Barrington’s need for more affordable housing under the state's 10 percent mandate is driving the proposal for Palmer Pointe – the 48-unit rental development targeting the Sowams Nursery site.
“We’re responding to the town’s need,” said Frank Spinella, a development consultant to East Bay Community Development Corporation, the developer, at the first public presentation of the plan on Tuesday night, Nov. 27.
And 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.
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.
The public presentation was set up to get feedback from the neighbors even before the developer starts the formal process of getting approvals from the Barrington Planning Board, DEM and the Coast Resources Management Council.
For the most part, there was little rancor or teeth-gnashing at the 90-minute meeting in the Barrington library auditorium. A variety of questions were asked of Spinella, Don Powers of Union Studio – the architect for the project, and Shawn Martin – the Fuss & O’Neill engineer for the project. Attorney Stephanie Federico also was on hand to respond to questions.
Just about the only question that get a bit confrontational was: What is being done to address the concerns of homeowners who want to stay living in town even as they are being asked to subsidize affordable rental units while paying taxes on their own properties. And that question was primarily rhetorical in nature.
Spinella led off the presentation by providing a framework for the project: 48 units made up of 12 1-bedroom, 23 2-bedroom and 13 3-bedroom units grouped on the western side of the nursery. A PowerPoint presentation flashed slides on a screen over the stage.
Spinella also explained the comprehensive permitting process the project will have to navigate, including the next step – a pre-application hearing with the Planning Board sitting as the Technical Review Committee. As a major subdivision, there will be approvals needed for a master plan, a preliminary plan and the final plan.
The pre-application hearing is expected to take place in February, said Powers after the meeting. That is the next step.
Powers spent most of his time detailing how he created a proposed site plan that is “the best attempt for a respectful fit in this neighborhood” in Barrington – “a poster town for being unaffordable” for potential homeowners.
Powers said the size of the individual units will be comparable to the adjacent Orchard Avenue properties, the number of units per acre – about 5.2 – will be comparable to that neighborhood, and the “rhythm of the rooftops” will be similar to Orchard Avenue as well.
The development also will have architectural characteristics that are traditional in form and detail and built with durable materials that reflect “timeless architecture.”
“We will replicate and continue the pattern of that neighborhood,” he said.
The landscaping also 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 about the environmental impact of the project for the most part. He said the units will be clustered on the west side of the property to stay away from the wetlands that border the Palmer River.
“We will be using a low-impact approach,” he said, that will comply with all water-quality standards.
The developer will actually be restoring some wetlands that have been impeded upon, he said, a requirement from DEM.
“It will be incumbent on us to prove that we won’t harm any of the ecology,” added Powers. “The burden of proof is on the developer.”
At this point in time, he said, “the horse is not out of the barn and can’t go back.” The team has to modify the plan as needed.
Questions about public transportation, parking, and the maximum number of persons who can live in each unit also were addressed.
The development will be professionally managed, said Spinella, just like Sweetbriar.
“We’re not just going to build it and walk away,” he said.
There will be a laundry on site that will be built also to serve as a community gathering place and a place to pick up mail. It could be made into a public laundry if neighbors desire it, Spinella said, responding to a question.
"I don't think I've ever been asked that question before," he said.