2018-06-28 / Front Page

Town buys lot for open space, low-cost homes

$450K spent on Carr Lane land
BY TIM RIEL

The town has purchased property on Carr Lane to increase its stock of affordable housing while preserving the reservoir’s watershed.

The lot at 91 Carr Lane was purchased from Jim and Lisa Rafferty for $450,000. During a June 18 executive session, the town councilors authorized Town Administrator Andy Nota to make the deal, which has been in negotiations since November. The property was assessed for $550,000 in 2015.

“It’s signed, sealed and delivered,” said Lisa Bryer, town planner.

Following the deal, which was finalized three days after council approval, the town has wasted no time moving the project forward. The planning commission last week approved a request to subdivide the parcel, which is nearly 7 acres with an existing house and garage.

The front 1.4 acres, where the structures are, would be used for affordable housing, Bryer said. The town expects to sell that section to Church Community Housing Corporation, a nonprofit agency that secures housing for Newport County residents with low and moderate incomes.

The southern 5.5 acres, which border North Pond, would be used as contiguous open space for watershed protection, she said.

The final step is for the zoning board to approve a frontage variance to comply with the state Department of Environmental Management. Also, the housing lot is proposed at 59,119 square feet, although 200,000 square feet are required.

“We’re trying to conserve as much open space as possible,” Bryer said.

The zoning board members will consider the measures during their July 24 meeting.

Despite the $450,000 figure, only $307,500 will come from town coffers. That’s because the 5.5 acres qualified for a state grant through the $35 million Green Economy Bond approved by voters in 2016. Requests to protect open space, like the Carr Lane proposal, require a 50 percent match from the applicant.

In the application, the town estimated the land acquisition, not including the 1.4 acres in front, to cost $307,500, which led to the town to apply for a $153,750 grant. The town references the comprehensive community plan, which recommends “aggressively” purchasing all properties within the watershed. That’s because the town is federally designated as a sole source aquifer, which means one reservoir supplies at least half of the drinking water in town. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are no “reasonably available” sources for drinking water if North Pond were contaminated.

The Rafferty property, which contains deciduous wetlands and shrub swamps, is part of 133 acres that protect and filter drinking water before it flows into North Pond.

Moreover, the town’s purchase of this property would provide recreational opportunities because the network of existing trails can be accessed from North Road, East Shore Road and Eldred Avenue. In its application, the town said the open space would be managed by the public works department.

Along with protecting the drinking water, the state approved the grant because the lot “is part of an impressive swath of protected land visible from Route 138 that adds to the scenic resources of the state.”

The town’s share will be financed through the affordable housing trust, which is replenished by at least $50,000 annually in the capital plan, and through an account earmarked to protect water resources. Also, when a lot is subdivided, the applicant either has to dedicate land to open space or pay a fee. Money will be contributed from this set-aside, too.

Simply put, Bryer said, the town purchased the Carr Lane lot without having to ask taxpayers for another dime.

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