After five years on the Affordable Housing Commission, Marie Hennedy stepped down recently, but not before speaking publicly about her disappointment with the density of the EG Housing Authority’s 2880 South County Trail project.
Marie Hennedy stands next to Town Council President Michael Isaacs after receiving a commendation for her work on the Affordable Housing Commission Feb. 24.
The Town Council recognized Hennedy’s work for the town at its meeting last week and during public comment she took the opportunity to encourage the council to be vigilant in pursuing more affordable housing.
By state law, the town is required to have 10 percent of its housing stock be in the affordable category (i.e. be affordable to a household having an income of no more than 80 percent of the median income in Kent County). East Greenwich is at 4 percent.
But Hennedy also noted what she saw as the inadequacy of the 10-unit EG Housing Authority development in the beginning phases of construction at 2880 South County Trail.
She expanded on her comments after the meeting.
“EG is so in need of more affordable units … but this development is not what the Affordable Housing Commission assumed we were endorsing a year or so ago,” she said, referring to the plan’s density. There will be 10 units, 8 of them 3-bedroom, on a half acre.
In particular, she disliked that there will be “no setback from the rear property line, no room for kids to play onsite, little or no exterior storage space for baby carriages, bicycles, etc.”
She added, “This sort of ‘project’ is the antithesis of the kind of affordable housing that the Affordable Housing Commission has been learning about and touting to EG community organizations.”
Hennedy was talking about developments where affordable housing is mixed in with regular housing, and designed in a way so the affordable units do not look markedly different than the other units. The town has an ordinance requiring new developments include 10 percent affordable units – the Cottages on Greene Street on one such development.
In addition, Hennedy said she and her colleagues on the EGAHC were disappointed when the project was switched from the Cove Homes private arm of the Housing Authority, to a regular Housing Authority project, “thus by-passing planning and zoning permissions. We thus withdrew our endorsement of the South Country Trail project in December.”
Abutting neighbors did express unhappiness with the project’s density to the Town Council in November. Zoning for commercial highway districts, such as that stretch of South County Trail, requires a 40-foot setback. A private developer with a project on that site would have to go before the EG Zoning Board for a setback variance. The EGHA is not a private developer, however. As a government entity, it is exempt from the town’s zoning regulations by state law, much as schools and government buildings are. Cole Middle School, for instance, was not required to conform to town zoning rules when it was built in 2010-11.
EGHA is not bound by zoning rules to notify abutters, but did so “out of courtesy,” according to EGHA Director Marcia Sullivan in November.
Hennedy stressed that her objections were not about affordable housing in that location.
“I don’t object to 2880 South County Trial on the basis of its location,” she said. “Near Route 2 and Route 4 could be a great spot for one-bedroom units: young folks need starter homes with good commuter access. It’s just too many units on too small a parcel of land: sort of Marlborough Crossings on steroids.”
Marlborough Crossings is an EG Housing Authority project at London and Marlborough streets downtown.
Now that Hennedy is off the EGAHC, she said she is considering applying for a vacant seat coming up on the EGHA’s board. She served on that panel from 1975 to 1985.