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Affordable housing ideas discussed

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Members of the Community Housing Board (CHB) gave tributes to outgoing Chairperson Mary-Faith Westervelt at a March 28 meeting.

Abby Dress said Ms. Westervelt inspired her to be a member of the board. Mike Bebon noted one goal of the CHB is building trust, crediting Ms. Westervelt with maintaining that virtue. Ed Katta thanked her for working to help people remain on Shelter Island.

Ms. Westervelt, who resigned her post citing a possible conflict of interest, recalled the days when just the mention of affordable housing resulted in petitions to stop projects. Today, residents are more open to the concept of providing reasonably priced housing for Islanders, she said.

“The town can be proud of what’s been accomplished,” Ms. Westervelt told her colleagues. “I’m leaving this in good hands.”

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano said if there is no new chairperson selected by the next meeting, someone could be appointed in a temporary role. The Town Board is also seeking another member to replace Ms. Westervelt.

Mr. Bebon outlined a number of suggestions on the direction the committee should take. Among them was a discussion about changes to the Comprehensive Plan. When the CHB was first formed, there were many compromises that had to be made, including exclusion of housing from the Peninsula and Near Shore District areas.

The thinking was that those areas were the most fragile in terms of water, but now it’s the Center where there’s a concentration of high nitrate levels in the water, said Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams.

The CHB would like to open up the Peninsula and Near Shore areas to the possibility of affordable housing.

Ms. Dress spoke about a perception from many homeowners that to create an affordable apartment within their houses, they would have to bring the entire house up to code. That is not necessarily true, she said. If a homeowner wants to add to the structure, only that part of house that is new would have to be up to code.

But Mr. DeStefano cautioned that creation of additional bedrooms for an accessory apartment could result in the Suffolk County Department of Health Services requiring an upgrade to septic systems.

The board wants the Building Department to address the subject more fully.

The committee is curious about whether town-owned land at the Klenawicus airstrip might be possible for affordable housing construction. Councilman Albert Dickson said he would look into whether there are any covenants that would prohibit housing.

Joe Denny, a member of the town’s Community Preservation Advisory Board, told CHB members that he has an interest in creating some affordable housing on his Jaspa Road property and wondered if there is any source of funding to aid in that effort.

Mr. Katta said he would see what might be possible.

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