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Affordable-Housing Plan Draws Crowd

Approximately 100 people came out to a Barrington Housing Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night for a presentation on the proposed Sweetbriar-like development off of Sowams Road.

Another proposed Sweetbriar-like affordable-housing development in Barrington brought out almost 100 people to the April meeting of the Housing Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening.

Anticipating a large turnout for the first public look at the proposed development at Sowams Nursery on Sowams Road, the meeting was moved from the tiny board room of the Barrington library to the Council Chamber in Town Hall. So there was plenty of room.

At least a few of the people in the Chamber went away without getting their questions about the project answered, however. The meeting was not advertised as a public hearing and there was concern about the board violating the Open Meeting Law if it answered questions.

“I got advice from several people on the board and the attorney for the developer,” said Steve Martin, chairman of the Housing Board, after the meeting. “Maybe we were too cautious. But we’ve never had a solicitor.”

Instead, Martin said, he promised to schedule a public hearing on the project at the next Housing Board meeting in May.

At least two other public hearings also will be held on the development – one by the Barrington Planning Board and one by the developer – East Bay Community Development Corporation, said attorney Stephanie Federico of DeSisto Law Associates, which represents EBCDC.

“There will be plenty of time to get questions answered,” Martin said.

Federico said the Housing Board meeting was set up only to offer a “preliminary look” at the development – “to start the conversation.”

Don Powers, the architect for EBCDC, said the sketch he designed for the project and which was made public several weeks ago was never intended to be the final plan.

“It was done to show the character of the project,” he said. “Public discussion is needed. We haven’t had input on it.”

The sketch was done primarily for a CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) application … and "to convince the client that it is worth pursuing,” Powers said.

The next sketch will be done in cooperation with all the stakeholders in the project, he said, including Barrington and the Coastal Resources Management Council.

CRMC may not even allow access to the Barrington River waterfront, which includes wetlands, said Frank Spinella of EBCDC.

What is known at this time is that approximately 56 units are proposed for the 9-acre site – all of them 100 percent affordable housing with rents ranging from $500 to $900, according to Spinella.

None of the units are planned for senior citizens, Spinella said, answering a question from Martin.

“But we cannot build restrictive housing,” he said. “They will be open to any age. We certainly can accommodate any population.”

EBCDC also has not yet closed on the property, which it is buying for $1.2 million from the owners of the nursery land, Joseph and Maria Silveria, said Kathy Bazinet, executive director of EBCDC.

She described the development previously as “very much like the Sweetbriar development" off of Washington Road in Bay Spring. See previous Patch story.

The developer does not expect to break ground for at least a year, said Spinella, probably longer because of the lengthy approval process it will go through. Completion is not expected until 2015.

Martin thanked the audience for coming out even though they didn’t get their questions answered.

“We’ve been around for six years,” said Martin. “We’ve just been discovered.”

Bill April 18, 2012 at 11:51 AM
Another state forced housing development, With rents ranging from $500-$900 While our taxes go up up up......R.I.P. Barrington!!!
Manifold Witness April 18, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Contrary to Mr. Martin’s ignorant assertions, some of us have known about this Housing Board’s actions for years. Some of us have been reading the minutes regularly. Now that Mr. Amaral has opened Grapes & Grains, he needs customers. Mr. Amaral spent a lot of time & effort working to get what he wanted for himself in this town and now he can’t even take some questions from the taxpayers of Barrington. We’re boycotting Grapes & Grains. The Board has to get legal advice. But who will represent the taxpayers of Barrington? Barrington Town Solicitor Michael Ursillo has conflicts of interest because he is involved with Bazinet, Town Councilor Vice President Jeff Brenner’s law firm advertises as affordable housing advocates, and June Speakman is concerned more with her personal political future than with what the Town Council should be doing. And then there’s the ubiquitous DeSisto. The architect’s website has photos of children playing with puppies at Sweetbriar. More “affordable” housing on wetlands? Is the p & s contingent?
Scott Clark April 18, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I've only been in Barrington for two years and only more recently started getting civical, so I can't speak to the history of this project. I do feel the Board did a good job last night of balancing the needs of that particular kind of meeting with the fact that they had an (apparently rare) large audience. As Mr Martin said at one point (I'm paraphrasing) "We've been meeting for six years, but this is the first time we've had a crowd". On that: 1. Many in attendance people seemed to people who lived around the nursery. 2. It seemed a good percentage of them seemed to be relatively new to this level of involvement and this process of development. This project is extremely early in development. No permits have been issues, no funding has been granted, financing for projects like this are very tight. The architects referred developments around the state that typically took 1-3 years even to break ground. However, it seems the root issue isn't this development. Rather, it's that the Nursery was previously deemed as an Affordable Housing area at all. The point was raised by the Board that all of the Affordable Housing, Open Space and Conservation plans are on the Barrington website. I'm still trying to find them :) Regardless, this is going to be a uphill struggle for everyone over the next 12-24 months. This will expose a lot of people to the machinations of town politics and process. However this project turns out, that by itself is a good thing.
Gary Morse April 18, 2012 at 12:47 PM
If cronyism in Barrington wasn't "discovered" before this, we are certainly discovering it now.
Gary Morse April 18, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Mr Clark, As you point out, many in the audience appeared to be those in the immediate area of this project. They will take the brunt of this poorly conceived project no matter how anyone wants to sugar coat it with pictures of puppies. The very fact that this project is on the drawing boards will have immediate negative impact to home values in the area. For myself, I'm not living in the immediate area. But as a resident, I believe that placing such a burden on one group must be challenged. The casualness in this matter by our leadership and the housing board (who don't happen to live in that area) is troubling.
Bristol County Anonymous April 18, 2012 at 01:25 PM
No Questions allowed? What? “I got advice from …the attorney for the developer,” said Steve Martin…we’ve never had a solicitor.” Mr. Martin thinks is ok for the town’s interests to be represented by the opposing lawyer? What is going on here????? Who is protecting our interest? There are lot’s of problems with the proposal, and the proceedings thus far. And there are lot’s of questions on our list that need to be addressed.
Jack Baillargeron April 18, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Obviously Barrington's problems with all the open meeting Violation the past few years, appear to have been exposed. They use developer lawyers. Just saying ;-}
Bristol County Anonymous April 18, 2012 at 04:18 PM
RI Housing had to spend taxpayer money to bail out an EBCDC project. See the RI Housing minutes under “Kane’s Way”. http://sos.ri.gov/documents/publicinfo/omdocs/minutes/1518/2010/18998.pdf With EBCDC…a lot of taxpayer money is flowing…away from taxpayers. No wonder they avoid questions. EBCDC is a publicly supported non-profit entity with insufficient oversight, just like the Institute for International Sports. In RI, when government & non-profit entities avoid questions, that means they have something to hide.
Linda April 18, 2012 at 05:17 PM
The plans for Sowams Nursery seems to be in direct violation of the town's open space and natural resource comprehensive community plan. http://www.ci.barrington.ri.us/Comp%20Plan%202011%20Amendmentts/6-%20open%20space%20&%20recl%20-%20new09%20rev%202011.pdf http://www.ci.barrington.ri.us/Comp%20Plan%202011%20Amendmentts/5%20-%20natural%20cultural%20-%20new09%20rev%202011.pdf
Scott Clark April 18, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Yea, that was pretty interesting. The only lawyer present represented the party most interested in ensuring a presentation from the architect to the Board clean of dispute. Mr Martin even quipped that he was happy to receive "free advice from a lawyer". I don't know what violation they were afraid of, nor the penalty for it. I'm new at this, and certainly no lawyer, but these are interesting reads: http://sos.ri.gov/publicinfo/openmeetings/ http://sos.ri.gov/documents/publicinfo/openmeetings/SOS_2992.pdf It's possible the Board was just being conservative because there was only the one lawyer present. It was quickly obvious though that they were really prepared yet for the level of public involvement on something that in years past was likely just a procedural discussion for them. This was most poignant when the room cleared out almost completely after EBCDC's presentation ended. There was actually a subsequent conversation about *another* Affordable Housing development being discussed for George St. Guess nobody cares about that one though. But all in all, they realized the public prodding has just begun :) They mentioned the next meeting would be set up for proper taking of public comment, and committed to trying to get that meeting on the books before the next scheduled one in third week of May.
Scott Clark April 18, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Hi Gary, Yea, honestly, while the most adjacent residents are the most affected, this really is a whole town issue. The kids in these developments will be going to our schools. The influx of new people will use town services. Traffic (and incidents), safety, fire, EMS, school buses, snow removal (such as it was this year ;) ), and so on. All of these place additional burden on the town that isn't going to be at all offset by the $500-900 estimated rental fee. At some point (I'm still looking) the foundation for this decision was made by deciding this was a candidate for affordable housing. Subsequently it was decided that housing should be rentals rather than homes. Perhaps a lot of the studies were already done to project town population declines that could be offset by new locations such as this (and Sweetbriar and Walker's). And with the way people are paying attention now, it's all going to come out :)
Bristol County Anonymous April 18, 2012 at 05:45 PM
June Speakman and Kate Weymouth are the Town Council "liaisons" to this Board. http://www.ci.barrington.ri.us/housingcomm.php Where are they on all this?
Linda April 18, 2012 at 05:53 PM
At the meeting last night, Kate instructed us to read the town's Comprehensive Community Plan to get answers to our questions. I did read it and now have more questions.
Gary Morse April 18, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Has the Planning Board examined the current "busy load" utilization of our water distribution and waste water treatment infrastructure (not the "average", because that is usually a contrived number in systems engineering). Were these systems even designed with high density housing in mind? What upgrades will be needed in the area and who pays? The developer? To the Planning Board: Where is the impact study?
Bristol County Anonymous April 18, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Kate and June should have raised lot's of questions last night. Who is representing our interests?
Manifold Witness April 18, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Good points, Mr. Clark. Also to consider - the rental amounts do not necessarily equate to property taxes per unit that will go to the town. The property taxes per unit might well be less than the rent amounts. The "non-affordable" taxpayers have to make up the difference.
Gary Morse April 18, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Our Planning Board needs to investigate EBCDC's water distribution problems at Franklin Court in Bristol. 92 units were turned up only to find out later that the last 1200 ft of BCWA water distribution piping was so tuberculated (clogged) that it would cost over $200K to repair. So do we need improvements / upgrades for this project, and who is paying if the infrastructure cannot handle state fire code requirements for the area? http://bristol-warren.patch.com/blog_posts/questions-cropping-up-regarding-bcwa-annual-flushing-of-water-pipes
RJ September 22, 2012 at 11:48 PM
So, my question is, how can the citizens stop this scandalous project?
Gary Morse September 23, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Stopping affordable housing in its current form is simply changing the town council. You can do this on November 6. The history of this matter is that the recent Barrington affordable town ordinances were implemented by a law firm who also represents the affordable developers (Ursillo). Councilors June Speakman and Kate Weymouth knew of this problem, but moved forward with ordinances that were bad for the town anyway. The biggest challenge should be towards how to count the 10% affordable mandate. Taken to a final conclusion, this 10% mandate produces such an absurd outcome that it should not be considered lawful. There is simply not enough land in town to support the required growth. Further, the law is little more than an unfunded legal rats nest of confusing cross references that should have been challenged right from the start. Leaving the legal interpretation of this rats nest solely to RI Housing (EDC's twin bureaucratic sister) was a total disregard to the interests of Barrington residents.

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