News & Event
By Sean Flynn | Staff writer
NEWPORT, R.I. — A developer based in the city is offering to purchase the former Cranston-Calvert School off Broadway and convert it into a 34-unit apartment complex that includes two-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments.
BCM Realty Partners LLC has offered the city the “gross sum” of $1 million for the property, City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. told the City Council Wednesday night.
“The pricing is in line with a fair market value appraisal that I commissioned to determine the range of value, as is,” he said.
A gross sales price was cited because hazardous waste remediation may be necessary at the school, to remove asbestos for example, and the city may provide a certain credit to the developer for that work, he said.
“We could have a lower net sales price,” he said.
* BACKGROUND: Three historic city buildings now on the selling block
Rehabilitation costs are extremely high, Nicholson said in response to concerns the sales price may be low.
The city is converting the former Sheffield School on Broadway into a business incubator center and the rehab costs there are about $185 a square foot, he said.
“This school conversion provides innovative housing space to attract young technology people to Newport to provide a ready technology-savvy workforce,” Nicholson wrote in a memorandum to the council about the Cranston-Calvert project. “While that may sound anecdotal, the idea is that we believe we can generate an economy for Newport that has at its core need housing availability.”
“We are trying to create a new economy in the north end,” Nicholson told the council members during discussion. “Part of being successful with that is to create affordable housing that will bring young people back to Newport.”
“A lot of young people I work with out at the base (Naval Station Newport), would love to live in a place like this,” said Councilwoman Jamie Bova, who is an engineer.
Census data shows that Newport has an aging population and the number of city residents is declining.
“We are facing significant population decline,” Nicholson said.
Rental costs per unit in the apartment building would be between $1,000 and $1,500 monthly.
Those rent prices are below rental costs for Section 8 housing, Councilwoman Kathryn Leonard said, referring to the federal subsidy program.
“We already have low-income housing,” she said.
There will be no subsidies attached to this project, stressed Council Vice Chairwoman Lynn Underwood Ceglie and Nicholson agreed with her.
The exterior facade would be retained, but the interior would be totally reconstructed, Nicholson said.
Amenities in the apartment building would include “in-unit laundry, on-site parking, gym or media center, shared space on roof if desired by neighbors, virtual doorman, dry cleaning pickup/delivery, common area wi-fi, intercom system, high-end fixtures for lighting on exterior ...,” Nicholson wrote in the memorandum.
The Cranston-Calvert School was vacated when the students were moved to the new Pell Elementary School in 2013. The Cranston School was built in 1876 and the Calvert School in 1887. The were connected after the Hurricane of 1938.
Beginning in 2014, Berkshire Hathaway has been marketing the city’s vacant school properties that include the Coggeshall and Triplett schools, also vacated in 2013.
“There were numerous showings of the properties with no offers to purchase forthcoming,” Nicholson said. “The schools are just sitting there and deteriorating.”
The Newport Project Development Company, which was formed by consultants hired by the city to identify economic development projects, brought this school development project to the city for review, he said.
“There is a companion deal for the Coggeshall School,” Nicholson said. However, that proposal needs to be worked on, he said.
Nicholson said he sent letters to abutters around Cranston-Calvert to notify them of the proposed sale.
“I’ve gotten a good response from neighbors around the school,” he said. “I will go to neighborhood meetings.”
Nicholson said he did not want to just bring a finished purchase-and-sales agreement to the council without discussion.
“I do not have a formal purchase and sale agreement as of yet,” Nicholson wrote in the memorandum. “It is in draft form and not ready for your consideration. I hope to present that shortly.”
“It will enhance the neighborhood and add to our tax base,” he said.
Courtesy of Newport Daily News
By Matt Sheley | Staff Writer, April 6, 2018
NEWPORT, R.I. — Aquidneck Island is an expensive place to live — on that most people can agree. But what to do about it?
Members of the local legislative delegation told a crowd of about 100 people Thursday morning at the local Community College of Rhode Island campus they’re more than aware of the reality — and more needs to be done to help make Newport County affordable.
They agreed it’s not an easy issue to tackle, especially since the area is such a desirable place to live, and finding solutions will require creativity.
The discussion came up during the third annual Newport County Legislative Forum, sponsored by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission in partnership with The Newport Daily News and CCRI.
“It’s such an important discussion,” said Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport. “There’s nothing more fundamental to a family than being able to go home and have a roof over your head at night.”
“One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is I would love to see a partnership between members of the assembly delegation and the City Council leadership in Newport,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport. “I think that solutions are state-based and municipally based and I would encourage a task force or a conversation around a real diagnosis of what the problems are and some real brainstorming about how the state and municipalities can work better.”
According to statistics in the 2017 Housing Fact Book put out by HousingWorksRI, homebuyers need to make at least $113,419 annually to buy a median-priced home in Newport. The figures were $135,731 in Jamestown, $95,815 in Middletown, $95,670 in Portsmouth and $70,231 in Tiverton.
To “affordably” rent a two-bedroom apartment in Newport, people need to bring in $60,320, compared to $66,040 in Jamestown, $56,280 in Middletown, $68,560 in Portsmouth and $57,280 in Tiverton.
The report shows that a big part of the problem is that except for Newport, none of the communities in Newport County meet the 10 percent goal for low- or moderate-income housing. HousingWorksRI statistics show that 15.3 percent of housing in Newport meets that criterion, but only 4.4 percent in Jamestown, 5.4 percent in Middletown, 2.8 percent in Portsmouth and 5.1 percent in Tiverton.
Rep. Kenneth Mendonca, R-Portsmouth, agreed something has to be done or Newport County will continue to lose population. Among the ideas he suggested was getting creative with zoning and loosening density rules for suitable properties. He also suggested the town of Portsmouth look into the former Navy tank farm properties along Defense Highway for affordable housing.
“We live in an area that’s highly desirable, so you have a lot of short-term rentals, which drives up the costs and the price of homes, which makes it very difficult,” Mendonca said. “We know we’re an aging population, that it’s important that we retain our youth or that we attract our youth into our communities. As the prices drive up, it makes it harder for them to have a starter home here on the island.”
Legislators participating in the forum were Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown; Rep. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth; Euer; Carson; Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown; and Mendonca.
Moderator Neil Steinberg of the Rhode Island Foundation said schedule conflicts prevented Reps. Marvin Abney, D-Newport; Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth; Susan Donovan, D-Bristol; and Jay Edwards, D-Tiverton; and Sen. Walter Felag, D-Warren, from attending.
The group dug into several weighty issues, including ways to improve mass transportation and support for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to spend $250 million in bond money to improve school facilities.
During a question-and-answer session, the panel was asked questions about proposal to ban semiautomatic rifles, the opioid crisis, the Base Realignment and Closure Process for Naval Station Newport and other topics.
Ruggiero said she supports Raimondo’s school bond proposal. She said anyone who’s been through the schools knows most of them need more work than the host communities can afford.
“We have not passed, in the state of Rhode Island, a school construction bond in almost 30 years,” Ruggiero said. “Think about that. That’s like two generations of kids going through these schools and I say that because if you look at Massachusetts, they have passed seven school construction bonds in the past 10 years.”
DiPalma said he too supports the bond, but tweaks are needed. He said the way the reimbursement formula is done now, it hurts fiscally responsible communities like Middletown that are already working to fix their schools.
“I do support the bond. We need it …,” DiPalma said. “But before I can support it 100 percent, the amendment needs to be there so that the communities I represent can benefit like the rest of the communities across the state. We don’t want to penalize anybody.”
For Seveney, streamlining the work-certification process for military spouses is an often-overlooked item the state should make more of a priority.
In his time in the General Assembly, Seveney said, he’s heard from a number of constituents who’ve been unable to get back to work because they don’t have the proper certification in Rhode Island, even though they have active certifications in other states. A former Navy officer, Seveney said his own wife — a teacher — dealt with such a situation.
“She has a master’s degree in early childhood education from Virginia and it took her 18 months (after moving to Rhode Island) before she was qualified for a full-time teaching job in the state of Rhode Island,” Seveney said.
Courtesy of The Newport Daily News
Posted May 8, 2018 at 10:23 AM
Updated May 9, 2018 at 9:44 AM
MIDDLETOWN – Police today identified Donald Boucher of Newport as the 56-year-old man who was killed after the motorbike he was driving collided head-on with a Jeep on Monday morning on Valley Road.
Boucher was an unsuccessful candidate for City Council in 2012 and a member of the Newport Zoning Board of Review from 2013-15. He was active in addressing the issues of homelessness as director of Housing First and homeless services at Riverwood Mental Health Services in Barrington and Providence.
He was taken from the accident scene outside Eye Health Vision Centers at 73 Valley Road to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, where he died from his injuries, according to a police news release issued this morning.
A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed today that Boucher was pronounced dead at the hospital on Monday.
His work to help the homeless will be one of his lasting legacies, said Mary Reynolds, former president of Newport County Citizens to End Homelessness.
“Don was the spark in the initiative, along with members of Channing Memorial Church, to bring Housing First to Newport,” Reynolds said today.
“It was the beginning of a change in how we address homelessness and working to do more about the problem,” she said.
The Housing First program in Newport placed dozens of homeless people in permanent housing over several years. In his oversight role, Boucher was the moderator of a speaking program and vigil in April 2016.
“What is maddening about this situation is that it is avoidable,” Boucher said at the time. “We know how to tackle these problems of homelessness, addiction and substance abuse. We know what to do, we have the models, yet we continue to lack the public and political will to demand that we implement and fund those models.”
“When he spoke, it was amazing,” Reynolds said. “He was really well-liked and highly regarded.”
Boucher and his wife, Esther Boucher, were the parents of three adult daughters.
“Yesterday was a very tragic day for myself and my family,” Esther Boucher wrote on her Facebook page. “We lost my beloved husband, Don, to a horrific motorcycle accident. It is a constant reminder ... We are not promised tomorrow.”
While he was running for City Council, Boucher cited his service as a pastor at local churches, his knowledge about the nonprofit sector and his familiarity with how health care works in the region.
During a discussion at an Alliance for a Livable Newport forum in October 2012, he defended 50 Washington Square, the former Navy YMCA building that now houses a homeless shelter, social services and affordable housing units.
He said at the time there are 93 affordable housing units in the building, as well as social services that have helped people when they needed it.
By Matt Sheley | Staff writer Feb 20, 2018
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — It’s not a question of if more affordable housing for seniors is coming to Middletown, but when.
That is the message from Town Council President Robert Sylvia, who said it is time for the community to do more to help its elderly population.
“I know that we all feel that way,” Sylvia said. “It’s going to happen and it will come to fruition. We haven’t decided where and when, but it’s a lock.”
At a recent meeting, the council was briefed by Rhode Island Housing CEO Barbara Fields about the different opportunities available to the community, should it opt to pursue such a project.
While no decisions were made, the council targeted the former Berkeley-Peckham School building on Green End Avenue, next door to the town’s senior center, as the most viable option.
When asked about the effort, Sylvia said the senior center would not be part of the project. Rather, he said the red brick classroom space that was formerly a schoolhouse could be converted into affordable apartments. The last time that area was in use was for office and meeting space during the filming of “The Discovery” in 2016.
“The old classrooms are certainly one of the possibilities we’re looking at,” Sylvia said. “There are other possibilities and this is certainly something we’re actively working on so our seniors can enjoy their ‘Golden Years’ instead of worrying about how they’re going to afford them.”
According to Fields’ presentation, it is important for communities like Middletown to step up and do more for retirees.
According to statistics on the agency’s website. Rhode Island has the 19th highest “Housing Wage” in the country. The National Low Income Housing Coalition said that means people need to make $19.49 an hour to pay for a two-bedroom rental home. And those who get paid minimum wage must work 81 hours a week to be able to afford the rent on that same apartment.
The issue isn’t a new one for the town of Middletown.
Going back five years, the council talked about ways to make the community more affordable, particularly for its most vulnerable populations.
Among the sites discussed then for a senior housing project were the old Berkeley-Peckham School, the current school administration property on Oliphant Lane, and a site on Valley Road between East Main and West Main roads.
So far, they’ve proved to be nonstarters, mainly because of the costs and complexity of taking on such deals. The neighboring communities of Newport and Portsmouth each offer affordable housing.
Last week, Councilmen Dennis Turano and Antone Viveiros unveiled a new plan to use the base assessment of a property to tax home and business owners, one they said could prevent people from getting forced from their homes.
Previously, Sylvia has talked about his desire for the town to enter into a public-private venture to get the senior affordable housing project done. On Sunday, he reiterated those thoughts, saying the concept is in the town’s grasp, and it is up to the community to grab it.
“We’ve been moving full steam ahead on this for awhile now,” Sylvia said. “It’s good, now that we’re starting to see the pieces falling into place.”
By Sean Flynn | Staff writer
Nov 24, 2017
NEWPORT — About 150 people from all walks of life with a range of experiences gathered Thursday afternoon at the Seamen’s Church Institute for a Thanksgiving dinner that is an annual celebration of community.
Hugo Wallgren of Newport, a retired chief financial officer, and Zolton Phillips of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a retired real estate developer, sat at one of the long tables in the main room and regaled guests with stories and jokes.
“We met in a nursing home in Plymouth (Massachusetts),” said Wallgren, who is a cancer survivor. “We are the only two who walked out of there at the time and have been friends ever since.”
“We’re both retired and the kids are gone,” he said.
“We can’t even chase women anymore,” Phillips said.
They both came to the dinner for the first time three years ago and vowed to make it an annual event.
“It’s awesome,” Wallgren said. “The food is good and all the people are so nice. It’s the cross-section of humanity here that makes it so different. It’s beautiful.”
“It makes my Thanksgiving,” Phillips said. “That’s for sure.”
When so many banks folded during the bank crisis in 1989-1991, Phillips had millions of dollars in mortgages held by banks that were taken over by the federal government, he said. He was given the choice of paying off all the mortgages, which he wasn’t able to do, or having the government repossess all the properties that had lost value in the recession at the time. The process left him owing huge amounts of money after bankruptcy.
“I accept it for what it is,” Phillips said. “I don’t complain about it. Everyone here is so close. People are family.”
“I used to think this dinner was for the homeless, but now I see it is for everyone,” said Arthur Marshall of Newport, a retired restoration contractor who once did work for the late billionaire Doris Duke. He was at the dinner for the first time.
Spouses split up, children go their own ways, and the Seamen’s Thanksgiving dinner is a way to reconnect with old friends, participants explained with different stories.
Marshall was talking to Tom Stolarz of Jamestown, who has been doing residential masonry work for 35 years and first met Marshall on a construction job in 1983.
“I’m single, have my own business and don’t have any family in the area,” Stolarz said. “It’s really nice to drive over the bridge, come here and socialize with people.”
Marshall said extended families sometimes get together these days in restaurants and have their Thanksgiving dinners there, pay up and then they all leave for their separate homes.
“I miss the way I was brought up, when my mother made a big Thanksgiving dinner and all your cousins, aunts and uncles were there,” Marshall said.
Katy Grovell of Newport is 91 years old and has been a guest at the dinner for many years.
“I come here once a year and really like it,” she said. “It’s a great place to get out and socialize, and just be thankful. I’m a vegetarian, but all the food I receive here is very good.”
Kim Comfort is the head chef who put this feast together with many other volunteers.
She did it with 10 large turkeys, 50 pounds of potatoes, 30 pounds of mushrooms, 15 pounds each of celery, onions and carrots, and 10 pounds of green beans.
“We started slicing and dicing early Tuesday night and then assembled everything on Wednesday,” Comfort said.
One of the volunteers came into the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to prepare the turkey stock, but the cooking really started at 8:30 a.m., Comfort said.
She has some deep roots in this tradition. Her family ran the former Music Hall Cafe across from Seamen’s Church Institute, in the building that later became the Rhode Island Quahog Co. restaurant and is now SpeakEasy Bar & Grill.
The Thanksgiving dinner tradition at Seamen’s Church Institute began in conjunction with the Music Hall Cafe, where the dinners were initially held, in 1995, Comfort said.
“My father, Lyn Comfort, started it with Patience Connerton,” she said. “At some point, the dinners came over here to the Seamen’s.”
Rebecca Northrup, the superintendent of Seamen’s Church Institute, said about 50 volunteers helped with some aspect of the dinner event, whether it was food preparation, setting up, cooking or serving the meals.
“We’ve noticed the number of guests going down each year,” she said. “About five years ago, we were seeing up to 300. Now, more community organizations offer Thanksgiving dinners and more Thanksgiving baskets are given out. It’s great.”
“What we offer that is so important is the sense of community at the dinner,” Northrup said. “People all talk to each other and there is a strong sense of belonging and good will.”
All the food is donated and cash donations pay for the use of china, silverware, linens and centerpieces, she said.
Besides the community tables in the main room, there were smaller tables set up in a room on the second floor.
Among the many volunteers on Thursday was Ruth Thumbtzen, a tireless volunteer for many organizations who taught for more than 40 years in Newport Public Schools and at Salve Regina University before retirement.
She was helping out with her two grandchildren who were here with family from Annapolis, Maryland: Eric Johnson, a senior at Virginia Tech, and his sister, Michaela Johnson, a freshman at Boston University.
“It’s a good feeling to make other people’s lives a little more tolerable,” she said. “Everyone here is having such a good time. I get more out of this than I give.”
Courtesy of The Newport Daily News
With temperatures expected to plunge into the teens and single digits in the next few nights, some local organizations are functioning as warming centers for the homeless.
Such centers provide temporary shelter for homeless people to prevent injury, illness or death in the event of extreme weather conditions.
Carmela Geer, executive director of the Edward King House Senior Center, said the house will act as a warming center starting on Tuesday and will continue throughout the winter, Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Geer said conditions don’t necessarily have to be dire. “Even if it’s just a regular winter day,” all are welcome to stop in and get warm, she said.
The Newport Public Library, 300 Spring St.; the Florence M. Gray Community Center, 1 Shimoda Way; and Donovan Manor, 19 Chapel St., also will serve as daytime warming centers, according to the Newport Fire Department’s Facebook page.
Seamen’s Church Institute, 18 Market Square, will function as an overnight warming center today through Tuesday from 4 p.m.-7 a.m., offering not only shelter but also hot food and beverages, cots and blankets.
Leslie Streuli, events and marketing coordinator for the Seamen’s Church Institute, said she believes that, besides homeless shelters, the institute is the only organization in the state that opens as an overnight warming center.
Wednesday marked the institute’s first day of accepting overnight guests for this year’s stretch of frigid cold weather; the organization has done this in years past as well, Streuli said.
The decision to open Seamen’s Church Institute as an overnight warming center is done in collaboration with the Newport fire chief and the Housing Authority of Newport, Streuli said.
The maximum intake per night at the institute is 20 people, Streuli said. In past bouts with frigid weather, the organization would typically see an average of 10 people on any given night seeking a warm place to sleep, she said.
But that number varied greatly and the influx of clients is always “brutally unpredictable,” Streuli said. It simply depends on “what kind of state people find themselves in” when the weather turns extremely cold, she said.
Volunteers are needed at Seamen’s Church Institute to assist with handing out warm food and drinks, playing card games with clients and ensuring the building runs smoothly.
There are two shifts for volunteers: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. Call the Seamen’s Church Institute at 847-4260. Volunteers will receive on-the-job training.
“We rely almost entirely on volunteers,” Streuli said. “It takes a lot of people pitching in.”
TIVERTON, R.I. — A 72-acre farm in the south end of town is being eyed for 70 condominiums restricted to people older than the age of 55.
Wingover Farm is at 1513-1519 Crandall Road in an area of town that does not have public water or sewer service. The density of the development concerns the Planning Board because the development would have to rely on wells and septic systems.
The property currently houses a farmhouse dating to the 1800s, a barn, guest cottage and several outbuildings.
Developer Douglas Desimone of Wakefield said he has built a number of these developments in rural towns in other parts of the state, including Jamestown.
Of the 72 acres, some 33 would remain open space. There are 20 acres of wetlands on the property, engineer Chris Duhamel said.
All of the units would be in duplexes and each would contain two bedrooms and two bathrooms on a single level, with some 2,000 square feet of living area. Each unit would have a two-car garage. Those would sell for between $299,000 and $400,000. Smaller units would have less square footage of living area and a one-car garage and sell for $198,000.
Desimone has proposed a comprehensive permit application for the development which would require him to make 25 percent of the units affordable housing. In exchange, the review process would be expedited because he would not have to appear before any other boards or commissions. However, the Planning Board would have to grant a density waiver.
If the property were to be developed into single-family homes, some 28 would be allowed by right in the R-80 residential zone, which requires at least 2 acres per structure, according to Desimone’s engineer.
Not a single tree would have to be cut down on the property because it is mostly agricultural fields, Desimone said. The development, he said, would generate $300,000 in tax revenue to the town and not cost the town any money because there would be no school-aged children.
Nearly every Planning Board member at a recent informal concept plan hearing had concerns about the number of units proposed.
“I think a big issue here is whether or not a development that size belongs in that part of town,” Planning Board Chairman Stuart Hardy said.
The town’s comprehensive community plan designates that part of town as rural, Hardy said. “The second issue is infrastructure; will you be able to produce enough drinking water?” he asked, referring to a recent presentation town officials were given by a water-quality expert from the University of Rhode Island who pointed to “severe restraints in that part of town.”
Fire suppression is another concern, Planning Board member David Perry said. “We only have a tanker truck” to respond to a fire there, he said, because the area does not have hydrants.
Desimone said he would build cisterns and dry hydrants for firefighting.
He said he realized density was “the elephant in the room,” but if a developer has to build 25 percent of a development as affordable housing at a loss, he said, it needs the density to make the project viable.
The board’s engineer, Joe Cardello, asked about wells and water treatment systems.
Duhamel said there could be four duplexes on one well, but it may be just two. “We don’t have the yield data yet,” he said.
“It’s very dense,” Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Susan Gill said, suggesting she would rather see maybe half of the number of units. “The water source is another issue,” she said.
“If the water’s not there, it’s not going to get built,” Desimone said.
“Maybe we can bring the density down a little bit,” Desimone said at the end of meeting, requesting the proposal be put on the agenda again next month for further discussion.
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