The Town of Barrington has no obligation, legal or otherwise, to develop senior or affordable housing on the former Carmelite Monastery property on Watson Avenue in the Nayatt neighborhood. It is …
The Town of Barrington has no obligation, legal or otherwise, to develop senior or affordable housing on the former Carmelite Monastery property on Watson Avenue in the Nayatt neighborhood. It is choosing this path.
Look back at the resolution passed during the Barrington Financial Town Meeting on June 21, 2021 (see the meeting minutes here). There is no mandate for the town to do anything other than buy the property and preserve the former monastery building.
The minutes from that meeting chronicle the multiple layers of confusion that night. Some residents, including members of the town’s Committee on Appropriations, were surprised to see such a significant spending measure on the docket with no advance notice. Others criticized the lack of analysis or financial projections.
Several rounds of voting were contentious. Voice votes were inconclusive. A standing vote was deemed too close to call. Alerted by friends and families, newcomers streamed into the meeting late to take part in a paper vote — the number of voters increased 18% from standing vote to paper vote.
In the end, the motion passed by a single vote. We at the Barrington Times had never seen anything like it.
Why the history lesson? Because that highly contentious decision has enormous ramifications today.
Like a hiker with his head down, the town is stubbornly trudging down the path toward something far different than what voters — by a margin of 1 — approved two years ago.
On that contentious night, then-Town Council President Michael Carroll advocated for the $3.5 million purchase AND monastery preservation by saying the site presented a rare opportunity to create senior and/or affordable housing in town.
According to both memory and minutes, the vision that night was clear: Regardless of whether they were for senior / affordable housing (only seven people spoke in favor of it that night) or against, the two-story brick building nestled into 7 acres would ultimately become senior housing.
At the time, it seemed like a natural fit. A small community of nuns had been living in that building for decades, so the idea of repurposing the building to house a new generation of elderly, to expand housing opportunities in a community that is pricing itself beyond reach of the average buyer, was a worthy mission. That’s what people voted for. That was the vision.
That is not what the town is contemplating today. Nearly two years later, a small contingent of town leaders want to tear down the building and build dense, clustered housing. Regardless of whether the plan calls for 50 units in a professional consultant’s report or fewer than 20 units on the back of a napkin, none of it matches with what was discussed, voted on and approved by the slimmest margin possible two years ago.
Town Manager Phil Hervey and others believe they are fulfilling a mandate from that June 21, 2021, meeting. They are not. Today’s mission is of their own making. The record does not agree with them.
And if we could find all 176 people who voted in favor of this resolution two years ago and show them today’s plans for the property, would any of them change their vote? It would take just one to set this project down a different path.