The Block Island Times
http://block-island.villagesoup.com/p/1225810

Housing Board may push back timetable

To further study affordable housing designs
By Lily O'Gara | Aug 14, 2014

The members of the Housing Board are determined to get their affordable unit plans right, so much so that they are willing to push back the timetable to explore more options. Concerned neighbors of the Brown Smith property, located off Cooneymus Road, where the houses will be constructed, attended an Aug. 6 meeting and said they didn’t like the plans. In response, the Board scheduled a work session for just a week later.

During the Aug. 13 session, the Board members discussed every possible configuration of the project. Using green and red Monopoly houses, which everyone joked were “not to scale,” the group tried to visualize the suggestions brought up by the abutting neighbors during the previous meeting.

Neighbors said they felt that the Board’s proposed construction of a road linking the homes and surrounding properties would negatively affect the character of the neighborhood. The road, which the Board planned to construct along the northwest side of the property, would also cause an increase in light and noise pollution, as well as pose significant safety hazards, they said.

In reviewing the aerial map, Chair Cindy Pappas pointed out that considering other options before proceeding and spending time and money made sense.

“I would much rather have this dialogue going on now,” Pappas said, adding that getting it right the first time was essential in order to avoid the “neighbors armed with their attorneys.”

The group agreed that no plan would make everyone completely happy, but that making it less “onerous” for the neighbors would be best.

“’Embrace’ is an exaggeration, but we want it to be somewhat embraced by the neighbors,” Pappas said.

The plan as presented last week included updates suggested by the Planning Board, which favors contiguous open space. In this proposal, the houses are arranged in a linear, ell-like fashion. Pappas said that while she thought this was the most economical and practical orientation, the plan lacked aesthetic appeal. She proposed a road running through the middle of the property, with the three larger homes clustered on one side and the two cottages on the other. Creating these clusters might feel more neighborly and welcoming, Pappas said.

Board member Kay McManus said, “I think we need to be cognizant that we have to have somewhat of a tight design.” While the proposed orientation might be a bit boring, it is the most cost-efficient, she said, and would allow for more money to be spent on the houses. This design also allows for the most contiguous open space. The houses are projected to cost under $250,000.

John Spier, another member of the Board, agreed with McManus. For “hundreds of years,” Spier said, houses in the Residential Zone have been arranged in a linear fashion, not “tucked down in hollows” like some of the neighbors seemed to want, he said. Clustering the houses would also require asking the Planning Board to make an exception to their recommendation that the lots be no less than 15,000 square feet. Other possibilities discussed included situating the smaller cottages towards the rear of the property, to keep traffic to a minimum; staggering or angling the houses to add variety; including the road as proposed with a softer curve; building a double-road system; or cutting the project down to include only four homes.

“We’re dealing with aesthetics and then trying to add practicality,” Pappas said while the group moved the pieces around on the blueprint, trying to figure out how to fuse these two aspects together.

Throughout the session, the Board members continuously arrived at the original proposal. In the end, they agreed that Spier and McManus would draw up two alternate plans, the first being the original proposal flipped, so that the road ran along the bottom of the property and the second including a road through the middle of the land. With new blueprints, the group would be better able to visualize the plans.

Spier said the blueprints would help “to satisfy ourselves that we’ve looked at all possibilities.”

The proposals will be revisited at a Sept. 3 meeting.

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