooneymus Road and West Side Road. If approved, it will have five dwellings: two two-bedroom homes, and three three-bedroom homes priced under $250,000. William Landry, attorney for the Housing Board, said that “more than half the parcel will be open space,” which according to the Housing Board’s proposal equates to three open space lots on the property.

Town Solicitor Don Packer said that, “the State of Rhode Island mandates affordable housing at 10 percent (of housing development). Every community in the state has to meet the 10 percent standard for affordable housing.” Packer noted that in order for a special use permit to be granted the project must meet the seven performance standards of use stipulated in the Zoning Board’s ordinance under section 405 for affordable housing on the island. At the conclusion of the meeting, some Zoning Board members said they felt that the project met the seven standards.

Housing Board member Millie McGinnes said “per Rhode Island Housing’s numbers,” the existing affordable housing on-island equates to 10.6 percent of Block Island. Per the town’s Comprehensive Plan, affordable housing includes the West Side 20, Pilot Hill, Beacon Hill, the Searles Ball Apartments, Old Harbor Meadows, Seawinds and Champlin Road. The plan denotes that Block Island is the first town in the state to maintain more than 10 percent of its year-round housing as low to moderate income.

Pappas, who has been working on the project for eight years, and has served on the Housing Board since its inception 10 years ago, said the town, and the board, “feels that the need is well established” for affordable housing to serve the island’s working community, comprised of teachers, town employees, etc. “Ten percent doesn’t begin to address the number of people that are financially qualified — who would like to live, and work, on Block Island, but are unable to find housing,” she said.

“We want to see Block Island remain a viable year-round community,” added Pappas. “And the only way that we can achieve that is to have stable housing that is attainable for people here.”

Despite Pappas’s remarks, and the state’s mandate for affordable housing, Shannon McCabe, who along with her sister, Alexis, was in attendance, and resides on West Side Road, circulated and read a letter that she said was signed by a “long list” of the project’s opponents. Reading aloud to the Zoning Board, McCabe noted that the project, as proposed, is “harmful to the future of the broader population of islanders, and the island itself,” and “does not provide the responsible stewardship called for” in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

McCabe also said she had concerns about the “max-capacity of each building,” and the inhabitants “occupying every square inch” of each of the properties.

In response, Pappas said, “The town ordinances, and zoning rules and regulations address those issues. If it’s a two-bedroom home, the capacity is four people. If it’s a three-bedroom, the capacity is six people.”

“I have a problem with the density,” said resident Scott Ferguson. “It’s at five times the density. It changes the whole neighborhood.” The abutters noted that they would like to see less than five dwellings on the property.

Abutter Robert Rule, who resides on Cooneymus Road, said the development would “create suburbia” on the island, and asked if the size, or density, of the development could be reduced.

Kate Butcher, serving as Zoning Board Chair in the absence of Elizabeth Connor, told Rule that the board would be approving the density as part of the special use permit application. Packer said that the density for the project was permissible under section 405 of the affordable housing zoning ordinance, and the use involves five dwellings on 4.5 acres of property.

Resident and abutter Mark Petti questioned whether or not there was a limit to affordable housing on the island. To which Packer said, “If the affordable housing ordinance is producing more affordable housing than the Town of New Shoreham, and the Town Council thinks should be in the town, it’s up to the Town Council to change the ordinance to stop it, or limit it.”

An emotional Shannon Morgan, who has been a year-round resident for 12 years on Block Island, and “worked at the school, and served on the Medical Center board,” said that reducing the density means that someone would not get a home. “I think five homes is a good thing. I just want a home,” she said.

The next Zoning Board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 28 at 5 p.m., when the board will be rendering its decision regarding the issuance of a special use permit for the Cherry Hill Lane project.

If approved, the project goes before the Planning Board for the approval of the Preliminary Stage of a Major Subdivision, and then Final Plan Stage of a Major Subdivision.

Courtesy of The Block Island Times

Published in Local Interest Affected cities: New Shoreham