Proposed Development Needs Impartiality
COD 02806 believes that there may be a bias by Barrington officials toward the affordable housing development proposed for Sowams Nursery.
The following was submitted to Patch as a letter to the editor. It was sent on Feb. 5 to the Barrington Planning Board, Technical Review Committee, and Housing Board of Trustees as a memorandom. It was signed by Kevin Doyle of Barrington.
At the “informational” meeting hosted by the East Bay Community Development Corporation on November 27, 2012 a spokesman for the EBCDC stated that the “town” (of Barrington) was “for” the project proposed for the Sowams Nursery on Sowams Road in Barrington. The comment suggests a bias (in some quarters of responsible town government) favoring the EBCDC irrespective of the fact that no application has been submitted, no studies of critical matters have been undertaken by the EBCDC or town government, and, it would appear, that no impartial legal analysis has been provided to the Planning Board in an effort to evaluate legitimate argument in opposition to the EBCDC proposed plan.
At the Pre-Application conference held on January 15, 2013 Counsel for the town conceded that studies of experts, paid for by the EBCDC, would likely favor the applicant (EBCDC). He felt, however, that a peer review by Town experts would remedy this built-in bias. He also said that the public could hire its own experts, and stated that the Town Boards had the legal authority to use their own experts. Members of the public who were present questioned the value and legitimacy of a peer review of biased studies and documentation.
On April 2, 2012 the Town Council voted unanimously to approve submittal of a Community Development Block Grant Application to the state of Rhode Island in the amount of $125,000 for the EBCDC apartment development complex at the Sowams Nursery. On page 2 under the heading Plan Compliance is the following statement: “East Bay Community Development Corporation is identified as an important nonprofit partner in affordable housing development and preservation under Recommendation #3 of the Comprehensive Community Plan. As of the 2002 update to the Comprehensive Community Plan, Barrington was represented on East Bay CDC’S Board of Directors”.
There is further concern that the Town Council has recently amended the Comprehensive Community Plan for the specific purpose of facilitating EBCDC’S ambitions concerning the proposed Sowams Nursery project.
The town of Barrington has never followed through with provisions in the Barrington Comprehensive Community Plan to rezone the Sowams Nursery property a “village” zone, as postulated in the town plan. On the contrary, the land was then, and is now, zoned R25. There lingers, however, a false presumption that the failure to rezone the property still constitutes an adoption of the premise that the land is suitable for the project proposed by EBCDC, as articulated by one Board member at the January 15 pre-application meeting.
In light of all of the foregoing, we respectfully request that certain assurances of impartiality and transparency be applied to any application for a construction permit (presumably a comprehensive permit) submitted by the EBCDC. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. That the Planning Board review the Barrington town “checklist” for submission of a master plan to assure conformance of the checklist with the totality of state and local laws, ordinances and regulations concerning the required contents of such checklist.
2. That the Planning Board require, at all stages of the EBCDC application process, compliance with any and all plan submission details established or permitted in state law at Title 45 and other corresponding state law, town ordinances, regulations, requirements and processes, and that no exceptions, waivers, agreements, or allowances to the contrary be allowed or permitted by the Planning Board. (See, e.g. the provisions of state law Chapter 45-23-40, concerning “Subdivision of Land” (attached); Chapter 45-23-30 concerning the “purposes of land development and subdivision review ordinances, regulations and rules” (attached) Chapter 45-23-60 regarding “Required findings,” (attached); and Barrington’s Zoning Ordinances concerning Flooding at Article XXIII, Section 185-144 titled “Development in Areas of Special Flood Hazard”, including Section 185-147 requiring a permit in such areas. In this context see Barrington Comprehensive Community Plan map “NCR-3 PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS, Natural and Cultural Resources” and NCR -1 “Wetlands Area Map” (attached) where the Sowams Nursery is depicted as containing Severe and Moderate constraints to development which extend well into the property).
3. That the Planning Board require pre-approval by the Board of the exercise of any and all authority granted by state and municipal law and regulations to the Administrative Officer (Town Planner) of the Planning Board concerning all aspects of the submission and approval process, and, in accordance therewith, that the Plan Administrator exercise only that authority expressly delineated in state and municipal law and regulations.
4. That the Planning Board exercise its established legal authority throughout public hearings to request and provide additional documentation, including the opinions of experts who are independent of any influence by the EBCDC or state and town governmental officials . That such experts be compensated with funds appropriated and escrowed by the town for such purpose, and that such experts be advised in writing concerning the requirement of the impartiality of their services and findings as noted above. (See e.g. Barrington Subdivision Regulations Chapter 200, Section 200-15.1 calling for a project review fee to “engage the services of outside experts to assist the Planning Board in evaluating proposed developments and to ensure compliance with all relevant state and local regulations. Consultants the Board may engage include engineers, biologists, scientists, planners, landscape architects or other appropriate professionals”.
5. That the Planning Board, or appropriate municipal Board or Council, provide funding in escrow for legal counsel to act on behalf of COD 02806 and/or on behalf of landowners who require notice under the statutes and ordinances, and that such Counsel act solely on behalf of, and be approved by COD 02806 and/or such adjoining landowners.
6. That members of any Town Committee, Board, Trust, or other official agency or body of the Town whether elected, appointed, or employed who has ever served on the Board of Directors of the EBCDC, be recused from participation in any way, manner or form from any proceedings concerning the application of the EBCDC for development of the proposed project at the Sowams Nursery on Sowams Road. In addition, that any member of any Town Committee, Board, Trust, or other official agency or body of the Town, whether elected, appointed, or employed who has ever received remuneration of any kind from EBCDC be recused as above.
5. That the Planning Board establish one or more liaisons with members of COD 02806 so that public issues and concerns involving the proposed Sowams Nursery Subdivision project may be openly and directly discussed without the time constraints imposed on both the Board and town residents at public meetings. Questions remain in spite of two public meetings where there was insufficient time allotted to the public.
6. That town Counsel (Solicitors) and all Barrington Town officials, be barred from providing information or legal advice of any kind to the EBCDC other than that required pursuant to state and municipal law and regulations, and that the EBCDC retain its own legal counsel concerning all matters pertaining to its relationship with town officials and the public.
Thank you most sincerely for your consideration of these matters.
COD 02806 (Community Opposed to Development)