Visions for the Solviken Property
On Monday, Dec. 9, directors from the Block Island Conservancy joined with members of the Block Island Land Trust at its regular monthly meeting to discuss and vote on a conceptual plan for the Solviken property on Corn Neck Road.
The session opened with a presentation by landscape architect Derek Van Lent, who is also a Conservancy Director. Van Lent began by reiterating the conclusions and goals that the parties had reached at a previous meeting: to offer limited vehicular parking, parking for mopeds and bicycles, and how best to utilize the foundation left after the demolition of the Solviken House.
The foundation, while crumbling, is an interesting artifact utilizing stones of various sizes, from larger cut stones to small cobblestones. Members of both organizations speculated as to the origins of the cut stones in particular. Those stones, which are of pink granite, did not come from the island, attendees noted, and some suggested that they may have been pilfered from the breakwater. The cobblestones appear to have simply been beach stones. While people agreed that the foundation may be intriguing, they did not feel that it needed to necessarily be preserved as an historic structure.
What they did agree on was that something needed to be done before the summer of 2014. Conservancy President Bill Comings sardonically remarked that he had received a comment about donations to the project: “I’m glad I gave to your parking lot, but…”
Van Lent presented four plans that he had drawn up to show various possibilities for utilizing the entire plot of land, as well as the foundation. (The groups did not yet want images presented to the public.)
The first plan (as did all the others) showed a crescent-shaped area for parking in front of the foundation. It would accommodate 12 regular spaces and one handicap space. The front of the property, along the street, except for entrances at either end to access the parking, would be closed off in the middle, with a walkway through the center. This plan, which Van Lent termed “Scheme D,” also included a platform over a part of the foundation that would be covered by a shade structure in the form of a roof, with a small cupola to let the air out in times of high wind that might otherwise blow off the roof. This platform could be used as a small stage, with the area behind that rises up a small slope and used as a small grass seating area, in the shape of an amphitheater. (The idea of a performance space had been raised by Land Trust member Harold Hatfield at an earlier meeting.)
Scheme D also showed pathways to the pond side of the property, where a viewing platform with informational signage was sketched in. The platform would be paid for by the Committee for the Great Salt Pond.
While Scheme D called for some preservation and some filling in of the foundation, Scheme E called for maintaining the full foundation, with the same type of structure as “D.” It would not only entail repairing the foundation but adding a ramp and stairs for safe access. A rail would also be necessary in parts due to building codes that stipulate that any drop greater than 30 inches would require a protective rail.
The next drawings were the simplest. In “Scheme F,” the foundation would be filled to within the 30 inch level, with minor repairs to enforce the sides and sealing the tops of the stones to prevent water seepage. It would essentially be the same plan as “D,” but without the platform and shade structure. Van Lent noted that it could be used as a preliminary plan, with the stage and shade structure being added later as more funds became available. Indeed, Conservancy director Rosemary Tobin quipped: “Sketch in a donation box.”
The final scheme was similar to the first, with the primary difference being the design of the shade shelter. This one called for poles with fabric awnings that could easily be removed during the off season and if high winds were called for. While those at the meeting seemed to prefer this design over the more permanent roof structure, Van Lent pointed out that if electricity were to be provided to the structure, the panel could go up under the eaves in order to alleviate potential damage if the foundation were ever flooded.
Van Lent noted that this (flooding of utilities) had been a particular problem during Super-storm Sandy. Denny Heinz of the Land Trust added that the code now was that electrical panels needed to be 18 feet above the high-water mark.
Design versus cost
After thanking and applauding Van Lent for his work and sketches, the meeting attendees heard the numbers. Estimates for the foundation work alone fell in a range of a low of $37,650 for the foundation to be simply filled in to the 30-inch mark and minor repairs made, to a high of $47,700 for preserving and repairing the deeper foundation.
Barbara MacMullan, Chair of the Land Trust, said that the cost was much less than she had thought, and Leonard Perfido of the Conservancy thought the numbers looked “way too low.”
Susan Gibbons, Vice President of the Conservancy, felt that the foundation would probably be flooded and fill in with water and sand anyway — probably within the next five years, “so keep it simple and safe” she said.
Perfido added that “fussy stuff takes away from the focus on the site itself.” And indeed, peppered throughout the meeting, those in attendance had stressed that the main attraction of the property was in the views it provided of the ocean.
To that end, Heinz wanted the structure to be in a higher place on the property. Although building in over an existing foundation does provide relief from set-back requirements, which could be a problem on the property, Heinz added that “we’re not building a house.”
Unsure of what the cost of work beyond the foundation itself, the two organizations agreed to start with plan “F.”
Van Lent said that they could at least start with the parking area and “opening feature,” and the others agreed, setting the creation of the front and parking area, as well as filling in the foundation, as the goals to be accomplished by next summer.