Admins fear East Providence waterfront could become “exclusive”

Proposed affordable housing changes may restrict access ·

EAST PROVIDENCE — Saying they feared residential developments on the waterfront could become “exclusive” properties, administrators urged the city council at its September 19 meeting to express opposition to eliminate totally an affordable housing provision from an agreement between the waterfront commission and the contractors at the Kettle Point site.

The council abided, approving a resolution noting its concerns with the move, doing so on a majority 3-0 tally. Councilors Joe Botelho and Jim Briden abstained from the vote. The resolution, however, was somewhat superficial in nature as the council has no direct oversight of the commission.

Both Community Development Director David Bachrach and Acting Planning Director Diane Feather told the council they had varying degrees of reservations about a possible amendment to the original agreement between the commission and AR Builders, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is building 228 so-called “luxury” apartments at Kettle Point as part of another deal with developers Kettle Point LLC.

Mr. Bachrach led the discussion, repeatedly stating he feared if the commission gives its final approval to the change, it would create “gated communities” on the city’s waterfront and restrict access to the shoreline for most residents. He said it would set a “dangerous precedent” for future developers who could seek similar waivers from the percentage of affordable housing required when public monies are somehow involved in like projects.

“If they do approve this request, and we do end up with a luxury gated community along the East Providence waterfront, when we look back in history, we’ll wonder why, what was the justification, what was the hardship (to the contractor/developer)? To my knowledge, there is none,” Mr. Bachrach said.

In this specific case, the full waterfront commission and AR Builders previously agreed to slice the percentage of affordable units from the agreed upon 10 percent to five, meaning only 12 of the 23 spaces would have fallen under the “affordable” category as set by the state. AR Builders further agreed to pay an “in lieu of fee” of some $488,000 transferable to a separate development in city that is constructing 14 “affordable” condominiums off site from Kettle Point.

Recently, AR Builders made another approach to the waterfront commission, seeking to completely eliminate the affordable units, again agreeing to pay an “in lieu of fee” of some $488,000 to be used once more for off-site development. A special hearing panel of the commission recently approved the measure, forwarding it to the full body, which is expected to make its final determination at a meeting Thursday night, Sept. 21, in Room 306 of City Hall at 6 p.m.

Mr. Bachrach claimed the city would get no direct benefit from the proposed change. In fact, he said it would likely force it to use state and federal housing funds on the affordable units instead of other projects.

Expressing her view of the proposed change, Ms. Feather said it likely went against the spirit of the original intent of the affordable housing requirement written into the city’s zoning ordinances, which dates back to the fundamental guidelines on the matter put into place when the waterfront commission was initiated in 2003.

“I think it’s a ripe question…It’s a very important policy question, and when we wrote the plan in 2002, 2003, everyone felt that we didn’t want to see the East Providence waterfront as it was pre-developed to become exclusive and become a place for only people with money and sort of an ‘exclusive’ gated waterfront. So we did included that 10 percent affordable housing provision within the site,” Ms. Feather added.


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