Affordable housing law needs to change

Letter to the Editor - stockimage

To the editor:

On Sept. 5, the Barrington Planning Board reviewed the proposed Bluemead Farm subdivision in Rumstick. It was suggested that there are no local ordinance waivers needed for this project.

In fact, there appears to be a significant waiver needed with the Bluemead project being the affordable architectural consistency ordinance, Section 185-185(C). In the future, this, and other Barrington affordable housing ordinances, will impact our tax base, architectural diversity, and school system.

Barrington Town Ordinance Section 185-185(C) states: “All low- and moderate-income housing units proposed are integrated throughout the development; are compatible in scale and architectural style to the market rate units within the project; and will be built and occupied prior to, or simultaneous with the construction and occupancy of any market rate units.”

In order to meet this ordinance, a question remains for the Bluemead project: Will the developer upscale the two proposed affordable homes to advantage the architectural scale and style of the remaining project, selling them later at an affordable discount, or, will the developer simply complete the project with “one style” market based affordable homes (e.g. the architectural style of Sweetbriar or Walker Farm)? And who decides what architectural style is compliant?

Adding low cost spec homes throughout town will produce a negative impact to the overall Barrington tax base, both from the project itself, and, from the potential decline in home values to the surrounding neighborhoods. The development at Bluemead Farms can easily support a smaller number of upscale homes improving our underlying property tax base.

Also, there is another problem being the town’s 20 percent development rule. This ordinance requires that for every 10 new homes in any development, a minimum of 2 must be affordable. Each time 2 more affordable homes are added, 8 more non affordable homes are added to the starting point pushing the 10 percent mandate further out with each new development.

In order to finally cross over the threshold where 10 percent of all Barrington housing is affordable, there could be as many as 4,000 new homes added in town. There isn’t enough land to accommodate 4,000 new homes.

Finally, we have the Barrington ordinance outlining the affordable “comprehensive permit” process. This provides zoning waivers for developers as long as Barrington has not met its overall 10 percent affordable mandate. Thus it appears developers may always be granted zoning waiver advantages since Barrington may never be fully compliant with its own affordable ordinances.

The proponents of affordable housing argue that they are forced to do this because it is state law. But is this really the case?

In the July 2012 Barrington Town Council meeting, town attorney Nancy Letendre summarized the implementation of RI affordable housing laws for Barrington as follows: “There’s a lot of attorney’s whose livelihood depends on these fuzzy clauses here.”

I suggest that our town council needs to begin interpreting these “fuzzy clauses” to the advantage of town residents, not to the advantage of developers, lawyers, or personal ideology.

Gary Morse

Barrington

One Comment;

  1. comn sense said:

    The state wants $25 million more this year in a voter approved initiative to fund this developer boondoggle.

    This was the worst piece of legislation in RI’s history forcing every community in RI to make up rules for how to ruin communities with forced build out the community doesn’t need.

    It’s about money for developers and their friends.

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