EAST PROVIDENCE — By a slim 4-3 margin, the East Providence Waterfront Commission at its meeting Thursday night, Oct. 19, voted to approve a contentious proposal allowing contractors at the Kettle Point site adjacent to the Providence River to completely eliminate the affordable housing provision from the development.
AR Builders, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is building 228 so-called “luxury” apartments as part of another deal with developers Kettle Point LLC, can now go forward with a plan to divert funding of so-called "affordable" units totally away from the Kettle Point site. According to the original agreement with the commission, at least 10 percent of the apartments needed to meet the state’s affordable housing standards.
“We’ve discussed the pros and cons of this for like the last four months. Personally, I felt we had reached a point where a decision had to be made,” said Waterfront Commission Acting Chairman Bill Fazioli, who cast the deciding vote.
AR Builders initially approached the commission in an attempt to cut the percentage in half. The commission agreed, slicing the agreed upon 10 percent to five, meaning only 12 of the 23 spaces would have fallen under the affordable category. 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 away from Kettle Point at “Ivy Place” across from city hall on Taunton Avenue.
Over the summer, 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 that would again be directed to Ivy Place.
“For me, the use of the in lieu of funds for the Ivy Place project would benefit owner-occupied housing as opposed to affordable rental units. And I think once people see what's going to happen at Ivy Place, there's going to be tangible benefits to that area of Taunton Avenue,” Mr. Fazioli added. “There are no clear cut right and wrong answers. I just felt in this particular case it was an appropriate use of funds. At the end of the day, this was not an easy decision. Both sides made valid points.”
Last month, City Community Development Director David Bachrach and Acting Planning Director Diane Feather each expressed concerns about the proposal, doing so at different decibels.
Mr. Bachrach voiced his displeasure to the city council over the proposal to eliminate the affordable units from Kettle Point. He claimed it would in some ways cut off access by residents to the waterfront, potentially create a “gated community," and ultimately make East Providence divert other housing funds to the project. He remained dispirited following the commission’s latest vote.
“This is very disappointing to me,” Mr. Bachrach said after the commission meeting. “I still do not see the reasoning behind allowing this other than it was easier for the developer to administer and they would make significantly more money with their development. This does not seem like a basis to make such an important decision that may have lasting effects for East Providence.”
Mr. Bachrach’s concerns, while noted, could not be acted on directly by the council. Elected officials and administrators have no direct oversight of the commission. That power rests with the General Assembly, which formed the commission as a body outside of the city’s governing structure over a decade ago by enabling legislation (RIGL Chapter 45-24.4 - Special Development Districts).
Ms. Feather, both in the past and recently, was a bit more measured in her response.
“I respect the commitment of the people serving on this commission as they review and approve development that is transforming the city’s waterfront for new places to live, work, shop and recreate,” Ms. Feather said. “As a matter of public policy I would hope that this decision does not set a precedent resulting in exclusivity of future waterfront district residential developments. Inclusive affordable housing on-site broadens the opportunity for persons to reside near the waterfront who would not otherwise be able to do so.”
Mr. Fazioli, who said only administrators from the city spoke at three public meetings on the subject, explained part of his rationale for allowing the AR waiver was because East Providence is currently near the goal of having up to 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable. He put the existing percentage at 9.8. He also insisted the commission’s decision last week will not color any made on other forthcoming proposals and took a bit of exception to contention the waterfront would be closed off to residents.
“In our view this does not close off access to the waterfront. And I don’t see this as setting a precedent. It still is the commission’s goal to have affordable housing aspects included in future developments,” Mr. Fazioli added. “Kettle Point is in no way a gated community. There’s a public road, public access, access to the (East Bay) bike path. It’s still very much open.”
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