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State mandate goals achievable for town under its new Comprehensive Plan draft

December 17, 2010

The town's Comprehensive Plan is still being reviewed.

A draft of the town’s upcoming comprehensive plan leaves plenty of room for the town to achieve its state-mandated goal for affordable housing stock...provided it’s willing to build several large clusters.
By allowing the construction of 100 percent affordable housing clusters on available land, the town can create up to 1,049 affordable housing units, well above the 555 target established by Rhode Island Housing.

Sam Shamoon, development consultant for the town’s comprehensive plan, and Jeff Nield, senior scientist and project manager of East Providence-based ESS Group, gave the Planning Board their analysis at a work session last week.
Currently, the town has 185 units of affordable housing, defined by RIH as housing within the means of a family earning less than 120 percent of local median income, adjusted for family size. The town’s 555-unit target is based on 10 percent of town’s 5,551 overall housing units.
Nield said the analysis did not include privately owned property that could be purchased for the development of affordable housing.
“We identified parcels that could be targeted for new development. We looked at the environmental resources, and subtracted potential units based on environmental constraints like wetlands,” he said.
Nield and Shamoon also worked up estimates in which 20 to 25 percent of the units on a given parcel would be designated for affordable housing, but the combination of those and existing units would only bring them to 365 units.
Their analysis broke down six categories of land for possible development:
Shippeetown (the northwest quadrant north of Route 95): 178 units based on 24 units per acre for a 100 percent affordable housing buildout. The study noted the area is not currently sewered.
Four lots scattered throughout town zoned for one-acre lots with a 20 percent density bonus permitted: 11 units.
Property adjacent to Meadowbrook Farms Elementary School zoned for three-acre lots with a 20 percent density bonus: 6 units.
Transit-oriented development, with four lots in the Greenwich Boulevard area and two of state Department of Transportation-owned land at Post Road and Cedar Avenue: 38 units.
Land zoned for multiuse planned development with sewers, two on South County Trail and four others scattered throughout town: 363 units.
Land zoned for multiuse planned development without sewers, four lots in the Division Street and South County Trail area: 257 units.
There definitely will not be a full 1.049-unit buildout, since further review of drafts will remove some parcels deemed not suitable for affordable housing, Nield said.
This broad approach to identifying potential affordable housing parcels, he said, is preferable to lot-by-lot analysis.
“Smithfield identified individual parcels, but Rhode Island Housing didn’t like the plan, believing it led to spot zoning. They’re interested in towns identifying areas and incorporating them into a comprehensive plan,” said Nield,
Planning Board Chairman Bradford Bishop endorsed the consultants’ concept of identifying potential affordable housing sites.
“Most of what we have before us is raw land that hasn’t been well developed, if at all. This is a plan that extends 15 years into the future, so services that are not present now could be present by then,” he said, citing town sewer and water lines and RIPTA bus service.
“These strategies are forcing us to reach beyond what we’re comfortable with,” said board member Jennifer Cervenka.
Susan Atchison, president of the Women’s Development Corp., a local affordable housing developer, also said the plan would force her to look ahead.
“This plan requires us to get our tools in place. Right now, we have no tools in place,” she said.
Marcia Sullivan, executive director of the East Greenwich Housing Authority, said many units her board has obtained are not counted by the state as affordable housing because they don’t contain deed restrictions.
“I’d be more than happy to add them, but how can you work with existing owners to get deed restrictions”” she asked.
The state’s mandates are not likely to change in the future, Atchison said.
“Ten percent is not very large. If you went by need, every community would be at 40 percent,” she said.

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