Editorial: The cost of affordable

Posted 12/15/23

We cannot help but be skeptical about a package of affordable housing-related laws that will take effect in 30 days. What will it mean for Barrington’s zoning standards? Will our neighborhoods …

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Editorial: The cost of affordable


We cannot help but be skeptical about a package of affordable housing-related laws that will take effect in 30 days. What will it mean for Barrington’s zoning standards? Will our neighborhoods change? Will our suburban community shift toward a more densely-packed urban environment? 

The legislation was introduced months ago by Rhode Island House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and other legislators, including former Barrington councilor and current state Rep. June Speakman. Shekarchi and fellow sponsors said the bills will help create more affordable housing “that is so desperately needed in Rhode Island.” He said increasing housing production is a top priority for the House of Representatives. 

Shekarchi, whose law firm specializes in zoning and land use permitting, added: “Nothing in this package forces communities to build more affordable housing, and none of the legislation circumvents local decision-making. My goal is that, by making the development process simpler, faster, and more predictable, we’re not only expediting work already in the pipeline, but also incentivizing more private developers to invest in Rhode Island.”

That sounds well intentioned, but how exactly will these laws impact Barrington? 

Earlier this month, the Barrington Town Council introduced a series of ordinance amendments reacting to the new state laws. A memo from Town Planner Teresa Crean to the Town Council offers some explanation about the changes, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Here are some of the changes:

• It will be easier to receive variances to dimensional zoning codes for things like setbacks and lot sizes.

• It will be easier to build on non-conforming lots.

• There will be a simpler review process for the developers of affordable housing.

We’ve seen this before. The last time the state took a wide swipe at affordable housing laws, it created the unreasonable standard that every Rhode Island community must develop a housing stock where 10% is affordable. This one-size-fits-all approach is often a bad idea, and so it was for Barrington. Emboldened by state law, developers force-fed this community housing developments that were completely incongruous with their surroundings.

Barrington is a community where “accessory-dwelling units” and other creative approaches might have a positive impact on actually solving some of the housing problems locally. Our fear is that there won’t be creative and smart approaches; instead, we could see more of the same — developers shoving through densely packed housing units on previously undeveloped lands.

The council and zoning board will both be holding meetings and hearings to review the state laws and to shape Barrington’s response to them. We encourage the public to take interest and follow along. These changes have the potential to dramatically shape the future of this community … for good or for bad.

2024 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.