2010-07-22 / Front Page

Affordable housing gets $200K funding

Council issues ‘clarification’ on Winsor’s LNG efforts
By Phil Zahodiakin

A major financial commitment for an affordable housing project – and a terse “clarification” directed at a sitting council member – dominated the Jamestown Town Council proceedings on July 19.

The housing project has been proposed by the Newport-based Church Community Housing Corp., which hopes to build two single-family homes, and renovate an existing home, at the 13 Swinburne St. property that the group plans to purchase with a variety of grants.

The affordable housing proposal was initially addressed during the Town Water and Sewer meeting, during which the council members – meeting as commissioners – considered a CCHC request to waive the water and sewer fees for each of the three-bedroom houses that would be built on the lot.

The fees to install and hook up water and sewer service would be $8,350 per house, for a total of $16,700. Although the commissioners were sympathetic to the request, council member Bill Murphy said that he would be reluctant to ask Jamestown water and sewer ratepayers to effectively fund the request.

Consequently, once the commissioners signed off on the proposed hook-ups, the request to waive the fees was shifted to the Town Council meeting, where the agenda included a CCHC request for a $200,000 appropriation in support of the $970,000 necessary for the entire project – including the cost of the Swinburne Street property.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser advised the council that the Jamestown Affordable Housing Fund balance stood at $300,000, and the councilors voted unanimously for a commitment to transfer $200,000 to CCHC – when and if the group raises the rest of the necessary funding.

The council, which attached a six-month time limit to the commitment, then re-visited the waiver request, deciding to approve the release of additional Affordable Housing Fund money in support of the hook-up and installation fees if the property is purchased – which will not happen unless CCHC raises the entire $970,000.

Keiser told the Press that “there have been several prior attempts to develop affordable housing projects in town and, for different reasons, they were unsuccessful. Jamestown presents unique challenges for affordable housing development, not only because of the cost of Jamestown real estate, but also, particularly within the Village, the presence of Indian artifacts and burials. So, finding a workable site that makes a project feasible is a very welcome opportunity.”

The council agenda also included a number of topics related to the Weaver’s Cove proposal to build a liquefied natural gas facility in Mt. Hope Bay. The most newsworthy topic to emerge from those discussions was unscheduled: Council consideration of a “press release and advisory” regarding council member Ellen Winsor.

The advisory was offered for consideration by Town Council President Mike Schnack. It says that Winsor “has or is requesting to meet with City and Town Councils, municipal boards and Commissions and organizations around the bay.

“At these meetings,” the advisory continues, “it has been stated that Councilor Windsor [sic] is promoting an LNG Joint Resolution seeking municipalities to join as signatories. This advisory has been authorized and issued by the Jamestown Town Council to alert and advise all persons and parties that Councilor Windsor’s [sic] efforts in this matter are not authorized nor endorsed by the Town of Jamestown.”

The advisory adds that Winsor “has not been given the authority to speak on the Town’s behalf in the matter. The Town of Jamestown has not approved nor is a signatory of the LNG Resolution that Councilor Windsor is promoting.”

When asked by Winsor for the names of the individuals alleging that she was misrepresenting herself, Schnack declined. Winsor dismissed the advisory as “overkill,” but council member Bob Bowen expressed the view that its wording is “mild,” adding that the advisory should be sent to every group and municipality with an interest in the LNG issue, including the office of the state attorney general.

Asked for comment by the Press, Winsor said, “If you listen to my recent remarks to the Bristol Town Council, you would see that I clearly identify myself as a Jamestown councilor who is speaking as a private citizen on behalf of the LNG Working Group.

“I don’t know where these accusations are coming from, or why the Jamestown councilors are using anonymous accusations to attack my longstanding advocacy for the Working Group resolution, which many of the coastal communities have already signed.

The unity emerging from those signatures is undermined by this destructive focus on me.”

The advisory was endorsed by a 4-to-1 vote, after which the council also decided to prohibit the LNG Working Group from receiving its mail at Town Hall because the panel, which Winsor founded last fall, is not affiliated with the town or any town committee.

In other business, the council:

• Learned from Public Works Dept. Director Steve Goslee that ongoing inspections have uncovered three illegal sump-pump connections to wastewater pipes, along with another five that “appear to have been recently re-plumbed.” Goslee said that certified notices will be sent to homeowners who have not responded to requests to schedule inspection appointments, and that any subsequent non-compliance will be referred to the town solicitor. Goslee also said that the homeowners who had disconnected their sump pumps prior to inspection were directed to cement the connection ports, thereby discouraging the homeowners from investing the effort necessary to reconnect the pumps.

• Approved the wind turbine language that will be presented to Jamestown voters as a referendum this November. The question to the voters will be, “Shall an act, passed at the 2010 session of the General Assembly, entitled ‘An act authorizing the town of Jamestown to finance the construction of a wind turbine generator and to issue not more than $6,500,000 bonds and notes therefor’ be approved?”

• Learned from Keiser that he recently met with an energy development consulting group to discuss wind turbine financing options, such as public-private partnerships, as an alternative to wholly debt-based financing for the turbine. Keiser quoted the firm as saying that the town’s revenue projections for the turbine are very conservative.

• Learned from Keiser that the town has selected the Newport Appraisal Group to appraise the value of the Ft. Wetherill property for a fee of $2,400 – and that the appraisal is under way.

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