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A search for housing solutions — Town Hall packed for meeting

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO
The Community Housing Board held a “Builders Roundtable” at Town Hall Monday evening, with Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt, center. At left, builders Jim Olinkiewicz and Chris Fokine.

Town Hall was packed on Tuesday evening with Islanders from all walks of life assembled to listen to what was billed as the Community Housing Board’s “Builders Roundtable.”

Four Town Board members along with town’s attorney and building Inspector were part of an audience that included residents of all ages, bound by their common interest in affordable housing on the Island.

Community Housing Board Chairwoman Mary-Faith Westervelt posed questions to local builders Chris Fokine and Jim Olinkiewicz about ways to approach the construction of affordable housing units. Both men agreed that “stick-built construction” — built from the ground up at the site— was better and less costly than “modular,” which is constructed in a factory and delivered to the site.

The builders also agreed that “cluster housing” was the most efficient construction. Cluster housing usually is a subdivision with each house having small yards but a common space for use by all residents.

Ms. Westervelt pointed out that the current town law has a registry of those who qualify for affordable housing and permits individuals to move into homes that have been altered to be multiple dwellings. She added that, conceivably, a garage could be turned into living quarters and rented.

“But we want to present the Town Board with a showstopper plan,” she said.

Mr. Olinkiewicz said that the biggest impediment was the cost of the land on the Island. “If the town could give a long-term lease, that would make it more feasible,” he said.

As an example of the high cost to live here, Mr. Olinkiewicz said he provides housing for his employees in Greenport because it costs less than the Island.

When the discussion turned to the idea of blending residential and business buildings, Building Inspector Chris Tehan said that the committee should stick with residential since “there is so much empty business space already on the Island.”

Mr. Fokine said the town should avoid seeking grants because sometimes they come with restrictions.

“It’s better to keep it private because you have control,” he added, pointing out ”there’s a need and plenty of investors out there.”

There was a discussion that multiple dwellings on the Island are frowned upon by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services because the Island does not have municipal water or sewers, but only wells and septic systems.

Planning Board Chairman Emory Breiner said that the housing board should begin a dialogue with the health department.

Town Councilman Jim Colligan stressed what he sees as an urgent situation, noting, “We must do something. We must have a plan or the community, as we know it, will disappear. If we go into this open-minded we can get it done.”

Members of the audience expressed the view that in 10 to 20 years there won’t be a school because young families can’t afford to live here and there would no longer be a volunteer ambulance service or fire department because there would be a lack of young people living on the Island.

Ms. Westervelt said that the Housing Board would make a presentation to the Town Board some time next month.

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