The Block Island Times

Complex but complete: proposed new affordable housing ordinance

By Judy Tierney | Nov 19, 2012

At their meeting Wednesday evening, the Planning Board put the finishing touches on proposed amendments to affordable housing sections of the zoning ordinance. The board also voted to send it on to the town council with a suggestion for a joint workshop on the complex document.

If the council approves the rewrite, the so-called double density provision, section 405E, will automatically expire on December 31, 2018, or sooner if 30 affordable rental and 50 units of affordable home ownership have been created. The provision allows for more than 30 rental units if there are not 50 home ownership units and vice versa.

The fact that an earlier version of this double density clause had expired recently is what prompted the council to take another look at the entire affordable housing provision.

The rewrite of the rest of the provisions is so detailed and complex that planning board member Socha Cohen met with administrative officer Jen Brady Brown and Planner Jane Weidman to create a chart that shows the minimum building lot sizes, minimum building lot sizes for affordable houses and the types of housing allowed in each of the eight zoning districts for lots that would be served with public sewers versus septic systems.

Another 16 cells of the chart delineate minimal building lot size for non-profit affordable housing and type of housing allowed for all eight zoning districts.

The chart is available for public review in the building department at Town Hall.

The document also recommends that the Planning Board replace the Zoning Board as the local review body for comprehensive permits for low and moderate income housing, section 712.

Board member Sven Risom questioned whether something was wrong with having such complex ordinances that a chart is needed to understand them, but after a short discussion, the answer the board came up with was “no.” Board member Norris Pike said, “It goes back to why it is there: you wanted control over what gets built where and how much.” Chair Margie Comings reiterated that “we wanted every scenario spelled out.” They especially, she said, did not want “loopholes and unintended consequences.”

Parking proved to be a particularly difficult part of the regulations to set. Although they agreed there should be at least two spaces per housing unit, discussion ensued on the additional vehicles, such as cars for the teenagers in a family and trucks. They settled on parking needing to be on site if there are more than two vehicles.

Other business

In a unanimous vote, the board passed a favorable advisory on an application by the estate of David K. Harrison to amend the zoning map to include the West Side Road property (Plat 18, lot 6-1) in the Historic District overlay. Comings commented that “it meets criteria for Historic District overlay and is a wonderful old house.” This law allows the interior of the house to be modified, but exterior changes will need Historic District Commission approval.

A brief discussion of repairs to be done on the washed-out roadways from Hurricane Sandy resulted in a decision to send the Town Manager a letter on the road design. Risom expressed concern that Corn Neck Road will be rebuilt the same way, when that area is in danger of being washed out again. He advocated they fix the problem. Comings suggested the letter advocating road design that will further resist storm surges by raising the road or creating a barrier.

An application on the agenda for construction of commercial space, Cusick Marketplace on Dodge Street (Plat 6, lot 121), will not be ready until January, Comings said.

With Pike moving on to the Town Council, the Planning Board is searching for a new member. Interested residents should contact Comings or Kim Gaffett with a letter of interest and pertinent background information.


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