The Block Island Times

Housing talks management issues and Brown-Smith project

By Judy Tierney | Feb 13, 2013

While the Housing Board began to plan construction of its next affordable housing project Wednesday evening, it also touched upon the thorny issue of monitoring the projects once they are completed.

Chair Cindy Pappas brought a draft of a monitoring agreement for the Jacke [Champlin Road] project homeowners, and the subject elicited complaints about the West Side 20 homeowners as well as those living in Old Harbor Meadows. Commission member Patricia Murphy, who is also president of Block Island Economic Development, which spearheaded the two latter projects, said, “There are two issues. One is over-occupancy and the other is under-occupancy.” No homeowners were identified. Murphy said problems were brought to the attention of Rhode Island Housing, but the state agency was too swamped with trying to avoid foreclosures so it could not address them.

Pappas suggested the homeowners’ associations act as the enforcers of the rules. Board member John Spier expressed his concerns if they do not “and if we have a mess there,” the public might not continue to support the one-percent rental tax for future affordable housing.

Murphy asked Pappas if the draft monitoring agreement included arbitration, as that process is less expensive than going to court. All thought it would be a good idea to add the arbitration clause.

Brown-Smith project

As for the new Brown-Smith project, Pappas suggested the homes should be smaller so as to avoid the same problems., i.e. less extra space, less likelihood for rental infractions. The Jacke homes, she declared, are a good size.

Spier offered sketches of how the houses could be laid out. One was in regular subdivision lots, which would be 35,000- to 40,000-square feet each, and another included five houses on small lots clustered together with open space. Though participants in a recent housing round table preferred regular lots over the cluster, the board members thought large lots would make the houses more expensive. With a cluster, engineering costs and septic installation would be cheaper.

A third option Spier suggested was what he called “mix and match.” There could be two or three houses with regular lots and one duplex or two small cottages on two smaller lots. The smaller ones could be sold for less, maybe $150,000 or $175,000 a piece.

Pappas recalled that the Jacke homes had cost the board $250,000 each to build, plus $50,000 each for the land. The board then sold the houses for $250,000 each and subsidized the difference. Pappas thought that the decision on the Brown-Smith plan will depend largely on the engineering report on the soils and slopes.

Board member Rosemary Tobin noted that there are people without families who need smaller houses. Murphy agreed, and said she supports a duplex on smaller lots. One building with two units, Pappas told them, yields significant cost savings. “We could make it look like a single family from the outside,” she said. Tobin mentioned the Trim’s Ridge homes as an example of a nice development with one shared wall between units and decks that do not face each other.

The board reviewed responses from 12 of the attendees at the recent round robin on affordable housing. Five wanted three to four bedrooms, three checked three bedrooms and four responded two to three bedrooms. Spier remarked that “in all fairness to the neighborhood, we do not want an opportunity for a six-bedroom house.” Pappas also offered the opinion, “keep them small to keep them affordable.”

Before issuing an RFP for designs from architects, Spier said they needed to address cleaning up the property, which contains two old cars and other junk strewn upon it. Pappas will send a letter to Tim McCabe, allowing his horses to continue to graze there until September 30 of this year. Once the cars are removed, either by the police department finding the owner through VIN numbers or by having them towed, Spier will put out an RFP to carry out the junk removal.

The board will use the Jacke construction figures, $250,000 each, as a base for bonding to finance the construction of the project. There was agreement that $1 million in bonding be requested at the Financial Town Meeting. With a track record of a previous bond, which has been totally repaid, Pappas thought it could pass. However, she asked all the members to go to that meeting.

10-percent goal reached

Pappas reported on a meeting of South County communities discussing progress on meeting the state’s affordable housing requirement. Of the planners who presented, Pappas said, Block Island’s Town Planner Jane Weidman was well received. In particular, she said, others noted Weidman was the only one to say that the community has a need for affordable housing.

The input from towns at that meeting, according to Pappas, was that the 10-percent quota for every town is not appropriate. Some rural communities have no infrastructure for density, and Charlestown is almost totally under Coastal Resources Management Council jurisdiction.

“We should all be proud of our town,” Pappas said, referring to the fact that rather than reporting the difficulties of reaching the 10-percent figure, Block Island has met that goal.

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