Developer breaks ground on Palmer Pointe

Project will bring 46 affordable housing units to Barrington

Posted 12/13/18

Eight years of planning, permitting and legal challenges came to an end last month when a construction crew broke ground on a new affordable housing development on Sowams Road. 

Officials …

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Developer breaks ground on Palmer Pointe

Project will bring 46 affordable housing units to Barrington


Eight years of planning, permitting and legal challenges came to an end last month when a construction crew broke ground on a new affordable housing development on Sowams Road. 

Officials from the East Bay Community Development Corporation spent nearly a decade fighting against a lawsuit and gaining the necessary permits to construct the Palmer Pointe development. The project, when it is complete, will include 40 units at the Sowams Road site and another six units at the Sweetbriar site on Washington Road.

"It feels good to be where we are," said EBCDC Executive Director Diane Mederos. "We have a lot of work to do, that's very clear to us. It feels good to get it going, to be working on this. We feel good about it. There's a lot of work that went into getting here."

Ms. Mederos said the project started to take shape about eight years ago. It gained momentum in 2013, when EBCDC officials filed an application to build Palmer Pointe, but the sale of the property was delayed for more than a year after a residents group filed a lawsuit against the town's planning board and the East Bay Community Development Corporation. 

"We've been working on this for quite a while," said Ms. Mederos. "We finally got through some of the hurdles that we were facing. We started the construction almost immediately after that."

Work at the Sowams Road location started in late October, as crews began pouring foundations for the 13 buildings. At about the same time, work also began on the six units at the Sweetbriar site. Nationwide Construction, which built EBCDC's Sweetbriar development, is handling the construction at both locations.

Ms. Mederos said that the new Palmer Pointe units will be similar in appearance to the Sweetbriar homes. 

"We've chosen the same kinds of colors as well. It is the same kind of layout, so it will look similar to Sweetbriar," she said. 

Ms. Mederos and other EBCDC officials said there is a few differences when comparing Sweetbriar and Palmer Pointe, including the level of cooperation from the town of Barrington.

"The town has been very supportive," said Frank Spinella, the president of FJS Associates. Mr. Spinella has been working with EBCDC on the Palmer Pointe project, and praised the town's assistance for the project.

"They've worked very closely with us throughout the whole process," he said. "At Sweetbriar, the pushback was from the town. The council fought it. The planning board fought it. It went to the Supreme Court. 

"In this case, because of Sweetbriar's success, both from the town's perspective and the neighborhood's perspective, this was welcomed by the town. The planning board was very favorable, the council's been supportive."

A residents group calling itself CODDER 02806 lodged a legal challenge against the development in Oct. 2014. But a Rhode Island Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the town and EBCDC.

During the last year, a number of agencies signed off on the project, including the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation which had called for future improvements to Sowams Road. 

Mr. Spinella said EBCDC and the town will partner on the construction of a new sidewalk on Sowams Road. The sidewalk will run between the Palmer Pointe entrance and Crossways Road. 

Mr. Spinella said officials have set a construction timeline of 18 months for Palmer Pointe — the first units will be ready for occupants in the summer of 2019 and all the units will be filled by the early spring of 2020. 

Ms. Mederos said there have been very few issues with the development so far. The project manager for EBCDC said he has only received a few calls from neighbors and has been able to remedy all issues.

Housing shortage

Mr. Spinella said the need for affordable housing in Rhode Island is greater than ever. 

"We are short thousands of units in affordable housing," said Mr. Spinella. "(The need) just continues to grow. The need is greater and funds have shrunk. It's gotten worse. And it takes a long time to get a development approved."

Mr. Spinella said he has seen a shift in peoples' attitudes toward affordable housing in Barrington. He referenced one resident who spoke in support of Palmer Pointe at a public meeting.

"The best testimony we had was when we were before the planning board on this development," he said. "There was a neighbor who abutted Sweetbriar, and said 'I fought it when you guys were proposing this, and I'm here to tell the residents around here that there's no need to fight it because they're really good neighbors.' He was our best — it was better than any expert testimony we could offer."

Ms. Mederos said there is already interest from people who want to rent the new Palmer Pointe apartments once the development comes online.

"We are absolutely getting those calls," she added. 

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