Letter: Barrington's investment may become a handout to developer

Posted 9/15/23

To the editor:

We applaud the Town Council for calling a meeting to discuss the future of the monastery property on Aug. 30. However, We were surprised and dismayed with the ultimate outcome of …

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Letter: Barrington's investment may become a handout to developer


To the editor:

We applaud the Town Council for calling a meeting to discuss the future of the monastery property on Aug. 30. However, We were surprised and dismayed with the ultimate outcome of the meeting. 

When the town initially purchased the monastery property, it was under the auspices that the townspeople would have control of the land use. In subsequent community meetings, there was much discussion of providing affordable housing to seniors, which is in short supply in Barrington. This is a goal most residents agree on: seniors should have an affordable place to live in our community.

During the series of over two years of community listening sessions, the community has repeatedly expressed interest in preserving green space and open space for public use; the town's own surveys about the property indicate this is a priority for Barrington residents. 

The plans currently presented are at odds with what residents asked for. There is little public or green space reserved for public use and the proposed plans have only a handful of affordable units. It seems that our communal investment may therefore become a handout to private developers.

The process for community listening sessions has been convoluted and confusing. Even for many of us who have spent many days in community meetings, following minutes, and public website postings, have had difficulty following the policy process and the outcomes. For people with less time to devote to this process, what is happening is almost unintelligible.

Both the process and the outcomes related to public use for the monastery property remain opaque. Many concerned residents have been saddened by the fact that the outcome will neither produce meaningful improvements in housing stock for seniors, nor a public space where people can enjoy breathtaking ocean views and the beautiful scenery. These goals have been all but lost in the final outcome, which largely promotes private land development on one of the few undeveloped properties in town.

In June 2023, several residents sent a list of federal, state and foundation grants for the town to consider applying for to achieve these important public goals. When we inquired about the status of these applications, we were told that the Council had not provided the town manager with a directive to explore or apply for any grants. Therefore, the town opted not to explore any of the grant opportunities to reduce costs to the public, and to advance our shared community goals of providing more affordable housing and conserving green space.

In spite of Councilwoman Conway’s keen interest in exploring grant opportunities to advance our community’s goals, at the Aug. 30 meeting, the Council went so far as to vote against exploring grant opportunities to achieve these two goals. This is unfortunate and alarming, because this is equivalent to turning down free money for a town so concerned about the financial feasibility to achieve important public goals. 

We were also surprised and alarmed with some of the Council President’s statements such as “Barrington will never be able to achieve its state-mandated affordable housing goals,” citing this is a reason not to provide more affordable housing on this property. That statement is a self-fulfilling prophecy; the only goals that are ever achieved are the ones that we work collectively to address. These include some of our nation's most challenging social problems, like affordable housing, developing spaces for public use, and land conservation as we confront climate change with receding shorelines.

We should not neglect the housing needs of our most vulnerable residents. There are ample opportunities for grants and state assistance with these issues; for example, the state of RI received $2 billion in the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) appropriation, and approximately $200 million of that is reserved for improving and expanding the housing stock. Millions of other ARPA dollars have been allocated to towns for public works. Failing to explore those opportunities is a disservice to our town, our seniors, and to conservation efforts.

The town should do its due diligence and explore all grant opportunities that allow us to achieve the goals that were originally stipulated as the ones citizens voted for, including affordable housing for seniors, and open or green space for public use. We hope that the Town Council does its due diligence in exploring grant opportunities for these issues, including the grant opportunities we provided. The Town Council also has a fiduciary responsibility to its residents to pursue grant opportunities that align with the goals endorsed by the voters in many community meetings, particularly those who advance public goods like affordable housing and green spaces, as well as grant opportunities that might improve our town while reducing our tax burden.

Dr. Amy Nunn


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