To the Editor:
Narragansett Town Councilors recently agreed to consider subsidizing a Stamford Connecticut real estate developer’s construction of five single family homes that will cost more than a million dollars each. The project will irrevocably fragment vulnerable wetland wildlife habitat and kill an opportunity to build more affordable residences.
Yet, at the very same meeting, the Council unanimously supported an Arbor Day Proclamation recognizing the critical role trees and woodlands play as wildlife habitat and established a new affordable housing committee to increase the town’s supply of affordable family housing.
Skycap, the developers, seeks waivers from town policies regulating the length and number of sewer connections allowed at this previously undeveloped Clarke Road property. Yet they’ve failed to provide a single concession to build less expensive, more affordable residences on a site identified for potential senior housing in the town’s Affordable Housing Plan.
Only in a Lewis Carroll fantasy would it make sense for the Council to enable the construction of five homes costing more than a million dollars each on a potential affordable housing site and accept a payment in lieu of open space for a project that permanently fragments critical wetland wildlife habitat.
Let’s be crystal clear. Skycap’s project hasn’t earned the right to a town subsidy. It offers little long-term municipal benefit in terms of environmental stewardship or affordable housing.
How did Skycap’s plea land on the Council’s doorstep?
It begins with the site. Forty four percent of these previously undeveloped 20 acres are freshwater wetlands. They are part of a larger 190 acre wetland complex -- one of the largest unfragmented freshwater wetland systems remaining in the southern Narragansett. The property is authorized for just one sewer connection. It is identified as a potential site for meeting some of Narragansett’s desperate need for affordable senior housing.
The Planning Board conditionally approved Skycap’s master plan. In doing so, it heavily relied upon the scant field work and last minute oral testimony of Skycap’s hired wildlife expert. As a condition of approval, the Planning Board required Skycap to undertake a more thorough wetlands wildlife analysis. When Skycap returned seeking six variances from the Town’s freshwater overlay district zoning regulations, the Planning Board concluded that “the environmental concerns had not been resolved despite multiple reports from the applicant”. They recommended that the Zoning Board reject half of the variances, including those for a more than 500 foot roadway and two of the five proposed home lots.
The Zoning Board could and should have exercised its authority to insist on an independent review of Skycap’s work. Instead, it ignored the Planning Board’s recommendation and approved Skycap’s request.
The Council should consider taking the following actions..
First, insist that an independent, professional wildlife expert review Skycap’s environmental work as a precondition to any further consideration of this request.
Second, let that analysis dictate what site plan modifications may be needed to reduce any wetland and woodland fragmentation that threatens natural systems and vulnerable wildlife.
Third, insist on a less expensive housing product that is consistent with cluster residences envisioned for this site. And is it too much to ask for at least one affordable unit?
Narragansett’s Comprehensive Plan “strongly encourages cluster residences to protect natural systems” on this site. Thus far, the unelected Zoning Board has offered anything but strong encouragement. It’s time for our elected Council members to move this project closer toward the policy guidance provided in the town’s Comprehensive and Affordable Housing Plans. Let’s strongly encourage them to do so.