Barrington residents push back against monastery plans

One resident: ‘This should be open space. It shouldn’t be developed’

By Josh Bickford
Posted 3/29/23

More than a dozen people voiced their opposition to the development plans for the former Carmelite monastery property during a special Barrington Planning Board workshop on Tuesday night, March …

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Barrington residents push back against monastery plans

One resident: ‘This should be open space. It shouldn’t be developed’


More than a dozen people voiced their opposition to the development plans for the former Carmelite monastery property during a special Barrington Planning Board workshop on Tuesday night, March 28.

Nearly 100 people crowded into the gallery space at Barrington Public Library and watched a presentation about the proposed plans — one plan features 36 units situated on five acres of land, while the second plan shows 31 units and the preservation of the existing monastery building.

Residents at the workshop opposed both plans. 

Barrington Town Council member Annelise Conway spoke first during the public comment period. Conway, who also served on the 25 Watson Ave. Ad Hoc Committee, lives a short walk from monastery property and said she does not support either proposal. 

Conway said that while the town needs more affordable housing and also needs to make prudent budgetary decisions, the most recent plans do not work and are not a solution.

Conway asked the town’s solicitor Andy Teitz if another vote by residents would be needed to allow for the removal of the monastery building. He said a vote would be needed. 

The town purchased the former monastery and its surrounding seven acres in June 2021 for $3.5 million, and for nearly two years, Barrington officials and residents alike have been considering what to do with the property. (The town recouped $300,000 from the initial sale price because of future asbestos remediation costs.)

The initial financial town meeting vote to purchase the property was couched with an agreement that the monastery, which includes living quarters and a chapel, be preserved. Officials said the building could be used to make senior housing. 

More recently, a second vote was put to residents, asking them for permission to demolish the building as a town-hired consultant said it would be economically infeasible to include the monastery structure with any plans for redevelopment. 

In February, the town council referred the topic to a handful of boards and commissions for further review — it was sent to the Planning Board, Housing Board and Zoning Board for consideration in developing comprehensive plan amendments regarding future uses. 

Tweaks to the town’s comp plan did not sit well with Mary Grenier.

The Watson Avenue resident spoke during Tuesday night’s meeting and questioned the idea of altering the town’s comprehensive plan in order to “rush through” a housing development. 

Grenier said the proposed plans, if pitched by a private developer, would never have passed muster with the town’s zoning board. She said the plans go against the character of the neighborhood. She shared a similar message in a recent letter to the editor: “Why should they be allowed to modify the plan that is meant to protect the character of Barrington neighborhoods from exactly this type of development?”

Financially feasible?

Union Studio Principal Don Powers shared the presentation detailing the two proposed plans for the Monastery property. 

Powers said he grew up in Barrington and knows the Watson Avenue neighborhood well. He said earlier research conducted by a different consultant determined that in order to make future development of the property financially feasible, the builder would need to construct between 36 and 53 housing units. Powers said the town will need to consider taking a financial loss on the property in order to make it an attractive and feasible option for developers.

Some residents did not agree.

Dave Butera is a contractor and lives near the monastery property. Butera said he asked David Coleman, a Realtor who has worked in Barrington for many years, how much 25,000-square-foot lots would sell for if the monastery property was subdivided. 

Butera said Coleman estimated each lot would command between $600,000 and $750,000, and water-view lots would be sell for up to $900,000. 

With some quick math, Butera estimated that the town could sell the total parcel for approximately $10 million. Butera said Union Studio’s plan was “not the only way forward.”

Other residents who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting asked town officials and the consultant to provide the financial models they used when determining the feasibility of the projects. 

Mark Hanchar, a former member of the town’s Committee on Appropriations and a retired architect, also spoke about the financials surrounding the development plans. 

Hanchar said a closer look at the costs surrounding the property and future construction would require the developer to sell the homes for an average cost of $600,000. Hanchar said that figure is hardly affordable. 

Hanchar offered a different path forward for the monastery property: Land bank. He said Barrington needs more athletic fields and a recreation center, and could need land for more schools in the future. Hanchar said officials should consider holding off on any development plans for the property.

Plenty of concerns

Residents offered a variety of reasons to hold off on developing the former monastery property: negative consequences for the environment; traffic congestion for the neighborhood; parking problems; and the impact on local public schools.

A shell fisherman said the proposed development is located close to Narragansett Bay — he questioned whether any officials had considered stormwater runoff, pollution and future bay closures. He said those impacts could damage the environment and the local shell fishing industry.

Barrington Planning Board member Larry Bacher had a similar concern. 

Bacher said the construction of new homes, driveways and roads would lead to a drastic increase in impervious surfaces in that area. Bacher said the plans by Power lacked stormwater mitigations needed for properly draining water. 

Powers said he could not demonstrate the drainage but knew it was possible. 

Planning Board member Alexander Mueller asked if preservation of mature trees had been considered when drafting the plan. Powers said a tree survey would be conducted prior to any construction, but added that the property would undergo significant transformation — he said some trees would be saved “certainly” but added that many of the trees on the property were not healthy. 

Steve Lister spoke about traffic and parking concerns. Lister said he grew up in the Watson Avenue neighborhood — he actually remembers watching the monastery be built many years ago, he said. Lister said the neighborhood has had issues in the past with people parking illegally along the roads while accessing the beach. He said people from all over would use the parking at the development to access the beach, adding that it would lead to noise and trash issues. 

Lister also said the project would lead to a significant increase in car traffic for the immediate neighborhood. 

Another resident asked if officials had considered the potential impact on the local school department if the property was developed into 30-plus homes.

Ann Strong, a former member of the Barrington Town Council, said the town has wasted a lot of money on developing plans. She said the Council that approved the purchase of the property should be “run out of town.” Strong said the proposed development would ruin the surrounding neighborhood — “This should be open space. It shouldn’t be developed,” Strong said. 

The Planning Board has its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 4, and is scheduled to hold a second workshop on April 26.

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