Will affordable housing in Barrington become a significant election issue this year?
“All of the Republican candidates for Town Council were there,” said Steve Martin, chairman of the Housing Board of Trustees, after the board’s most recent meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
“I think they just wanted to get up to speed,” said Martin of Donald Nessing, Margaret Kane and Shirley Applegate-Lockridge. “They asked a bunch of questions.”
The Housing Board is charged with keeping an eye on all housing projects in Barrington that involve affordable units. At this time, that’s just about all of them.
“We have no formal authority,” said Martin, “but we relay our concerns to Seth Milman, the liaison from the Planning Board.”
The board did raise some concerns with the two housing projects on the board’s agenda last Tuesday night: Bluemead Farm proposed for Chachapacassett Road; the Sowams Nursery project now known as Palmer Pointe Neighborhood.
Bluemead Farm is a nine-lot subdivision of single-family homes, including two affordable homes, that went before the Planning Board on Sept. 5 and got a rather smooth reception.
Martin said the board raised several concerns on Tuesday, particularly about the affordable homes.
One of the lots for an affordable home includes a detention pond for the whole project, “and the owner must maintain it,” he said. “We don’t like that.”
The developer also “is just selling lots,” said Martin. Each homeowner will build the house they want.
The Housing Board asked: How would the developer make sure that the process for the affordable homes is followed? And how would an affordable-home owner get a construction loan?
“He won’t get the loan,” said Martin. “So, we will recommend that the developer bring in a nonprofit to build the homes with the Housing Board guiding the process.”
The Sowams project, which goes before the Planning Board on Sept. 27, also raised some concerns, said Martin. It calls for 50 rental units to be built on about 9 acres. East Bay Community Development Corporation, the owner of Sweetbriar in West Barrington, is the developer.
“Each of the units is a single story,” he said. “We’d like to see more multi-story units to free up more green space.”
There also is a lack of public access to the Palmer River, Martin said. The board would like to see an attempt made to gain that access.
“The setbacks on the north side of the project would allow units to be built too close to adjacent properties,” he said. “We’d like more buffer.”
The Housing Board also introduced the GOP Town Council candidates to the 12-unit George Street affordable housing project being proposed on 3 acres of land next to 7 acres of land set aside for cemetery plots. Barrington owns all that land due south of Four Town Farm.
“We want the George Street units to be all home ownership,” said Martin. “And we want to slant them toward senior housing by making them attractive to seniors.”
The board can’t discriminate, he said. But it can attempt to make them more amenable to seniors.
“We're putting together some criteria for the project for Phil Hervey,” said Martin, referring to the town planner, who will put together a request for quotes (RFQ) by around late October.