A rather unusual “pre-application conference” for the proposed Palmer Pointe affordable housing complex in Barrington took place Tuesday night in the library.
It took place even though Andrew Teitz, assistant solicitor for Barrington, said several times that the 48-unit development “can’t be treated any different” than any other project.
The project planned for the former Sowams Nursing site was presented at a joint meeting of three boards, the Planning Board, the Technical Review Committee and the Housing Board of Trustees, and in front of 50 to 60 residents in that neighborhood.
Everyone was allowed to ask questions of representatives of the developer, the East Bay Community Development Corporation, which operates the Sweetbriar affordable housing development in West Barrington. Typically, those questions would be asked at a public hearing in front of only the Planning Board after an application for a housing project is filed.
EBCDC has not yet filed an application, although it has made its plans for the project well-known at two previous public sessions: a meeting of the Housing Board months ago, and a previous session sponsored by the developer in the library auditorium in November.
Palmer Pointe continued to travel a different road last night.
There was little teeth-gnashing at the two-hour meeting, although there was obvious opposition to the project with members of COD 02806 (Community Opposed to Development) – the citizens group that has gotten 517 signatures on a petition against the development, according to leader Bill Lemoult — in the audience.
And Frank Spinella, a consultant for EBCDC, incurred a host of hoots and guffaws when he said the development would be helping Barrington fill seats in the schools with enrollment on the decline.
Representatives of the developer – Spinella, architect Don Powers of Union Studio, and civil engineer Shawn Martin of Fuss & O’Neill – started the meeting by making a PowerPoint-aided presentation that differed only slightly from the November session.
Building rental units, not affordable homes for sale, is the only way for EBCDC to get the federal money from Rhode Island Housing it needs to create the development, Spinella said. The project will include 48 units made up of 12 1-bedroom, 23 2-bedroom and 13 3-bedroom units grouped on the western side of the nursery.
At the same time, he said, to make the entire project feasible, EBCDC needs the Town Council’s support of taxing the project at 8 percent of its affordable rents – as the town does for Sweetbriar, EBCDC’s other project in Barrington. Palmer Pointe would be “infeasible” without that support from the town, Spinella said.
Powers, a Barrington native, spent most of his time detailing how his Providence-based firm created a proposed site plan that fits best in that neighborhood and adds “to the fabric of the community.” He said the units will be “clustered to the west side of the site” with 225 feet of buffer from the nearly Palmer River and 25 feet of buffer from the Orchard Avenue properties to the north.
The size of the units will compare to the adjacent Orchard Avenue properties, he said. The number of units per acre – about 5.2 – will compare to the density of Orchard Avenue, and the rooftops will be similar to those properties as well.
The architectural characteristics of the units will be traditional in form and detail and built with durable materials that reflect “timeless architecture.”
The landscaping will involve public vistas with common greens and shared space that will create a sense of community. It will have a scale of a single-family neighborhood with little or no visual impact from Sowams Road.
Martin talked primarily about sanitary services for the site. A connection to one of two sewer lines – one on the east side of the property and one on the west side near Sowams Road – is possible. A biodetention space will deal with storm water runoff.
Members of each board then got a chance to ask questions first. Among the answers:
- Construction would start by the end of next year and would take about 14 months.
- One-bedroom units are being built because there is a demand for one-bedroom units.
- Financing is available only for potential renters who are at 60 percent of Barrington’s median income. It doesn’t allow for home ownership.
- EBCDC will sell tax credits to raise a major source of funding for the $50 million project.
- Parking will be dispersed throughout the entire site.
- Renters in an affordable-housing project generally stay longer than in private developments.
- The tax burden of the site cannot be taken into account when the Planning Board considers the project.
- Barrington would get 8 percent of the rentals as tax payments.
- There is a misconception that there are many houses in Barrington that could qualify as affordable housing to meet the state’s 10 percent mandate.
- Each unit would be allowed to have two vehicles.
Residents then got their chance to ask questions. Among the answers:
- Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rules demand a one-year lease.
- The developer would have to pay for a variety of studies, although Barrington could also do independent studies on various issues, such as the impact of the complex on traffic in the area and the impact on property values.
- EBCDC will ask for tax abatements from the Town Council between the pre-application conference and the preliminary plan.
- There will be at least two public hearings for residents to comment on Palmer Pointe before final approval.
- Several state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Management and the Coast Resources Management Council, must weigh in on the project in addition to Barrington boards and commissions.