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No quorum, but Housing Board pushes forward — seeks new member and a new leader


Without a quorum, the Community Housing Board (CHB) could not choose a new chairperson Thursday night. But three members — Mike Bebon, Chris DiOrio and Ed Katta — were able to outline a number of issues on the CHB’s agenda that need attention. These include appointing a new member to replace Mary-Faith Westervelt and a project manager to guide the development of affordable rental units on the Island.

The Town Board has interviewed only one candidate to replace Ms. Westervelt, according to Councilman Albert Dickson. Ms. Westervelt, a long-time CHB member and chairwoman, resigned last month to ensure there would be no conflicts of interest between her committee work and her law practice.

Julia Romanchuk Weisenberg, who was at the Thursday night meeting, told CHB members she has been interviewed. She is a Republican candidate for Town Board. Mr. Bebon is seeking a Town Board seat on the Democratic ticket. Should either win election to the Town Board, that would again open one or two vacancies on the Housing Board.

Given the requirement to have four members for a quorum, Mr. Bebon emphasized the need for the Town Board to move as quickly as possible to name a replacement for Ms. Westervelt.

As for the appointment of a project manager, the Town Board was viewing to fill that position once a site for a rental project had been identified. But CHB members want someone appointed sooner. The appointee should be someone with experience in general contracting, members agreed, who could identify a site for an initial project and assist Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. to write a request for proposals for a developer to build the structure.

Builders have made it clear to the CHB that for an affordable structure to be built, it would have to be on town-owned land.

“This project is not going to move forward the way it needs to” with just the committee working on it, Mr. Bebon said. He has been on the CHB for more than a dozen years and seen plans beaten back in the past.

The committee had been eyeing a site near the Shelter Island Historical Society, but former Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. and Town Engineer John Cronin have presented arguments that the site isn’t viable.

The draft plan the CHB has in mind would be one large house with four rental units.

The CHB will explore the use of solar panels on housing to keep costs down and contribute to the greening of the town.

Mr. DiOrio will identify alternative sites for such a structure.

At the same time, The CHB wants the town’s Comprehensive Plan to be changed to allow residents in Near Shore and Peninsula districts with accessory buildings to create affordable apartments.

Mr. Bebon said a number of people who have wanted to offer apartments have been unable to qualify because of the existing ban. The creation of rental apartments would have to pass muster with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services with respect to water quality, septic systems and water quantity. Those factors can’t be waived by local action.

While awaiting Town Board action, the CHB aims to develop a model that could be adapted for those who prefer to buy rather than rent. But they want to ensure such structures would perpetually remain affordable by selling only a house and not the site on which it sits.

One factor that might make a house affordable would be a model that would contain an accessory wing the buyer could rent to another party. That would provide some rental income to offset the costs of paying a mortgage, Mr. Bebon suggested.

The CHB meets next on Thursday, May 30, when it hopes to have a quorum to discuss selection of a new chairperson.