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Project to provide a boost for affordable housing on Fishers Island

Six affordable housing units are coming to the Hound Lane “Freight Building” on Fishers Island.

Spearheaded by the not-for-profit Walsh Park Benevolent Corporation, the project was discussed during the town’s annual Fishers Island meeting Wednesday.

The town ultimately approved a lease agreement with Walsh Park to convert the second story of the building into six affordable apartments. Located near the docks, the brick building was part of Fort H.G. Wright, first constructed as a naval mine storehouse in 1906. It served in the early part of the 20th century as part of the Harbor Defense system in Long Island Sound and has been inactive since World War II.

The Fishers Island Ferry District will continue to use the first floor to house its operations, officials said.

“It’s a win-win project,” said Walsh Park board member Mark Gaumond during the meeting Wednesday, adding that it would mark a “big step forward” in the island’s housing problem.

First founded in 1987, the Walsh Park Benevolent Corporation aims to promote year-round living on the island by maintaining affordable housing.

According to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, the group first expressed interest in the building about a year ago. The first draft of the lease was received in June.

“Fishers Island is a unique place and sometimes requires innovative solutions,” Mr. Russell said about the project. “Affordable housing is a challenge to create anywhere but even more so on the island.”

Applications would only be considered for year-round residents. According to program manager Matthew Edwards, the group already manages 27 affordable living units on Fishers Island.

“The current backlog of applicants makes us confident that the new units will be filled quickly,” Mr. Edwards said.

He declined to say what potential rents would look like since they are still in the early planning stages.

Fishers Island residents in attendance Wednesday met the lease approval with a round of applause.

“It’s very exciting for us as a community,” said Tom O’Neil, president of the Island Community Board. “It’s something we’ve been working toward for a long time.”

Proponents of the project blame the ongoing decline in their year-round population on a lack of reasonably priced housing. Data from 2016 shows that the median property value in Fishers Island swelled to $1.51 million. In 2015, the median property value was $1.06 million.

The current year-round population is approximately 230 and approximately 30 children attend the school. Of the year-round population, over 60 people live in Walsh Park homes, many serving as EMTs, on the Fishers Island Fire Department and other essential services.

Four one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units are planned for the Freight Building, and Walsh Park has privately earmarked $3 million to complete the project.

“We are extremely excited about this project,” Mr. Edwards said Thursday morning. “It’s a great collaboration between two Fishers Island entities working together to help alleviate the shortage of housing available to year-round residents. The fact that this is happening by making use of an historic, existing structure is also very exciting.”

Ideally, Mr. Edwards said, construction will begin later this year and be completed in late 2019.

Photo caption: The “Freight Building” on Fishers Island. (Credit: Tara Smith)

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