A group formed to fight the Settler’s Green housing development plan off Kinnicutt Avenue has amassed nearly 700 members and has raised close to $1,000 in the four days since it was …
A group formed to fight the Settler’s Green housing development plan off Kinnicutt Avenue has amassed nearly 700 members and has raised close to $1,000 in the four days since it was organized.
Members of Save Bettencourt Farm have organized a full board of directors, started a petition drive, plan to hire legal counsel to help them fight the development or possibly save it as open space, and are in the process of applying for 501(C)3 non-profit status. A website, www.savebettencourtfarm.org, is in the works.
The group quickly sprung up this week following Monday’s Warren Planning Commission meeting, at which an attorney for Last Ever Realty LLC informally introduced the project to board members.
Last Ever, which purchased 17 acres of land along Kinnicutt Avenue from the Bettencourt family in 2018, hopes to use the state’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Act to build 12 single family homes and two large apartment buildings on the site. The 12 homes would be built along the southern end of the property, parallel to Denver Avenue, with the apartment buildings built on the north end of the site. Each apartment building would be four stories tall and would hold 54 units each, with space for more than 200 cars. What is now a paper road, Dallas Avenue, would bisect the two halves.
Several of the new group’s members say that while they have no problem with affordable housing in town, they believe Settler’s Green, built in a quiet neighborhood and close to the Kickemuit River, is unacceptable.
They will do everything they can to fight it, two members said Friday.
“I am not opposed to affordable housing,” said the group’s chairwoman, Karen Ramos of Kinnicutt Avenue. “If it was (on Market Street or some other area that could more easily accommodate it), I would have no problem with it. But two four-story monstrosities in this neighborhood is just not a good fit. The roads, the water, the infrastructure, will not support it.
“Just abysmal,” added board member Davison Bolster. “It’s just completely inappropriate.”
The board plans to try to fight the project on two fronts: By researching the law, local issues and impacts; and on another track, looking for ways and partners to preserve the land itself should the project be denied.
Donations have been streaming in since the board was first organized Monday night, and Mr. Bolster said all funds will be used to do an appraisal of the property and hire legal counsel and consultants, among other efforts. Key to the board’s work will be getting the word out, not just to opponents, but town officials as well, that the project is wrong for Warren.
“In the end, we need the town and the town needs us,” he said.
What is the town’s role?
The plan is being proposed under the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, a 2004 law that gives developers of affordable housing significant advantages when they agree to set aside a portion of the units they build to low to moderate income buyers or renters. The state law applies in towns which have less than 10 percent of their housing stock deed-restricted to low to moderate income residents; currently just under 5 percent of Warren housing units are deeded as such. In towns that don’t meet the standard, like Warren, developers do not need zoning approval for projects that otherwise would require variances and other zoning relief - all that’s required under the law is planning commission approval.
The official process will start when Last Ever applies to the town, requesting what is known as a comprehensive permit for the project. Once the application is received, the town will form a Technical Review Committee made up of town officials whose areas of concern could be impacted by the development.
Warren Town Planner Bob Rulli would chair it and it would also be made up of several members of the planning commission, the police and fire chiefs, the town solicitor, and other officials who could speak to its impact on roads, sewers, water supply and the like. The town will also have the ability to bring in its own engineers and consultants, so they can independently study the possible impacts. A portion of those costs would be Last Ever’s responsibility to pay for, and Mr. Rulli said the town has two engineering and consulting firms at the ready, Woodard and Curran, and Fuss & O’Neill. It also has the ability to call in The Beta Group, another engineering firm, if need be.
Once the Technical Review Committee has gone over the proposal, the application would then be forwarded to the Warren Planning Commission for review.
Should the planning board deny the application, Last Ever would have the right under state law to appeal to the statewide Housing Review Committee and if necessary, the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
On Friday, Mr. Rulli said that he had not yet heard of the Save Bettencourt Farm group’s efforts. He cautioned that town officials need to proceed cautiously and follow the state laws to which the town is bound, and not appear biased as the project unfolds.
“The town can’t say ‘No’ because the neighbors don’t like it,” he said. "That's not a good enough reason under the law. The town has to be very careful that we don’t appear to be prejudicial. So I can’t comment at all about what they’re doing, or not.”
Still, he said the town plans to do its due diligence and research the project, and any potential impacts, thoroughly.
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