Council approves Church housing bid
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser announced at the Town Council, sitting as the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners meeting on Monday night, that Church Community Housing has agreed to purchase the old town offices at 44 Southwest Ave. CCH Executive Director Steve Ostiguy attended Monday night's meeting and explained the company's offer of $540,000 for the property to the council.
Ostiguy said that CCH was willing to purchase the property on Southwest Avenue. The sale is contingent on the results of an archeological study to determine if the property could be developed without violating ordinances and agreements with the Narragansett Tribe. He proposed that if the sale were completed, CCH would develop a three-unit affordable housing complex on the property.
One of the units would be the existing building that would be completely gutted and reconfigured as a single-family dwelling. Additionally, CCH would build two smaller units of 1,300 -square feet each in a townhouse design that would be suitable for families of four.
He said the stand-alone dwelling would sell for $150,000 and the smaller units would be sold for $140,000 each. However, the land would not be included in the sales. CCH would lease the land to the buyers for 99 years. Ostiguy went on to say that should someone purchase the property and decide to sell at a later date, the land lease would begin anew for 99 years to the new owners.
Originally, CCH had planned to build nine units on the property. However, due to wetland considerations and the possibility of archeological violations, the company has decided to develop the property as described. Ostiguy noted that the Planning Commission unanimously supported the project.
The council voted 3-1 to recommend a sole source aquifer designation for Conanicut Island to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Councilor William "Bill" Kelly cast the dissenting vote. Councilor Robert Sutton, who also opposed the issue, was absent. Council President Julio DiGiando, Vice President Michael White, and Council member Barbara Szepatowski voted in favor of the SSA designation.
White voiced reservations about adding an additional layer of bureaucracy to making island environmental decisions. He said, "Although I have reservations, I will probably vote in favor of the sole source aquifer because of the educational benefits, and the long term advantage of possibly adding protection to the limited resource."
Kelly said he was "suspect of the motivation for the designation. The idea to declare the island a sole source aquifer came from the North End Concerned Citizens group and I feel that their interest in the designation was to make it more difficult for the town to make use of the landfill in the north end of the island."
Kelly added that the designation does not give the town any tangible benefits and relinquishes local control to an organization in Boston. He also said, "We have zoning, planning, CRMC (Coastal Resources Management Council), DEM (Department of Environmental Management) and 10 organizations in all to look at projects before decisions are made, and now do we want to have EPA involved?"
Szepatowski said that she was 100 percent in favor of the designation "if for no other reason than the educational benefits." She added, "We need to do all we can to protect our water, and there is the possibility that federal funds could be allocated for SSA designated communities in the future. It doesn't cost anything and gives our water still another layer of protection."
DiGiando said, "We've made major efforts to protect the water in the Shores and this could help. I'm going to support this program. I'm 90 percent convinced that this additional layer of protection can't hurt."
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that he had concerns about delays in completing projects that could be caused by EPA and other agencies due to the SSA designation. He also said, "However, I consulted with the administrations in Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Block Island. They said they have experienced no delays." He reported that one airport project had involved the EPA, but no problems had been experienced by the community in working with the agency.
Keiser went on to say he suspected that our experience would be similar because the SSA designation was designed to protect a community's primary water source from major federal projects like road and airport construction, which is not likely to happen here. He also mentioned that the designation does not apply to landfill remediation- a project that has been viewed by some to be the reason for pursuing the designation.
Wind power study
In other business, Szepatowski made a motion to approve awarding a bid for a wind power feasibility study to the firm of Applied Technology Management for a fee not to exceed $48,000. The council voted 4-0 in favor of the bid.
Wind Energy Committee Chairman Don Wineberg explained the nature of the study to the council and urged them to support the project. Wineberg said they chose ATM because one of the principals of the company, Danny Mendelsohn, lives on the island and has a personal interest in the project's success. Wineberg added that the study would begin in April and would take approximately six months to complete.
Recreation Director appointed
Keiser officially recommended that William "Bill" Piva, interim recreation director for more than a year, be appointed as permanent recreation director. Szepatowski motioned to approve the recommendation and Kelly seconded the motion. All council members in attendance voted in favor of the appointment.
Keiser and Szepatowski both praised Piva for his outstanding performance since taking on the responsibilities of the post, and voiced their confidence that he would continue to serve the town in an exemplary manner.