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Community Housing Board hosts first open house: Some questions answered, controversy persists

The Community Housing Fund Advisory Board held an open house on Saturday, July 16 at the Shelter Island Public Library to get input and offer information about aspects of a possible affordable housing plan.

The open house was originally slated to be held in the library’s community room but was moved to the tent on the grounds, affording more space for the numerous attendees.

Visitors were asked to sign in and were given a questionnaire by Taylor Garner, from the consulting firm Nelson Pope Voorhis, which is advising the Board on developing a plan.

The board had seven stations set up for visitors to access information and ask questions. They were the Welcome Station; followed by Smart Growth; the Peconic Bay Region Community Housing Act; Who Needs Housing?; Community Housing Fund Uses; a Survey for Type of Housing Preference; and Projects Under Consideration.

Among the attendees were individuals seeking information or offering their opinions; members of Town government; and residents who have been vocal in opposing affordable housing on the Island. The latter viewpoint has been expressed through an evidently well-funded campaign of opposition in print, social media and public meetings.

Some attendees, who declined to be identified, said the Board’s effort to disseminate information was hampered by the fact that some groups of residents distrust individuals in Town government and the Board, so are unwilling to accept the information they offer.

Town Councilwoman Meg Larsen interacted with residents at the Smart Growth station. She said while some came to voice concerns, most actively sought information that she could provide about transfer of development rights and water and sewer regulations.

“We want to find compromises and reach a consensus,” she said.

Karen Kiaer, who has expressed disagreement with the Housing Board’s approach, engaged individual members about their methodology. “They need to be straightforward with the facts and data,” she said, indicating that not enough information had been provided “with transparency.”

While pointing to definite needs for housing for seniors and young people, she said better information could be gleaned if the Board and its consultants went to the various neighborhood associations on the Island to learn about the actual people, not “mystery numbers.”

Others said they enthusiastically support the effort to solve the housing issue. “I want to see local kids, once they get out of college, be able to come back and live here,” said Lisa Richland.

A sudden, unexpected downpour may have discouraged some residents from venturing out; while it lasted, it kept most attendees under the tent, continuing their discussions. For those who were unable to attend, information will be posted in late July on the Town website at shelterislandtown.us under the Committees tab and the tab for the CHF Advisory Board.

The organization, Shelter For All, is having a meeting on July 23 at the Presbyterian Church hall at 2 p.m. in English, and 4 p.m. in Spanish.

The Town’s Community Housing Fund Advisory Board is having its second open house on August 6 at 3 p.m. also at the Presbyterian Church.