New plan for monastery property in Barrington: Fewer homes

April 26 workshop set to discuss monastery property

By Josh Bickford
Posted 4/19/23

A new plan for the former monastery property calls for a significantly reduced number of housing units. 

Crafted by Planning Board member Bill Kurtz, the plan shows the property being …

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New plan for monastery property in Barrington: Fewer homes

April 26 workshop set to discuss monastery property


A new plan for the former monastery property calls for a significantly reduced number of housing units. 

Crafted by Planning Board member Bill Kurtz, the plan shows the property being subdivided into a dozen lots — some lots would be for larger single-family homes, others for smaller senior housing units, and one section of the property would be reserved for future use. 

Barrington Town Manager Phil Hervey said the sketch offered by Kurtz reflects a desire for fewer homes to be built on the property. 

“I think it’s clear that the planning board, and obviously the neighbors, but the planning board does not have the appetite for the 36-ish level development,” Hervey said during an interview last week.

Initially, a consultant hired by the town determined that the seven-acre parcel on Watson Avenue could be financially feasible for a developer if it hosted more than 50 housing units. 

That number dropped to less than 40 in late March. Union Studios architect Don Powers shared two possible plans for the property at a workshop on March 28 — one plan called for 36 units and the other had 31 housing units. 

Residents who attended the workshop opposed both options, and members of the Planning Board appeared to favor less density on the property also. 

During their meeting in early April, Planning Board members reviewed Kurtz’s plan for subdividing the property into a dozen parcels. They also listened to Hervey, who proposed a development that would have 24 or fewer housing units.

“The plan that they looked at was always supposed to be a starting point, and it’s moving toward something with no more than 24 units,” Hervey said. “I think they were basically nodding their heads when I said ‘Are you OK with a maximum of 24? No more than 24?’ They were nodding their heads…

“We’re trying to figure out how to get there and I think we’ll have a nice plan for the Planning Board workshop on the 26th.”

April 26 is the date for the Planning Board’s second workshop focused on the former monastery property. Hervey said officials are trying to build consensus for the development plan. 

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Hervey said, adding that he hopes to propose a resolution at the upcoming financial town meeting that includes the removal of the monastery structure with assurances that the plan would include limited housing density. “…I’m suggesting no more than 24.”

The next step in the process is to have the Planning Board offer a recommendation to the Town Council for the May 1 meeting. 

Hervey said Kurtz’s plan still does not address the monastery building on the property. Twice residents have voted to preserve the building, but a consultant determined that re-development of the structure would be fiscally infeasible for a developer. 

“That is a plan that leaves the building — what happens to that building? We still have significant bills for utilities every month,” Hervey said. 

“If you try to make a developer save the building it’s going to be challenging,” Hervey said. “We need the additional option to remove the building. Everything we’ve done, which was done by a third party, professional consulting firm, points to the fact that we can’t save the building. We tried to save the building. We did as much as we could to try to save that building. There’s just no way to do it.

“I don’t lose track of the fact that we bought this property and it was presented by the town on stage at the FTM as the purpose would be senior housing and affordable housing,” Hervey said. “Whatever that number is… at the time we didn’t have time to plan it out, to figure it out. It took a long time to get to the point to figure out if the building itself was salvageable. It’s clearly not, for that kind of use… for any use, honestly.”

New plan

Barrington Town Planner Teresa Crean said Union Studios will create a new plan for the property that will be ready before the April 26 workshop. 

The motion made by the Planning Board at its last meeting called for a new concept plan that was based on recent feedback and professional judgment that “incorporates a mix use of single family lot sizes including small lots for low to moderate income and senior housing and dedicated open space.” That motion passed 5-0, with members Larry Bacher and Alexander Mueller abstaining. 

“I think it’s wait and see what happens on April 26,” Crean said. “Because I think the planning board — it was the first time they really had a chance to deliberate and discuss and ponder openly about it, with all of the information behind them, of what the options are, and what the possibilities are, and what their preferences for density are. So member Kurtz, he shows us a 12-unit lot. There was discussion about 24 from the town manager. And it seems like there was consensus, meeting the appetite of the planning board and the residents…

“As far as what the next steps look like, I think … I’m just holding comment until after the 26th because I really want to hear what the planning board says and what their deliberations are in response to the next iteration of the plans. And after they have a couple weeks to really ponder what member Kurtz put in front of them.”

Crean said the process has allowed for people to voice their opinions about the property. 

“And so I think the plan and the process is adapting to that input,” Crean said. “So all the public input and the time that has been spent by people attending meetings, flying back home from wherever they were to make sure they were part of the process, is paying off in terms of reflecting something that …”

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