TIVERTON – Nearly a dozen years ago, Joseph Bossom and Mika Seeger had a vision to turn their Sandywoods Farm into a community of artists living in eco-friendly affordable housing, sharing inspiration, ideas and healthy food grown in a community garden.
In May 2009, Bossom sold nearly 70 acres to a nonprofit group, Church Community Housing Corp., of Newport, doing business as the Sandywoods Land Trust Co., for $1.54 million. Bossom said he also loaned $600,000 to Church Community Housing to help it purchase the land.
Bossom, a professor turned farmer, and Seeger, an artist who is also the daughter of the late folk singer, Pete Seeger, had rejected offers from other developers, because they did not want to see the land become a cookie-cutter suburban subdivision. Most of their farm, 96 acres, was sold to the Tiverton Land Trust and is now protected from development. Two acres were sold to the Town of Tiverton for a new library, now near completion.
The Sandywoods arts center and housing development, with 50 affordable rental homes, opened with great fanfare in 2010. The unique community, located near the crossroads of Bulgarmarsh Road (Route 177) and Crandall Road (Route 81), has won acclaim for its architectural design and sustainable features, and the public has enjoyed the arts programs and musical concerts offered there.
But for Bossom, “the whole thing has been a disappointment.”
Bossom said he had to foreclose on four vacant single-family house lots at Sandywoods several months ago because he was never repaid the $600,000 he loaned to Church Community Housing.
But even those four lots have been devalued, he said, because Church Community Housing built a tall, noisy wind turbine close to his own house lot and near the lots he has taken back. When the wind picks up, the turbine wakes him at night, said Bossom, who is 85 and wears hearing aids.
Because of rules associated with government-funded affordable housing, Bossom said, the rentals at Sandywoods could not be limited to artists alone, and today, only a few artists are living there. Bossom said the Sandywoods arts gallery is “elitist” and unwelcoming to local artists.
Stephen Ostiguy, executive director of CCHC, declined a request to be interviewed, saying financial and other concerns at Sandywoods are “a private matter.”
The affordable housing at Sandywoods, as well as other buildings there, including the performance center and art gallery, were built with public money, including some from the voter-approved Building Homes Rhode Island program. In 2009, Rhode Island Housing announced the approval of more than $15 million in financing for Sandywoods Farm, including a $11.2 million construction loan and a $2.6 million first mortgage.
According to Rhode Island Housing’s deputy assistant director, Michael V. Milito, Sandywoods’ first mortgage is being paid down, now stands at $2.45 million and is current; and about $9 million of the construction loan, the amount associated with the rental housing, has been paid off.
But a loan of $2.2 million for infrastructure costs, which was supposed to be paid back through the sale at market value of 24 single-family house lots at Sandywoods, has had to be extended twice, because most of the lots remain unsold, Milito said. Originally due in 2011, this repayment date is now December 2015, he said.
There is a waiting list for the 50 affordable rental homes at Sandywoods, but the home-ownership component of the development is mostly unrealized. Of the 24 single-family house lots, two have new homes on them and are available for sale (and one of these may be sold soon) while there are 22 unsold vacant lots, Bossom said.
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