Affordable housing that an affluent town accepts

Issue: Jul-Aug 2010
Issue Date: Thu, 2010-07-15
Page Number: 3
Volume: 15.5

 

Seven years after they were first proposed, 47 sometimes controversial affordable dwelling units are nearing completion in Barrington, Rhode Island, a well-heeled town about 10 miles south of Providence.

Thanks in part to the house designs and neighborhood plan produced by architect Donald Powers, the development is now winning considerable acceptance from townspeople, some of whom vehemently opposed the project at the beginning.

The eight-acre development, called Sweetbriar, initially was laid out by a different designer and was to consist of houses with varied setbacks, superfluous gables, long driveways, a meandering street system, and no sidewalks. Townspeople disliked it. They argued that the project, sponsored by the East Bay Community Development Corporation, would hurt property values, burden the school system, raise taxes, and increase traffic. The municipality of about 17,000 fought the proposal all the way up to Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Underlying the discord was a difference in economic condition. A family of four can qualify to live at Sweetbriar only if its income falls below $44,000. The median annual household income in Barrington as of 2008 exceeded $97,000.

Powers, a Providence architect who grew up in Barrington, got involved in the project