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Editorial: Looking for help with housing law

We’re off to a new year and one of the traditions as we turn the calendar is the annual appearance by local legislators before the Westerly Town Council. On Monday night, State Sen. Dennis Algiere was joined by representatives Sam Azzinaro and Brian Kennedy for that traditional sit-down with the council to hear some of the council’s wishes for the 2014 legislative session.

Councilors asked for help with purchasing land in an effort to protect the joint Westerly-Pawcatuck water supply. Specifically, council member Jack Carson mentioned a need for financial aid from the state to help fund the purchase of the 300-acre Lucey property, located between the Bradford Preserve and the Copar Quarry. The council also would like to purchase land owned by Cherenzia Excavation also used as a quarry and located near the town’s well field in the White Rock section.

There also was talk about the state’s redesign of the Elm and Beach streets intersection, which was the site of accidents and many near-crashes over the years. The effort to improve safety changed the driving routine in that area, and councilors as well as residents have registered dismay with the result. Algiere said the legislators have already discussed the concerns and plan to meet again with the state DOT for more discussion, but he noted that the project was reviewed by the council and the police department before work started. Though they plan to discuss the work again with the DOT, both Algier and Azzinaro appeared to suggest that more time is need for more drivers to become accustomed to the new traffic pattern.

We agree. The change to a stop sign in one direction and a 90-degree intersection is an improvement over the former yield sign and fork in the road that kept drivers guessing. For many, the yield sign was nothing more than sidewalk sculpture. Drivers heading north on Beach Street have the right of way over drivers heading south on Elm Street and the folks on Elm Street just have to wait at the new stop sign until there’s no traffic coming from Beach before they proceed onto Beach. Lets all give it a little more time.

We were particularly interested in the request by Town Manager Michelle Buck for the legislators to consider revisions to the state’s affordable housing law. The requirement for every municipality to provide more affordable housing is really geared, as currently written, to the state’s larger towns and cities. Forcing rural towns such as Hopkinton or Richmond to abide by the same rules that apply to Warwick and East Providence just doesn’t make any sense. And in towns like Westerly, there are plenty of “affordable” apartments and homes though many may need some investment in improvements. Charlestown has already sough to use affordable housing finds for renovations, but the state is not keen on that idea. We urge our local legislators to give voice to the concerns of local officials struggling with this mandate while surrounded by properties that could be rented or sold at “affordable” prices with some repair work. Instead of building new projects lets get the existing dilapidated housing repaired to provide attractive safe housing while cleaning up the neighborhood.

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