The State Housing Appeals Board overstepped its authority when it ruled in favor of a 24-unit development on George Street, states a legal challenge filed by the town recently.
According to the appeal filed in Rhode Island Superior Court on Monday, July 14, there are numerous reasons as to why the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) should not have overruled the town’s planning board when it voted to deny master plan approval for a project called “Residences at the Preserve.”
The town’s appeal, which was filed by Barrington Solicitor Michael Ursillo, states that SHAB’s decision violated constitutional, statutory or ordinance provisions; that it was made in excess of the authority granted to the state board; that it was “made upon unlawful procedure”; was affected by other error of law; was clearly erroneous when contrasted with evidence from the case; and exhibited an abuse of discretion.
The town’s appeal also challenged the state board’s refusal to listen to testimony from abutters to the proposed development — including individuals who live in Massachusetts.
“The interests of the town may diverge from that of the abutters, particularly the abutters who reside in Massachusetts…
“SHAB’s decision to deny abutters the opportunity to intervene in the appeal constitutes an error of law and an abuse of discretion,” stated the appeal.
SHAB’s decision to overrule the planning board’s denial of the project cited four main reasons, including the fact that 10 percent of the town’s housing stock is not deemed affordable, according to the state’s Affordable Housing Act. Currently, about 3.27 percent of the town’s housing stock is deemed affordable by the Act. SHAB officials also stated that the developer “has shown its intention to proceed and build the project in a manner that respects the surrounding area.”
Barrington officials argue that constructing four buildings containing 24 total units on just four buildable acres in an area that does not offer public sewer or public water and that abuts environmentally sensitive land would be “inconsistent with several aspects of the Comprehensive Plan and raises environmental, health and safety issues.”
According to William Landry, the attorney for North End Holdings, the administrative appeal process will likely last at least six months. He said he expected a briefing schedule for the case to be established in August.
The project is proposed for a 6.8-acre lot — which includes 2 acres of wetlands — on George Street in the north end of town. The property used to be a horse pasture and was sold by Carin Longo to North End Realty and its manager Ron Chofay in Nov. 2009 for $290,000.
The developer’s proposal for “Residences” dates back to April 2011, when he filed a pre-application concept submittal to the town.
The Barrington Planning Board held public hearings in June, July and Aug. 2012 and on Aug. 29, 2012 entered its written decision denying the application for master plan approval.
About three weeks later, North End Holdings filed an appeal with SHAB, and on June 26, 2014, SHAB entered its written decision overruling the planning board.
On June 30, the Barrington Town Council met in executive session to discuss the matter, and voted 4-1 in favor of appealing SHAB’s decision to Rhode Island Superior Court. Council member Ann Strong was the lone dissenting vote.