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Town Council Nixes Litigation on Tax Rate for Affordable Housing

Barrington councilors vote 3-2 against asking for 'declaratory judgment' on controversial 8 percent tax rate for affordable housing developments in RI.

Aerial rendering of proposed Palmer Pointe affordable housing development in Barrington. Credit: EBCDC
Aerial rendering of proposed Palmer Pointe affordable housing development in Barrington. Credit: EBCDC

By a split vote, the Barrington Town Council last week decided not to ask for a “declaratory judgment” on Rhode Island’s affordable housing tax rate.

The Town Council has been mulling filing a legal motion to determine if the tax rate of 8 percent on rents of affordable housing developments is a legal standard the town most follow under state law.

The councilors finally voted 3-2 against taking that action last Monday, Jan. 6, under advisement from Barrington’s solicitor, Mike Ursillo.

Ursillo said his advice to the Town Council was to wait until after the lawsuit filed in Superior Court last September by the citizens group, CODDER 02806, against the Barrington Planning Board and the developer, East Bay Community Development Corporation (EBDCD) of Bristol, was handled by the court. 

The Planning Board has approved a master plan for the proposed Palmer Pointe development on the Sowams Nursery site. The developer has said that it expects to receive the 8 percent tax rate to help make the project feasible.

Voting to pursue a judgment were Town Councilors Bill DeWitt and Ann Strong. Voting against taking action at this time were Town Council President June Speakman, Vice President Kate Weymouth and Town Councilor Cynthia Coyne.

The master plan for Palmer Pointe calls for 42 rental units on 5.6 acres of buildable land – or about 8 units per acre in what is an R25 zone. EBCDC built and operates the Sweetbriar affordable housing development in West Barrington, for which it pays 8 percent of rents as its tax to the town.

Gary Morse January 13, 2014 at 07:21 AM
This story is really about how Barrington's Town Solicitor has for almost two years done everything in his power to halt any town review of this tax abatement scheme on behalf of affordable housing developers. In a 2012 letter to the council on this abatement, the Ursillo law firm changed the language of the statutes in what appeared to be an attempt to make the abatements look legitimate, then made a claim that all affordable rental housing gets the abatement. The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 (Willow St case) that this was not true. Last week the City of Providence told RI Housing that they would no longer recognize these abatements for new construction of affordable rental housing. Also, last week, our Town Solicitor told the council that the General Assembly was going to fix this in 2014. Perhaps the Solicitor has a hot line to RI Housing because when I asked one of our reps about this, he had no knowledge of any committee hearing on this matter. This story is about the link between affordable developers, Barrington's Town Solicitor, and three members of our Town Council (Coyne, Speakman, Weymouth) who appear to think tax abatements paid for by residents to developers is a really nice idea.
Chris12 January 13, 2014 at 03:00 PM
"The developer has said that it expects to receive the 8 percent tax rate to help make the project feasible." To all property owners...wouldn't you like to receive an 8% TAX BILL??
Gary Morse January 13, 2014 at 03:35 PM
To put in perspective Chris12's point above, the current per unit tax bill at Sweetbriar is approximately $750 per year (yes that's annual taxes). A person owning an affordable "deed restricted" home at Walker Farm has an approximate tax bill to the town of $3600 per year, and that tax bill floats with the mil rate. Orchard Ave is the street that runs along the side of the proposed Palmer Pointe development. There are 29 small homes on smaller lots on Orchard. The average property tax bill of all 29 homes on Orchard Ave is $4742, with the smallest home on Orchard (564 sq ft living space on 5489 sq ft lot) having a tax bill of $2970, four time greater than that of a Sweetbriar per unit tax bill. Property taxes should NOT be a subsidy vehicle for promoting state social policy. Property taxes were never meant for that purpose since they are regressive AGAINST the poor.
readmylips January 13, 2014 at 05:18 PM
I'm amazed that there's a home in Barrington with just 564 sq ft of living space!
Barbara Donovan January 14, 2014 at 10:18 AM
My goodness - I do believe that Mr. Ursillo is the same person that orchestrated the mischief with the Spenser Trust. He seems to like to change words around so as to please certain folks. Hmmm - wonder who and wonder why? Someone looking for a State appointment? I do believe also that a lot of what he has, and is doing, is not right. A misguided solicitor?

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