Conservancy and Land Trust propose outdoor educational center
Located at the Solviken property on Corn Neck Road — The Solviken Property on Corn Neck Road is still nothing more than a foundation, but a couple of groups have dynamic plans for the location.
Barbara MacMullen and Bill Comings, on behalf of the Block Island Land Trust (BILT) and the Block Island Conservancy (BIC), have proposed the creation of a Conservation/Recreation area on that site, which the HDC gave its approval to at its Monday, April 22 meeting.
Making the presentation for the BILT and the BIC at the HDC meeting, was Derek van Lent, landscape architect for both groups. The land was acquired by the Block Island Conservancy in late 2012.
The property consists of a parking area, the old foundation and a large parcel of open land that rises toward Harbor Pond. van Lent said members of the Conservancy and the Land Trust had put their heads together to determine “how best to use the land to provide education there.”
He said the group wanted to keep the parking lot that people could do what they’d always done there: pull off the road to sit and gaze at the ocean or stop there to eat lunch.
In addition, van Lent said, “We want a[n education] center at the existing foundation," he said.
“Our intent is to provide an area for people to wander through, with educational signage, and the walls configured in such a way so that people can sit,” van Lent said. He added there would be “looped trails into the Harbor Pond area,” with signage identifying specific wildlife habitats, and benches and at least two observation points.
Elaborating on specifics, van Lent said there would be coastal plantings, as well as an area designated as a meadow. “The parking lot itself will have a mixture of heavy gravel with smaller stones, so that people can also ride bikes and motorcycles," van Lent said.
“We want to provide many opportunities for people to learn about where they are,” van Lent said. He noted that at the point of a retaining wall, they hoped to “create a granite compass rose" using colors that reflect island life. He added there could be pointers to local and distant destinations — something artistic, yet functional in that it would act to locate “where people are.”
He said that while essentially the work had been collaboration between the Land Trust and the Island Conservancy, van Lent also said the groups have been “been working with the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the National History Survey.”
Withstanding future storms
Van Lent that the CRMC had “asked for a little rain garden, where water could run in and then from our garden into the pond.” Other considerations were to make the area able to withstand severe storms should they occur, he said.
HDC Chair Bill Penn asked, “In terms of long-range planning regarding changes in sea level, as we see in storm surges — like in Sandy — how will you build for long-term resilience?” Those considerations had been anticipated, van Lent said, with provisions made within the lower site to use appropriate pervious materials, while the upper points of the land should be at high enough elevations to withstand flooding.
In answer to Penn, van Lent said there was discussion of introducing a walkway to the beach, but this was only in the talking stages. Bill Comings rose to support van Lent’s proposal, indicating it was “a multi-phased plan.” He acknowledged that currently the groups did not know how many phases would be needed — final plans were also dependent on fundraising.
HDC member Doug Gilpin Jr. said, “This is a beautiful plan, well laid-out and I particularly like the walking area. I would hope there’s someone out there who would be willing to write a very big check [for this].”
Van Lent spoke of “potentially needing a shade structure,” and suggested that eventually there might be designation of some kind of platform area, for multiple uses, such as musical or theatrical performances, lectures and so forth.
Penn said, “It’s a very imaginative plan. I am assuming that both organizations will take care of maintaining the site.” Comings added, “There are a number of interesting elements of this plan. We’re interested in keeping it as simple as we can and in using durable materials.” Emphasis, van Lent said would be on safety and on using materials that would preserve the foundation.
Though member Claire McQueeny said it was unusual to give both a preliminary and final review approval, she agreed the group should for this proposal and members unanimously voted to do so.
Penn concluded, “It is clearly within the interest of the Historic District Commission to accept a wholly new and innovative proposal for land that’s sat fallow for years.”