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This week, the Narragansett Town Council voted unanimously to place a 60-day moratorium on new home construction, responding to resident complaints of rental homes that house dozens of tenants in dorm-style arrangements.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I.— The Narragansett Town Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to place a 60-day moratorium on new home construction, responding to resident complaints of rental homes that house dozens of tenants in dorm-style arrangements.  

The issue has been ongoing for many years, with off-season property owners eager to fill the demand for rentals by University of Rhode Island students. Neighbors who are year-round residents complain that it’s a quality of life issue for them.

Two weeks ago, a resident complained during the council’s public forum about a similar situation in his own neighborhood. That prompted Councilman Rick Lema to draft the emergency moratorium, designed to halt construction of homes until town officials can change regulations to prevent the practice.

“For the last 20 years or longer, there are houses going up that become multi-bedroom units and neighborhoods are upset. For me I just felt that something had to be done,” Lema said. “We’re going to sit down and go over everything.”

Councilman Jesse Pugh agreed with the move.

“This emergency ordinance is a way to get to a solution,” he said. “Seeing dormitories go up in small streets and neighborhoods is not something that’s a sustainable occurrence. We need to fix our building codes to correct these loopholes.”

Pugh said other communities throughout the country have enacted similar temporary halts to new construction.

“What we’re doing is not something that’s unusual or extreme,” he said. “If you look around the country or even in Rhode Island, Newport just did a six-month moratorium on new development in the north part of town. A lot of times, it’s the same impetus, these really large structures going up that are not really residential.”

The council amended the measure to allow owners of existing homes to make repairs and modifications, after some complaints from property owners that halting all work was too restrictive.

“We’re not looking to put any contractors out of business,” Lema said. “You’ll still be able to do remodeling. But the rest of it, we want to put the brakes on.”

It also made changes to allow the town’s planning and zoning boards to hear matters before them during the moratorium, to keep in line with state law.

But others appeared unsatisfied with the council’s action on Tuesday. They included Bob Chartrand, a Massachusetts resident who is planning to build his three-bedroom “dream house” in Narragansett, and has financing lined up for the work. He’s days away from submitting paperwork for the project.

“There is a penalty for not starting soon enough,” he said. “It could be as extreme as losing my lot.”

Others spoke to argue that existing regulations allow for the town to police large, multi-bedroom dwelling units.

“I’m in a very bad spot,” Chartrand said.

The two-month process of changing the ordinances will involve public hearings and, if necessary, special meetings, Council President Matthew Mannix said. The council hopes to get the work done before the expiration of the 60-day moratorium.

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