The Block Island Times

Planning Board hears proposal for affordable housing subdivision

By Lars Trodson | Jan 12, 2014

“I want my five houses,” said Planning Board Chair Margie Comings.

She was referring to a new proposal by the Housing Board to build five new, affordable houses on a piece of property off Cooneymus Road. According to Housing Board member Kay McManus, who appeared before the Planning Board at its Wednesday, Jan. 8 meeting, the plan is to build two 2-bedroom homes worth under $200,000 and three 3-bedroom homes, each worth between $250,000 and $280,000. The proposal is in its early stages, with many more hearings and design plan revisions to be made.

The homeowners would be young families with children, so the population of the small subdivision would be about 15 people, including children. “These would be small, energy-efficient homes, in keeping with the surrounding neighborhoods,” said McManus. The homes would be surrounded by a substantial amount of open space.

“Will you have a homeowner’s association,” Comings asked.

McManus said there would be, which would look after right of ways, septic systems, that sort of thing.

Planning Board member Socha Cohen asked why the Housing Board was building homes to buy rather than to rent.

“I hear so often the need for rentals on this island, but the answer is that it isn’t desirable to have a transient neighborhood,” said Cohen.

“That’s been a conversation on this island for as long as I’ve been on this board,” said Comings, who also said that the discussion about the merits of renting as opposed to buying was for another meeting.

Cohen also asked if the Housing Board would consider building pre-fabricated homes.

“We hope to keep most of the work on-island,” said McManus.

“Good,” said Comings. “Pre-fab is not as good as what we can build on-island.” That’s when she said she wanted her five houses.

McManus said she was looking for the blessing of the Housing Board.

“You’re off to a good start,” said member Sam Bird.

“We want to support affordable housing on Block Island,” said Comings.

In other news, the Planning Board voted to forward the final wording of proposed amendments to the town’s solar energy systems ordinance.

Among the changes included in the proposal is language that helps define what is meant by a solar panel installation and its size.

A solar energy system is defined as the “collective components of an individual solar energy system, including solar hot air or water collection devices or solar photovoltaic panels or arrays, and all supporting equipment and structures.”

The footprint of a solar installation is defined as the “area within the perimeter of a ground-mounted solar energy installation which includes the total square foot area of the panels in the array and that of any spaces between individually mounted panels or arrays. Such footprint shall be measured when determining lot building coverage.”

In addition, the new wording provides that “one or more ground-mounted solar energy systems with a total footprint of 2,000 square feet or less on a single lot or parcel shall be allowed by right in all zoning districts.”

Also, “A ground-mounted system or systems with a total footprint greater than 2,000 square feet may be allowed by special use permit under the provisions” of a previous section of the ordinance.

The 2,000 square foot size was based by measuring the size of the solar panel installation of town hall, which was estimated to be about 1,155 square feet.

Board member Cohen suggested that the new language also include a “sunset clause” that would have the language expire after three years.

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Comings, adding that it would give the town time to monitor if any problems arise from the new language. “Unforeseen consequences give me nightmares.”

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