NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Narragansett Town Council is moving ahead with a proposed ordinance that would cap the number of students that can live in a residential house at three.
The council voted unanimously to send the proposal to the town’s Planning Board, which was set to meet Wednesday to discuss it.
“This will go to planning, they’ll have a hearing on it and it will come back to us for a hearing,” Council President Matthew Mannix said.
Narragansett’s draft ordinance is modeled after a similar ordinance in Providence, but with three changes, solicitor Andrew Berg said.
The Narragansett law would not be limited to specific zoning areas of town. It would focus on dwellings and dwelling units, not just single-family homes. Each unit in a duplex would be limited to three students, for example.
Finally, Narragansett would broadly define a college student and leave out a requirement that shows that a student commutes to campus.
The number of students the ordinance allows would not fundamentally change the ordinance, Berg said.
Councilor Patrick Murray said limiting dwellings to three students could prove problematic.
“You’re going to make some people criminals. It’s going to cause some havoc there,” he said. “We are a tourist town, like it or not,” he said.
A “catch-all” civil penalty of $500 per day within the zoning ordinance for violations, Berg said.
“With all town ordinances, the goal is compliance, or deterrence,” Berg said.
The Providence ordinance was challenged in court, and ultimately upheld by the Rhode Island State Supreme Court on May 27. This led to concern by some councilors that the town’s ordinance should mirror the Providence law rather than making some changes.
“I don’t think any of the changes would impact the constitutionality, in light of the Providence case,” Berg said.
Current ordinance defines a household as no more than four unrelated people. Berg said he believes a challenge to that would hold up in court.
Some residents said they are concerned the move will increase the cost of housing for students.
“I think when you take a home with four students splitting the rent, and now it has to be three, the parents are going to be burdened with the extra cost,” Allie Hunt said.
Others, including several year-round homeowners, applauded the move.
“Even if we keep the four unrelated, we’re not going to have the five, six, seven, eight, or ten,” Al Alba said. “It’s a shame when you have people that work hard to live in these houses and their peace is taken away from them.”
At least one student from URI said she was concerned the move will lead to a housing crunch and create financial hardship for students, since URI has cut down the number of available on-campus housing units next fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t understand why if the current ordinance is four unrelated people, you can’t enforce that,” URI senior Tori Hunt said. “I just find it very concerning right now during the pandemic. I’m nervous for my peers.”