EAST GREENWICH–The Planning Board approved a new affordable housing project last week that will bring the town closer to the state’s mandated 10 percent minimum.
The project, now known as Brookside Terrace, would introduce 96 affordable housing units on South County Trail. The residential development calls for four apartment-style buildings, as well as a freestanding club house on approximately 18 acres. The site selected for the development was previously singled out by the town as an ideal location for affordable housing units.
Nearly three decades ago, Rhode Island mandated a 10 percent minimum of affordable housing per district, and East Greenwich is still a ways off from meeting it. The legal representation for Brookside Terrace have pointed this out each time they’ve come before the board over the past two months.
“Getting to this 10 percent goal is elusive,” said William R. Landry of Blish and Cavanaugh LLC. “If you’re adding 20 percent of the units as affordable but you’re bringing on 80 percent of it as new units, it’s hard to catch up to that 10 percent. It’s a slow creep.”
Laundry said the town currently needs 540 affordable housing units to meet the state’s 10 percent minimum, but currently only has 230. The number of affordable housing units needed to meet this goal could rise by 2025 though, when East Greenwich expects to meet the minimum, given that other new developments will also be growing.
This has been the first 100 percent affordable housing project to come before the Planning Board, and is moving forward with a combined master and preliminary plan subject to a number of conditions, such as receiving operational permits and approval from other departments.
Already, the project has addressed a number of concerns such as accessibility to emergency responders or school busses, but will still eventually be subject to a final approval.
Some of the more pressing permits the project is waiting on come from the Department of Environmental Management, which will ensure that the project does not encroach on the adjacent wetlands area or negatively impact the environment in any way. Any issues could cause the site plans to be revised.
“That’s a complication that we don’t expect, but it’s always a possibility,” Landry said.
If revisions were needed because of permitting issues, the project would retain its master approval but revert back to the preliminary stage of review for reconsideration by the Planning Board, according to Planning Director Lisa Bourbonnais. They would not be starting over from square one.
When one of the board members asked why costs to the town had been included in her report if they weren’t able to consider this when voting, Bourbonnais said she wanted to address some previous concerns raised at past meetings.
The financial cost and impact to the town cannot legally be a reason to deny the project, Bourbonnais said. As Landry had previously pointed out back in October, affordable housing is always a cost to the town.
“I know the board is accustomed to giving that a lot of weight in ordinary reviews,” Lisa said. “But the comprehensive permit, which is this 100 percent affordable housing project, everything goes out the window by state law. That’s not one of your considerations in terms of an allowable reason to deny a project.”
One of the most vocal voices against the project has been Board Member Muhammad Akhtar, who had to recuse himself at the start of the meetings because of a new, conflicting legal relationship.
Akhtar recently engaged John O. Mancini of Mancini Carter, PC, to represent him in a real estate dispute in East Providence. Mancini, however, is also currently representing Ocean State Veterinary Clinic, who are the abutters to Brookside Terrace.
Akhtar announced this new relationship on the record, but said he would feel comfortable staying or leaving. Landry did not feel comfortable with him staying on, however.
His biggest concern had been the financial strain this development could place on the town. He previously stated the development could cost East Greenwich as much as $1.5 million per year.
“Our town is in rough shape,” Akhtar said at the previous meeting. “We were in the red last year. Our schools are stressed to the max.”
Town Solicitor David M. D’Agostino informed the public that Akhtar’s new legal relationship did not affect any of the other past meetings.