The Block Island Times

Ideas for town-owned property offered

From BIRA members
By Lars Trodson | Aug 20, 2014
Photo by: Lars Trodson

“Strategy is the key word.”

That was Sven Risom, talking about the goals of the Large Asset Strategy Committee (LASC), which had been invited to speak to the members of the Block Island Residents Association at their annual meeting.

Risom is the chair of the LASC, which has nine members (including myself). The mission of the LASC is to assess town-owned assets and land and to present a final report to the Town Council on what upgrades any of these facilities may need, and what new uses these assets may possibly be used for.

“How do we develop our assets and the land, and what do we do with them?” Risom asked. In that capacity, the members of the LASC were at the meeting to hear from BIRA’s members, in what was the first of three scheduled public forums, as to what the members felt the town needed in terms of resources. (The LASC plans to meet with the School Committee next, at a date yet to be determined.)

Risom wanted to break the discussion down into two parts: macro needs and micro needs. A “macro need,” for instance, may simply mean upgrades to the Coast Guard Station. “Micro needs” would be a more detailed assessment of what those upgrades to that facility would be.

The ideas then came quickly: Resident Peter Saxon said “we need water and sanitary facilities at North Beach and Southeast Lighthouse and all the beaches people are invited to use.”

Resident Socha Cohen said the island needed “a physical fitness center” and upgrades to make the beaches handicapped accessible. She also suggested a convention center and a performing arts center. Others backed that up by suggesting a physical therapy center and an assisted living center for seniors were needed.

“It’s incredible that one has to leave the island for physical therapy,” said Risom.

Resident Becky Ballard said the community needed an “indoor, enclosed swimming pool, large enough for high school swim meets.”

BIRA President Bill Penn said Block Island needs “to do a better job providing bathroom facilities to boaters.”

Summer resident Richard Weisbroat asked for a “water fountain in town,” to which someone in the audience replied: “In Rhode Island, it’s called a ‘bubbla.’”

Another person said “We really need to address the bike path issue.” A recent letter to The Block Island Times suggested that the lack of bike paths, combined with the number of bikers, walkers and moped riders, was creating an unsafe environment on the island. Someone else suggested that the island needs more space for parking, and also an office for an island social worker — if the island were to ever get a social worker.

After numerous suggestions had been made, island resident Peter Wood said, “All of these things that we don’t have is why I came to Block Island. It seems we’re trying to turn Block Island into the mainland and that’s happening fast enough.”

There was some discussion on what to do with the Coast Guard House, which has four buildings: the main house, the boat house, the building that once housed military vehicles and the Chief’s house. The main house is used for housing for summer town employees and the town’s Building Official, Marc Tillson; the boat house is used for storage; the motor pool house is used to park state police vehicles when they are on the island; and the Chief’s house is used for Coast Guard crews staying on the island.

Arlene Tunney, a member of the LASC, suggested that the main house could be used for affordable housing units. We have a dire need for housing and it’s perfect for housing,” said Tunney.

“There’s got to be a better use for that piece of property than housing,” said BIRA member Jim Hinthorn. “It’s a beautiful piece of property.”

Socha Cohen asked if the deed allowed the town to sell the property, and Risom said that it did not.

The information gathered at this meeting will be used to help the LASC compile its final recommendations to the Town Council in February 2015.

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