Above: The Imperial, a new development off Greenwich Avenue, one of the several projects currently under construction in town.
Councilor Donegan says encouraging more 55+ housing is the answer
Town Councilor Mike Donegan complained last week about what he said was the lack of action by the town’s Planning Board on exploring ways to slow growth in town. In particular, Donegan said he wanted the Planning Board to research ways to entice developers to build age-restricted housing, as older residents can cost a town less than younger residents because they typically don’t have school-age children and EG schools are at or over capacity right now.
In the 2020 census recently released, East Greenwich was third in the state in the percentage of population growth.
Donegan’s comments came during a discussion of growth management at the Town Council meeting Sept. 13 with Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais. Donegan called the Planning Board’s inaction “unacceptable.”
Bourbonnais countered that the Planning Board had been working on a variety of ways to slow growth and had set some priorities since they had met with the Town Council last February to discuss the issue.
“Land conservation is at the top of their list,” she said. The idea with land conservation is to encourage owners of larger parcels of open space to keep them open. While someone could decide to donate their land to the town, they could also hold on to the property and get a conservation easement from the town whereby the town buys the development rights, so a farm, say, remains a farm.
Donegan said he wanted a solution now, while the real estate market was hot. He said there should be a way to encourage developers to build housing for people 55 and older.
There is nothing stopping a developer from building age-restricted housing now. In fact, Middleberry on Middle Road is age restricted and the plan for the former American Legion post calls for an age-restricted facility. Donegan believes there should be a way to encourage more developers in that direction.
“Developers want to get into this market,” said Donegan, referring to East Greenwich. “If they knew we had a parallel process, they would do it.”
Donegan’s push to encourage age-restricted housing runs counter to one of the stated goals in the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, a document Donegan himself was heavily involved in crafting during his years on the Planning Board. In the housing section, it states as a goal: “A diversity of housing opportunities which are affordable for the various population groups of East Greenwich will be maintained, ensuring that the needs of current and future residents are met.”
More affordable 55+ housing would not help EG meet that goal – the town has more age-restricted affordable housing than any other type of affordable housing, according to the Planning Department.
At the Sept. 13 meeting, Council President Mark Schwager noted a 55+ approach could lead to other strains on the town, most obviously on the town’s emergency services. He said he wanted a more comprehensive approach.
While EG had 375 new units under development last year, so far this year the number of new proposed units is significantly lower, said Bourbonnais. She said that could be due to the pandemic and the high cost of building materials right now, but whatever the reason, activity has slowed.
The council ended up voting to have the Planning Board come up with a number of options to limit growth, including the feasibility and limitations of each.