Block Island Times

Property converted to affordable housing

The Ocean View Foundation is converting its two rental properties into affordable housing units. The non-profit is splitting a minor subdivision located off Cooneymus Road into two separate lots to establishing two single-family dwellings that will go toward the island’s affordable housing inventory.
New Shoreham Building Official Marc Tillson explained to The Times that the property contained “one old home, and a new home. The Ocean View Foundation wants to now refurbish the old building,” and split the lot into two separate lots that will be “dedicated to the island’s affordable housing initiative. It’s a win-win.”
“They’re changing the use of the property for that purpose,” said Tillson. “There will be two brand new homes to go toward the 10 percent of the island’s affordable housing” inventory. The project is being presented as a joint venture between the Ocean View Foundation and the Block Island Housing Board, which was recently granted approval for its five-dwelling Cherry Hill Lane development that includes three three-bedroom homes and two two-bedroom homes priced under $250,000.
The difference with the OVF’s project is the Foundation has been renting to two tenants on the property for several years who will have the right of first refusal for purchasing the dwelling they currently occupy. If the tenants opt not to purchase the properties, the Housing Board will sell them through the affordable housing lottery system. The OVF will also gift the properties to the Housing Board at no cost, with the net proceeds from the sale of the homes going to the OVF.
The project was granted a unanimous (5-0) favorable ruling at the Planning Board’s meeting on July 11, with board member John Spier recused, as he is a member of the Housing Board. The project now goes before the Zoning Board of Review for hearings.
Thomas Property zoning amendment
In other news, the Planning Board heard Town Manager Ed Roberge’s request to amend the town’s zoning ordinance to facilitate construction on the Thomas Property. Per authorization of the community at the May Financial Town Meeting, the town intends to construct a single-family dwelling, and repurpose the Thomas House into rental units for town-employee housing. The property is on High Street, located opposite the Block Island School.
As a result, the zoning ordinance needs to be revised to permit more than one kitchen within the repurposed building’s footprint. At its June meeting, the Town Council directed Roberge to explore amending Zoning Ordinance section 513 on Accessory apartments, or look into a community services zoning district comprising the Faulkner Property, the Thomas Property, the Block Island School, and the Block Island Medical Center. These parcels are located near the intersection of High Street and Payne Road.
Roberge broached those subjects with the Planning Board, which seemed to be in general agreement, but which also urged caution in moving too hastily.
Board member Sven Risom noted that “you can’t put more than two kitchens” on the Thomas Property, as it is inhabited by a duplex. Risom, who has been spearheading the project as a Town Councilor, said he thought the 513 should be amended to note that it is “based on town property” that allowed rental units to be built, while providing for greater flexibility for creating affordable housing projects.
Spier said that although he was “in favor of housing,” he thought the board should “look at the bigger picture” when attempting to amend the ordinance. “When amending the ordinance you need to look at the ramifications.” He said these types of projects are near residents who should have some protections, or at least have a say in the review process.
“Where does the density stop — in a residential neighborhood?” asked Spier, who noted that it should be “appropriate development,” and he would be concerned if he was a homeowner living in an area where this type of development was being proposed.
Roberge noted that, “It’s a complex issue,” while agreeing with Risom, and Spier. He said the amended ordinance should note that it’s for appropriate development, and be flexible. 
The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for August 8 at 7 p.m.


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