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Condos at Preserve Look Doomed

In a straw vote, the Barrington Planning Board unanimously rejects Tuesday night a plan to build 24 or 27 condominiums at Nockum Hill near the Doug Rayner Wilflife Refuge.

A condominium development proposed for one of Barrington’s last rural areas appears doomed.

The Planning Board voted unanimously in a straw poll Tuesday night during a continued public hearing to deny a plan to build “The Residences at the Preserve” off of George Street in the Nockum Hill area.

A motion to formally deny the proposal is to be voted on during the continued public hearing at the board’s next meeting.

The proposal by North End Holdings of Wakefield, RI, operated by Ron Chofay, would build 24 or 27 condos primarily in a former horse paddock that abuts farmland and lies just east of the Doug Rayner Wildlife Refuge. Each would include up to a half dozen affordable housing units.

As it was slammed about a month ago when the public hearing began, the development was again rapped by nearby property owners. They all testified that the development simply was not a good fit for the rural area surrounded by single-family homes, land farmed by Four Town Farm, and the nearby refuge that is home to the endangered diamondback terrapins.

Charlotte Sornberger, who has spent a lifetime protecting the terrapins, said they lay their eggs throughout that area in the early summer each year after coming out of hibernation in Hundred Acre Cove.

Other property owners said the area has a history of shallow wells contaminated by failed septic systems and a layer of clay that allows that runoff to contaminate water supplies.

They also said the cluster of condos simply was not a good fit for Nockum Hill.

Planning Board members voted one by one to deny the housing proposal for similar reasons – its lack of fit as submitted to them.

Larry Trim, for instance, said the plan “is not in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan for that area."

Seth Millman said: “It doesn’t fit the neighborhood” or the Comprehensive Plan.

“There are far too many questions,” said Ann Strong. “I can’t support it as submitted.”

Vice chairman Edgar Adams said: “I’m not in favor as it stands.”

Attorney William Landry, professional engineer Scott Moorehead, and architect John O’Hearne attempted to try to sway the board in favor of the development.

Landry used the tact that the project would help Barrington achieve its affordable housing goal, which he claimed has been moving in the slow lane with only about 115 units built over the past six years.

O’Hearne presented drawings of one of the buildings in the four-building development to show how the homes would fit into the neighborhood.

Unless the Planning Board has a total change of heart before its next meeting, there will be no residences at the wildlife preserve.

Gary Morse July 11, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Mr. Landry is paid to argue his client's case. Attorney's have to do this. But please, the argument that destruction of a large part of a natural habitat is worth it because we can get 12 more affordable houses brings us to the point of absurdity in the affordable housing debate. I hope the town will begin to understand just how far developers are going to go to exploit this failed policy.
Gary Morse July 11, 2012 at 11:50 AM
It's about time the town leadership look more closely at the affordable housing property tax discount policies to control these wild west developers. I suggest a starting point be the huge property tax discounts which result in tax bills as low as 1/10th of what a normal property tax bill would be (i.e. what the rest of us have to pay). I made an inquiry on this matter to the town council in May. The issue was responded to by the Ursillo law firm (who also respresent some of the developers). The response appeared to be little more than legal maneuver. The issue is whether or not favorable property tax treatment for affordable housing is available to new construction (the statutes are specific to properties "after substantial rehabilitation"). The best the Ursillo law firm would commit to is that property tax discounts are mandatory for "qualifying" properties. They won't say if new construction constitutes as being a "qualifying" low income property. If residents want some sanity on this matter, a good place to start is to ask why town residents are being forced to subsidize someone elses lifestyle choice via absurd property tax subsidization. Gary Morse
Scott Clark July 11, 2012 at 01:44 PM
That's still a good question Gary; however, I believe that unrelated to the George St development and instead specific to the controversy surrounding Sowams Nursery. I am just glad to see the George St condos probably going away. I don't fault developers for wanting to generate revenue by developng land nor the town looking for more tax revenue or at least stem the tide of the decreasing and aging populations. But we need to focus more on rehabilitating parts of town rather than continually eating up what open land is left simply because that's "easier".
Barbara Donovan July 11, 2012 at 02:02 PM
I was present at the meeting last night and my hat's off to the members of the planning board for an intelligent answer to a group of developers. It is hard, I realize to fulfill the wants of a state that has mandated a completely insane law. Every town and city in RI is different and a blanket law is ridiculous. Perhaps a trip to the State House should be made, or a discussion with our representatives on the hill. Where are they in all of this? Barbara Donovan
Gary Morse July 11, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Scott The issues are related. Nockum Hill is being pushed under the banner of "affordable housing" zoning waivers. Take away the tax incentives paid for by town residents and the investmnent no longer has the same financial gain to developers. The issues are absolutely linked. Town residents have to wake up to what is going on behind the scene on this.
Gary Morse July 11, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Scott, You will likely learn the sad truth about how these issues are related after a lawsuit is filed by the developer against the town complaining that the zoning waivers under affordable housing are not being complied with.
C. Anderson July 12, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Yay, Planning Board! Now do it again on Sowams.

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