Barrington councilor's vote on housing appeal questioned

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Two years ago as a member of the town’s planning board, Ann Strong voted to deny master plan approval for the “Residences at the Preserve,” a 24-unit development proposed for a piece of land on George Street.

Ms. Strong and five other members of the planning board cited numerous reasons for denying the approval, including that it is “inconsistent with several aspects of the Comprehensive Plan and raises environmental, health and safety issues.”

But late last month, Ms. Strong took a different stance on the issue.

As a member of the Barrington Town Council, Ms. Strong voted against a measure that defends that same planning board decision.

At an executive session meeting of the council on June 30, Ms. Strong cast the lone vote against filing an appeal in Rhode Island Superior Court to challenge the State Housing Appeals Board’s decision to overrule the planning board’s earlier denial.

“I think very, very few things are overturned when they get to this point,” she said. “I don’t think (the appeal) is a wise use of taxpayer money.”

Ms. Strong said she had been asked by a number of people why she voted the way she did. Her response: “I think the real story is finding out why the other council members voted the way they did.”

Ms. Strong may have been pointing to council members June Speakman and Kate Weymouth, who have strongly supported affordable housing initiatives in town in the past. (Residences at the Preserve is slated to include six units deemed affordable.)

Ms. Speakman and Ms. Weymouth said they weigh each proposed development on its own merits and felt that the planning board — the same board Ms. Strong had been a member of — did the right thing when it denied the Residences project back in Aug. 2012.

Ms. Speakman said the planning board used sound analysis when formulating reasons for denying the project.

The planning board decision, as summarized in minutes from the meeting, stated that the town was already making strides toward hitting the 10 percent affordable housing goal. It also stated that Residences did not “respect the surrounding community” and was “inconsistent with natural and cultural resources.”

“The proposal would work to reverse the town’s significant efforts in recent years to protect and restore vital natural habitat areas and farmlands,” stated the decision.

Ms. Weymouth said she was very surprised when she received the State Housing Appeals Board’s decision to overrule the planning board’s work.

Ms. Weymouth, Ms. Speakman, Cindy Coyne and Bill DeWitt all voted in favor of filing the court appeal.

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