opinion Newport Rhode Island

Portsmouth voters do not be fooled again. Ballot Question 2 is about transferring ownership of valuable and limited town owned property (5 acres, ballfields, and Anne Hutchinson School) to whom is unknown as it is not clearly stated within the ballot question. One can presume to Church Community Housing given the town has entered into an agreement with them to look at options to develop the land for affordable housing. Ballot question #2 is not about saving the senior center. 

On September 9, 2021, Christian Belden, Executive Director of Church Community Housing (CCH) held at the Portsmouth High School, a public presentation of CCH proposed development for the Anne Hutchinson School, currently home of the Portsmouth Senior Center. When done, the residents of Portsmouth in attendance and on zoom were left with more questions than answers. The proposal presented spun that a new senior center would be included, which is not reality. 

Despite the very enticing design proposal, there is no agreement in place, no clear understanding of how and if CCH will be able to finance the project and the proposed development is for senior housing with a multi-purpose room the senior center may use – this is not a senior center.  In addition, CCH develops the property and thereafter turns it over to a management company, adding another layer of questions and concerns. The management company will oversee the application process for the housing units. The units will not be made available exclusively for Portsmouth residents nor seniors. 

The plan presented also requires the town to purchase a commercial condo within the development and lease to the senior center to use as its office space – price is approximately $600,000. How will the town pay for this when they were unwilling to pay for sprinklers to allow the Senior Center to continue their full operations?

The ballot question we are being asked to vote on is unclear. Don’t be confused by the explanation provided with the ballot question. We do not vote on explanations just ballot questions.  Once the town transfers property CCH will be able to do whatever they want with whatever they want. 

Yes, it appears they are saving the Portsmouth Senior Center, and the signs being placed across town would make one believe it’s true. But do not be fooled the senior center is not being saved, the proposal is about the transfer of town owned land to an entity who does not have our seniors needs in mind, they added on a multipurpose room to the plans given the outcry by residents to the demolishing of the senior center for affordable housing and now market rate housing as proposed. Seniors are scared as they want to keep their location and have been coerced into supporting such a proposal as they believe is their only alternative as the town left them in this awful situation. We can do better Portsmouth residents by keeping the land and school as town owned property and developing in our best interests.  

Voters carefully read the ballot question presented to you and realize what you are voting on. 

Mary Ellen Martin

Portsmouth RI

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