Editorial: This affordable community can fight together

Posted 5/7/20

Residents across Warren are right to be worried about the impact the proposed Settler’s Green development (stories, page 1 and 5) would have on the quality of life here. And while it is …

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Editorial: This affordable community can fight together

Posted

Residents across Warren are right to be worried about the impact the proposed Settler’s Green development (stories, page 1 and 5) would have on the quality of life here. And while it is laudable that hundreds have signed up for a group formed to fight the development here, it’s concerning is that many residents are getting angry at the wrong people — the Warren Town Council and Planning Commission.

The real target for their anger should be a state law that emasculates town zoning codes in favor of any developer who brings deed-restricted affordable homes to a community. Under this law, which should have been modified years ago, developers can bulldoze farm fields, chop down forests, build obscenely dense complexes and pave the majority of green space, all in the name of “affordable housing.”

Is “affordable housing” the culprit? Of course not. As much as any community, Warren is made richer by having a diverse population, both ethnically and economically.

The law is the real culprit. In addition to giving developers the freedom to trample on a community’s thoughtful planning and zoning rules — typically written by dynamic collaboration between private citizens and government leaders over many months — the law also recognizes only officially-designated low-income homes as “affordable.” It does not recognize the apartments or homes that are at the bottom of the housing market, but not officially enrolled in a low-income housing program. Warren has many of these.

Though they do not comply with the strict guidelines of the state’s “low-income” limits, these homes and apartments are far more “affordable” than what can be found in neighboring communities.

The point?

If any community should be forced to approve a dense housing complex to meet the state’s arbitrary standard of 10 percent of homes being “affordable,” it should be Barrington or Bristol or Portsmouth. Warren is already the most affordable community in the East Bay.

Unfortunately, town leaders have few options to partner with the uprising and oppose this project. Having said that, it should do what it can.

In Barrington, an equally powerless town council took an affordable housing developer to court and fought a project for years. The town ultimately lost, but it was matched against a developer with deep, deep pockets. In some cases, simply putting up hurdles can alter a developer’s plans.

Also in Barrington, citizens rallied around the cause and approved a bond to buy open space rather than see it developed in clustered affordable housing. This too would be a productive outlet for the Warren opposition group.

Public officials are fair game for criticism, and residents can rail against town leaders all they want. But if they really want to make a difference, they should encourage the town council to get mobilized, and they should convince their legislators to finally change a law that strips towns of the right to govern as they see fit.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.