Take a ride along Bowditch Road today and you might wonder what all the fuss was about almost 20 years ago when Shelter Island built six affordable houses that were sold to families.
They qualified based on criteria that included income of not more than $42,000, U.S. citizenship, Island residency, a minimum three-year work record and ability to qualify for a bank mortgage.
But back in the mid-1990s, there were those who questioned the wisdom of making home ownership available to families who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to purchase property on Shelter Island. At public meetings, there were complaints about subsidies that would enable six families to get a helping hand of about $30,000 in state and federal grant money that would reduce the cost of the house to about $65,000.
Then there were the regulatory hurdles: The Suffolk County Department of Health Services called for a full environmental study based on the proximity of the proposed development to the town landfill. One report found there was “high need for investigation of the highly likely migration potential of possible groundwater contaminants” from the landfill to the new neighborhood.
Ultimately, after a special work session to consider county comments and given the landfill capping that was under way, the Town Board went ahead with the project. What originally was to be a lottery among 13 applicants for the houses dwindled down to just six applicants — one for each planned house.
The requirement that the original families hold their houses for 10 years or pay a penalty never kicked in for any of the owners because all remain in their houses to this day.
“In 1995, you could buy a fixer-upper for $125,000, but here was a new house,” said resident Mary Cordts. She and her husband Rob Gorcoff, a veteran employee of the town Highway Department, raised four children there, and now she’s looking forward to their first grandchild playing in the same yard where her kids played.
“We bought a rinky-dink little house but it was a fantastically built house,” she said. Prior to the purchase, they had been living in a rental house on Behringer Lane.
She was the only Bowditch neighbor willing to talk to the Reporter, perhaps because all had spent their time in the public eye during the period when they were buying their houses and had put up with a lot of comments and critics back then.
About 16 children have grown up in those houses and, according to one estimate, 10 still live there with their parents.
“No, I don’t live by the dump,” was Ms. Cordts reply to critics at the outset. Today, the landfilling operation is closed and the disposal area for wet garbage has been shifted further away. “There was quite a bit of negativity in the beginning,” Ms. Cordts recalled. But she and her husband wouldn’t have been able to buy a house at market price at the time. When she looks back now, she’s grateful that a lot of positives have come out of the experience, she said.
She made no apologies for taking advantage of the program. It enabled her to stay home and raise her four children while her husband worked. As a stay-at-home mom, Ms. Cordts has provided babysitting services for others on Shelter Island so they could go to work.
Families on Bowditch Road are all good, taxpaying people who contribute to the community, she said.
A visit to the street will show that the six families all landscaped their properties in such a way as to maximize their privacy and diminish the view of the existing Highway Department buildings across the street.
Most of the owners, as their incomes increased, added to the houses so that six small identical cottages now are distinctive homes.
Ms. Cordts and Mr. Gorcoff added a new living room space about 10 years after they acquired the cottage. Careful planning and success in refinancing gave them the money necessary for the expansion, she said. Twelve years after they purchased the house, they were able to add a mud room, she said. And then Mr. Gorcoff built a shed in the large backyard that provides plenty of room for their dogs to exercise.
She remembered sponsoring a Fresh Air kid and said she and her family felt “rich” to be able to share their house with the child from the city.