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UPDATE: Don't Blame Planning Board

Former Planning Board chair Mike Minardi provides additional information on the rejection of a subdivision at the Sowams Nursery property, now targeted for affordable housing.

Former Barrington Planning Board chairman Mike Minardi, now the town's Tax Assessor, provided the following update on a previous Patch story on the board’s rejection of a plan for a subdivision for Sowams Nursery owner Joseph Silveira seven years ago.

The board’s rejection is seen now as possibily serving as a catalyst for the development of affordable housing on the property, according to a Barrington Times story.

“The proposed development was for ten (10) lots, not seven (7),” said Minardi in an email. “And the Planning Board vote was 8-0 not 7-0.”

“In addition to the road being excessively curvy," he said, "as I recall the applicants were seeking a number of waivers for such items as:

  • creating a thru-lot to another road (not allowed under Barrington's Land Development and Subdivision Review Regulations),
  • lot depth to width ratios in excess of 2.5 to 1 (not allowed under Barrington's Land Development and Subdivision Review Regulations),
  • no interior angles of a lot shall be less than forty-five (45) degrees or greater than two-hundred (200) degrees (not allowed under Barrington's Land Development and Subdivision Review Regulations)
  • the creation of a land-locked lot (not allowed under Barrington's Land Development and Subdivision Review Regulations), although that probably would have been deeded to the Barrington Land Trust."

Minardi said previously that Silveira never appealed the decision.

He said the Planning Board at that time should not be blamed for the construction of affordable housing on that site. It ruled on a plan for the property that simply could not be approved.

Silveira has since signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the East Bay Community Development Corporation for a proposed 56-unit affordable housing complex described as similar to Sweetbriar in the Bay Spring neighborhood of Barrington.

Manifold Witness May 23, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Breaking news from 2005… It was 10 lots? That’s still a lot less than 56 residential units on that same land. The applicant requested “waivers”. Minardi says the applicant had proposals that were “not allowed”. Um… that’s what “waivers” are for, Mr. Minardi. And with a “Comprehensive Permitting” view of things – you work with the applicants, right? Or is that just for “the right” applicants? Now, at least, we’re getting somewhere as to what the alleged issues were: Curvy road? That’s quaint, Barrington-esque, and in keeping with the character of the area. One lot given up for access? That sounds generous of the applicant. Perhaps one might argue a similarity to how other developed areas connect up in town. Lot(s) a bit deeper than “normal”? Deep is nice. And what’s normal in Barrington, anyway? There are deep lots all over town. An interior angle of less than 45 degrees or maybe more than 200 degrees? Please see “quaint” & “what’s normal”, above. A land-locked lot deeded to Barrington? Great! The town could have countered with an easement if needed. Thanks for the update. It still seems that the Planning Board could have worked & negotiated with the applicant to arrive at a plan that could have been approved. You know… like they work with the “affordable” developers.
Ignorance is not bliss May 23, 2012 at 02:19 PM
So, who is to blame? Who targeted the Sowams Nursery property as affordable housing in the town's comprehensive plan? The town manager is concerned for open space ( http://www.barringtonri.com/news/2012/may/16/housing-projects-proposed-barrington/ ) but the town has targeted 9 acres of waterfront property on the Palmer River to build a low income housing project. Who is to blame for a total misuse of a limited natural resource? Who is to blame for not proactively working towards achievement of the 10% state mandate? Who is to blame for taking the easy way out? Who is to blame for the complete disregard of what is best for the existing town residents and taxpayers? Who do we blame? The town manager, the town council, town planner? Who is to blame?
Scott Clark May 23, 2012 at 02:32 PM
That's the problem. There is no blame. The way the town committees seem to be structured, everything that's ever happened has resulted from a series of micro-decisions made somewhat in a vacuum. Whose to blame? Maybe whoever decided it was a good idea to have eight different committees of volunteers instead of an established single entity of paid employees. Maybe it's whoever established what amounts to competing long term visions for the town. Maybe it's just the fact that the concept and function of multi-disciplinary government takes so much time to keep up with, it alienates general public involvement who don't have the time to get that invested, but still get aggravated when something shows up in their backyard. Manifold: On your comment: "It still seems that the Planning Board could have worked & negotiated with the applicant to arrive at a plan that could have been approved." This is an important point. The challenge is cost. In Mr Silveira's case, he decided not to spend more money with architects and consultants to revise his plan. That COULD have been what he did and the town could likely have worked with him. But given his age, I can't really blame him for looking for a quicker sale. It's similar to the town looking at dense housing rather than rehabs. It's just easier and quicker, and if nobody calls them on it, they'll always default to easier and quicker.
Scott Clark May 23, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Yea, I had to laugh at "“In addition to the road being excessively curvy," too. Have they BEEN to south Sowams road? That's one of the very many things we'll be holding EBCDC to: a *valid* traffic study over the course of many weeks to assess the traffic impact on that area of Sowams, particular at the juncture with County Rd where there currently is no light and you're lucky if it takes less than 6 minutes to make a left on it between April and September.
Manifold Witness May 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Attend some of the Planning Board hearings. See how they work with certain applicants. “Eye opener” may not be too strong a phrase. The traffic on County Road may be increasing once Police Cove Fantasy Land is done. Who is responsible? Kate Weymouth (Town Councilor and “liaison” extraordinaire), June Speakman, Jeff Brenner (Town Councilor and former Zoning Board Chairman) & Michael Ursillo (Town Solicitor).
Ignorance is not bliss May 23, 2012 at 06:44 PM
I find it interesting that town officials do not want to be blamed for the affordable housing at Sowams Nursery. If the proposed dense affordable housing is a good thing, why would they be worried about being blamed?
Scott Clark May 23, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Lol "fantasy land". Love it! Managed to get two Housing Board and one Conservation Commission so far. New at this by trying to catch up. They're pretty interesting. Ignorance is not bliss (can I call you IINB? ;) ): I think it depends on WHICH board. But also, it appears as though the various town boards aren't necessarily in favor of the 10% rule as much as accepting they need to try and achieve it because they lost the Supreme Court of RI case years ago and are too timid to try and fight it again. This is where coming up with some sort of multiple-municiple "class action" response to the ruling could be useful...
Gary Morse May 23, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Did the town record the reasons for rejection of the 7 lot subdivision beyond subjective "curvy road" objections? Does the record show that our first responder's agreed that the road was "too curvy" and posed safety concerns? And if yes, how are the sharp curves and cul de sacs in other recent developments posing a problem? Were recommendations provided as to how the Silveira's 7 lot plan might be improved, or did the Planning Board just put the Silveira's into an unwinnable and cost prohibitive guessing game? In short, was any plan submitted by the Silveira's "dead on arrival" if it was not for affordable housing? Without answers to the above questions, this is little more than damage control for the town.
Scott Clark May 23, 2012 at 11:44 PM
I'm not having any luck finding a record of the meeting where this was discussed. But watching the Housing Board ask EBCDC to go back and consider some things, the sequence is very believable: Mr Silveira spends time and money to make a proposal, Board says "not as is, go make some changes", Mr Silveira decides not to spend more money tuning the proposal and finds a faster sale. But to your point, this is all just he-said/he-said reporting. The difference between EBCDC and Mr Silveira is that the former is in the business of creating LMIH developments and therefore already has planned to spend money and time on every type of proposal, argument, plan, re-plan, and every other study they're asked to do. Meanwhile, Mr Silveira was just trying to sell some land.
Manifold Witness May 23, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Challenging the Supreme Court decision is not useful. Statutes need to change. Especially since the underlying "Wheras-es" and "Wherefores" are not the same as they were way back when. See issues in the Sweetbriar case (link, below)- “This Court will not endorse an interpretation of § 45-53-3(2) that would defeat the underlying legislative purpose of the act expressed in its provisions and acknowledged in our case law.” (p. 24,EAST BAY COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORP v. The ZONING BOARD OF REVIEW OF the TOWN OF BARRINGTON, No. 2004-330-Appeal. (2004-19), June 30, 2006) Also, see what the court says about the curvy oval road at Sweetbriar - “We note, for example, that the zoning board's original findings included a finding that ‘[t]he proposed road would be a race track shaped oval * * * which is not safe for a family residential neighborhood.’   On remand, the zoning board may wish to review this aspect of the design in an effort to abate any such safety hazards.” (page 38). Even so, is that actual road a tight, curvy oval there now or not? Think about it. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:_KtmcHCGxhIJ:www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/SupremeCourt/OpinionsOrders/pdf-files/04-330.pdf+east+bay+community+development+corp+v.+the+zoning&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESg9hagRAg0bEm_AlbnV_P76Xde5G20bnnejLDxjvR2e0jnQ4aXVFu3pguN1FgLwT81Kp7FO4CkjzuaQMFR8NY6QE2J7rRdpak0zJybk7tr1wjw-Hl2JkEIi-WloN99JywI0vQuh&sig=AHIEtbQwW3SGPhOmZdIp1ARyEh_wIg8KcA
Scott Clark May 24, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Sorry, I meant challenge the mandate itself, not try and overturn the decision on Sweetbriar. People already live there :) Courts.ri.gov was down, so I pulled the bookmark I had for the last link you provided (ah, and thanks for the google cache!) http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ri-supreme-court/1344948.html All the points the Housing Board mentioned in the last two meetings are in the Supreme Court decision upholding the Appeals Court: - The town didn't meet 10% - The town didn't have a Comp Plan to meet it (from there came the plan and the Housing Board itself) - The LMIH application was not inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan they had at the time. - The Zoning Board rejection was inconsistent with the LMIH standard Another point: until a town meets 10%, the State Housing Appeals Board is required to scrutinize it more closely (basically have a bias towards development) any Zoning Board appeals if the town hasn't yet met 10%. So from here is the stated twin goals of: 1) Show good faith on getting to 10% 2) Doing it the least controversial way possible. That includes *balancing* the resident and developer needs. But both of those are predicated on the constitutionality of the LMIH standard itself, a component of which (shared tax burden) did come up at the Housing Board meeting, by a Mr Morse. THAT is what I think could possibly be challenged. Of course, the only thing I know about law is how to spell "law" :)
Scott Clark May 24, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Oh and I should say that through all this, I'm not really siding with either side. I'm just trying to piece together the ten years of decisions that went into the Sowams project. Usually these things are not the result of some nefarious shadow broker working behind the scenes. Rather, it's usually more mundane that that, along the lines of a bunch of small decisions made over a long period of time by one side being way more organized in what they want than the other side is in preventing them from getting it :)
Manifold Witness May 24, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Right, the issues Gary raised would support challenges to the statutes and to the substantial tax abatements.

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