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Decision looming on affordable rental proposal

Following a lengthy public hearing Friday afternoon and a long discussion at Tuesday’s work session, it remains unclear whether the first-ever affordable rental proposal will gain approval from the Shelter Island Town Board. 

The plan submitted by Janalyn Travis-Messer of Griffing & Collins Real Estate and DJTM Enterprises calls for two attached rental units at the corner of North Ferry and Hedges roads, with one unit to be a three-bedroom rental and the other a single-bedroom. Both units of the prefabricated structure would have kitchen units.

Neighbors have argued that the proposed rentals could result in as many as nine people living in the structure, causing problems with parking and traffic at the site and reducing nearby property values.

Ms. Travis-Messer argued that by right, without building rental units, she could construct a two-story house that would be 9,000 square feet in size instead of the less-than-2,000 square foot building currently proposed. On Tuesday, she showed the Town Board a parking plan to accommodate as many as nine vehicles, none of which would have to back up to leave the property. But she maintained that she envisions the three-bedroom unit serving a family of two adults and two children and the smaller unit accommodating either a single person or a couple.

According to records she said she culled from the town Tax Assessor’s office, Ms. Travis-Messer said the units planned there are in line with styles of other houses in the area and that rental restrictions determined for Suffolk County by the Federal Housing and Urban Development Agency would assure tenants would be working people with incomes able to afford the rent without subsidies.

Originally, Ms. Travis-Messer had said she would need to charge $4,000 for the two units to make the plan workable, but later said she could live with the HUD and Suffolk County guidelines that would allow her
to bring in $3,413 in rentals for the two units.

“We never honestly thought someone would build such housing from scratch,” said Councilwoman Chris Lewis, liaison to the Community Housing Board.

“Maybe its more ambitious [than the ideal first project],” she said.

The CHB, which reorganized in 2016 after several dormant years, had thought it was likely rental housing would result from the ability to approve existing structures under a floating zone plan that couldn’t otherwise be rented under the town’s regular zoning code.

The CHB vetted the affordable housing proposal, but approvals would go through the Town Board and the Planning Board.

Councilwoman Mary Dudley had questions about why there are so few applicants for community housing. Ms. Lewis explained that with the dormancy of the CHB, people stopped listing their needs with the town because they were always being told nothing was available. Now, with the prospect of what are considered affordable rentals, she anticipated the list would grow.

Councilman Jim Colligan called the project “very ambitious” and said he had reservations about its location and wondered if there was a compromise that could be reached with neighbors.

But Ms. Travis-Messer said the only alternative would be to build a single house to be sold, not rented under the Community Housing guidelines.

After mulling the issue over Tuesday, Town Board members decided they have enough information from both sides to render a decision at the October 28 regular meeting.