Editorial: A tale of two developments

Posted 1/10/24

It is worthwhile to examine the fates of two developments that went before the Warren Planning Board last week, and what the implications of these decisions mean moving forward under the auspice of new housing laws in the state.

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Editorial: A tale of two developments


It is worthwhile to examine the fates of two developments that went before the Warren Planning Board last week, and which are featured once again on the front page of this paper.

While the projects had some similarities among them — both coming in under the state’s polarizing comprehensive permit application, both requiring waivers of local zoning ordinances, both requiring the construction of buildings on land that as of now sits undeveloped, and both facing high levels of scrutiny from abutting residents — a few key differences seems to have contributed to their contrasting results. One was approved, the other effectively stopped in its tracks.

The project that ultimately found itself with good news at the end of the night was the project brought forth at the former Liberty Street School. Developers John Lannan and Ron Louro, throughout multiple continuances and requests for alterations to their original plan, displayed from the outset a willingness to negotiate with the Town, ultimately chopping off five units from their first proposal and reducing the size of a second building to be constructed by a full third of its original footprint.

While some in the neighborhood would likely continue to argue that the development is too large for the area, we feel a healthy and constructive governmental process occurred here. It should also not be forgotten that the Liberty Street School, the third public high school built in the state (and the only one still standing), will be rejuvenated in a celebration of its original construction, rather than continue to waste away under the relentless barrage of time.

On the other side of the coin, the 40-unit project proposed on Child Street (dubbed Penny Lane), represents all the things that make people uneasy about the comprehensive permit application in the first place.

While the plan proposed was praised for its design — and while no one can deny that the East Bay Community Development Corporation is a leader in the state in building actually affordable housing at a meaningful rate — the project was effectively denied because a majority of the planning board simply couldn’t justify shoving so many new buildings into an area of undeveloped former farm land, right in the midst of an existing neighborhood.

We find it puzzling that East Bay CDC would choose this parcel, at this time, in particular. A slate of new affordable housing laws just went into effect Jan. 1 that give even more power to groups like the East Bay CDC to build these types of sorely-needed, 100% affordable developments. The Town of Warren is also completing its updated Comprehensive Plan that will look for exactly these types of developments, located along the bustling Market to Metacom corridor, rather than squeezed into an area abutting a conservation area and neighbors who rightfully feel as though they’re being encroached upon by such a large complex of buildings.

If the East Bay CDC had bided its time and located a parcel along the corridor where Warren will soon be actively seeking these types of projects — projects that would be wholeheartedly backed by its Comprehensive Plan — then they could have had an easy road toward a certain approval.

Instead, they opted to push forward with the purchase of a plot of undeveloped land and sought to shove through an application that required double-digit waivers to local zoning, aggrieving neighbors and putting the planning board in an unenviable position, all the while insisting that negotiation was not an option.

We hope the Liberty Street approval, and Penny Lane denial, will serve as valuable lessons to developers moving forward that projects serving the crucial need of providing truly affordable housing do not need to be shoved down the throats of municipalities in order to be viable.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.