Editorial: Press pause on Barrington's monastery plans

Posted 9/15/22

A town-hired consultant says the only viable option for the former Carmelite Monastery building is to tear it down. Only then could a developer get a fair return while clustering dense housing on the …

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Editorial: Press pause on Barrington's monastery plans

Posted

A town-hired consultant says the only viable option for the former Carmelite Monastery building is to tear it down. Only then could a developer get a fair return while clustering dense housing on the 7-acre property.

Setting aside the fact that the town found a consultant to produce a report suggesting the exact outcome it was hoping for — perhaps this really is the only financially viable development option — it is now time to pause, push away from the table, and consider one serious question: Why?

Why is the town government is in the business of encouraging, researching and green-lighting a dense housing development?

When the Diocese of Providence property hit the open market in 2021, the town won approval to purchase it for $3.5 million by a one-vote margin at the annual financial town meeting. In most cases when a municipality purchases private property, it is trying to accomplish something for the community’s greater good, like preserving open space or enhancing public infrastructure. In some cases, it simply hopes to control future use of the property.

At the time, it was startling to see the town pay an exorbitant price for the property, but it could be justified. The town was planning to act in the best interests of the community, to have control over future use of a great property in one of the premier neighborhoods in southern New England.

A year and a half later, the justification seems dubious.

The town’s entire focus has been dense, clustered housing. All the recommendations talk about how to configure dense, clustered housing. Again, why?

Dense, clustered housing does not comply with the town’s zoning regulations. Dense, clustered housing does not match the surrounding neighborhood, which is a sea of attractive, single-family homes. Unless it is devoted to high-end, 55-plus townhouses, dense, clustered housing creates a higher burden in public services than it generates in local property taxes.

So why is the town singularly focused on helping a developer build dense, clustered housing on this property? The private property owners of Barrington already carry the highest residential tax burden in the state of Rhode Island, and they are staring down the barrel of a potential $100 million-plus elementary school building project.

Perhaps they would be best served by:

A) Getting a grant to help with the remediation and removal of the monastery building;

B) Recouping some of their investment by selling off an area of the property for three to five single-family house lots; and

C) Creating a small public space for neighborhood recreation and enjoyment.

That would serve the community. That would serve the greater good.

2022 by East Bay Media Group

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.