Keene committee eyes Gilmore Hill for affordable housing project
KEENE — The Keene Housing Task Force announced on Tuesday that it plans to test the viability of a site on Gilmore Hill Road to see if a new affordable housing development could be built there.
Keene’s Housing Task Force was created last summer as a directive from the town’s strategic plan, which it adopted in June 2021. The plan identified the need for more “achievable” housing in the town, and the task force presented the potential Gilmore Hill project as one solution they see that could help address the need for more year-round, affordable housing for locals.
The Adirondack Land Trust owns the 7-acre piece of land on Gilmore Hill being considered for more housing. Task force member and town Councilor Teresa Cheetham-Palen said the ALT received the property through a donation. The ALT is anxious to know whether or not the housing project could move forward, she said. Otherwise, she said the ALT would “move on.” That’s why task force member Melanie Porter approached the town council on Tuesday asking members to fund up to $800 needed to test the site’s soil absorption rate — called a percolation test. The soil test would determine the scope of the septic system the soil could support and how many housing units that septic system could potentially serve.
If the soil quality isn’t great and the septic system could only serve two housing units, Cheetham-Palen said the task force probably wouldn’t move forward with the project. But if the soil could support a more robust septic system that could serve something like eight housing units, the task force would want to pursue the project. Cheetham-Palen said the ALT would then donate that land to the town of Keene for development.
If the soil is viable enough to support a sizeable housing project, Cheetham-Palen said the housing task force would then start seeking planning grants to support the planning phase of the project before approaching the Adirondack Park Agency for a variance for the property.
Cheetham-Palen said the APA classifies the Gilmore Hill property as appropriate for low-intensity use, which allows for an average lot size of 3.2 acres, according to the APA’s website. To build more than two housing units on the 7-acre property, Cheetham-Palen said the task force would need to seek a variance from the APA’s regulations to increase the density of development allowed there. The APA allows these kinds of variances — called an “affordable housing density bonus,” according to APA Public Information Officer Keith McKeever — for affordable housing projects that are located within a certain number of miles of land classified as a hamlet. Hamlets don’t have limits to how large or small a lot size can be, according to the APA’s website.
While the town council on Tuesday ultimately authorized the housing task force to use up to $800 in town funds to pay someone to dig the hole for the soil percolation test, resident Paul Vincent thought someone in the town — himself included — might be willing to volunteer their time to do the job or perform the job at a lower rate than that.
Cheetham-Palen said the housing task force hopes to have the results of the percolation test by the town council’s next regular board meeting on Sept. 13.
Pursuing the Gilmore Hill property project was one piece in a set of solutions to increasing housing accessibility put forth in a community housing survey presented by the Keene Housing Task Force on Tuesday. Other solutions included creating a voluntary deed restriction program and consulting with local nonprofits about collaborative efforts to address the need for housing.
The town of Keene, which includes the hamlets of Keene, Keene Valley and St. Huberts — has, much like the neighboring town of North Elba, been searching for affordable housing solutions for many years. This search comes as the popularity of short-term vacation rentals rises. In the second quarter of 2016, there were 35 active STRs that listed Keene or Keene Valley addresses, according to AirDNA, a platform that aggregates online STR data. As of Thursday, the platform listed 115 active STRs between Keene and Keene Valley. The town of Keene had a population of 1,144 people as of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.