News & Event
By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Managing Editor
PAWTUCKET – Creation of a new zoning district around the city’s coming train station is too important to approve it in a “half-baked” form, say City Council members.
The council, at its meeting last Wednesday, April 10, heard lengthy testimony from advocates who want to see a 10 percent minimum requirement for affordable housing in the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone in the Conant Thread District around a coming commuter rail station off Main Street and Pine Street.
A majority of council members has been against including such a requirement. In the face of testimony, they voted to postpone a vote.
After those in the audience had testified, the council learned that the proposal to add such an affordable housing requirement within the proposed new Conant Thread Zoning District needed more work to even align with state law, as City Solicitor Frank Milos confirmed that it wouldn’t hold up without some corresponding incentive for developers. Council members sent the measure back to the subcommittee level to try to come up with something workable.
Council members, particularly Terry Mercer, expressed frustration that years of planning and collaboration could lead to a zoning proposal that doesn’t pass the legal sniff test due to issues with a few sentences.
Director of Planning Sue Mara said the added language came about due to talks with affordable housing advocates in the city. She conceded that she and others should have caught the issue.
Council President David Moran, answering questions about what this delay might mean to developers of potential projects around the station, said he and other city leaders expect this situation to be resolved fairly quickly.
“I am confident moving forward that in collaboration with the administration and the joint committees of both ordinance and ad hoc economic development and neighborhood improvement will work together in a speedy and efficient manner to bring something back to the full council to deliberate and vote on,” he said. “I have faith in the political process and we need to ensure we are all on the same page and get this right.”
The plan by the joint committees is to have something officially back to the full council within 90 days, he said, but it could potentially be sooner than that.
The council heard from one advocate after another last week who want to see the 10 percent minimum on affordable housing put in place, several suggesting that they believe the council is getting pressure from developers not to include such a requirement. Many also said they see 10 percent as the very minimum that should be required, saying it should be 15, 20, even 25 percent in the TOD district.
Mayor Donald Grebien issued a statement this week in response to last week’s move to hold off on a vote.
“Pawtucket has always had a diverse mix of housing options and it is the city’s goal, as stated in its comprehensive plan, to continue to foster a strong mix of housing opportunities,” he said.
For affordable housing, residents have to be at 80 percent of the area median income to qualify for it.
City officials last year declined to require a percentage of required affordable housing for the TOD district, but did pass a resolution encouraging such development.
Anne Grant, executive director of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, emphasized the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the state. She shared how diverse neighborhoods with quality affordable units improve a community’s fabric and decrease crime.
Phil West, formerly of Common Cause, said he knows officials are facing pressure to take out the 10 percent requirement, but urged them to do the right thing and perhaps even increase the percentage to 15 percent.
“They will do it because this is such an opportunity,” he said of developers, warning against the gentrification that happens without safeguards put in. Once an exclusive community is created, he said, you “never get it back. Now is the time to insist on it.” He described the TOD district as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city of Pawtucket.”
Some who testified said 10 percent is far too low, pointing to neighboring Central Falls, where the number will be 20 percent for that city’s portion of the TOD.
Mara corrected assertions that the district will be 50 percent in each community, saying it’s actually about 75 percent in Pawtucket and 25 percent in Central Falls.
Mara clarified that the TOD district is designed to promote residential, commercial and leisure uses that are within easy walking distance.
Resident Andi Wheeler said it’s imperative to support affordable housing options. Even if it wasn’t the right thing to do on its own, quality affordable housing means fewer people in shelters, jails and hospitals, said Wheeler.
Laura Burkett, of the Broad Street Initiative and a Bayley Street Lofts resident, said she loves the diversity of Pawtucket, and a 10 percent mandate on affordable housing would help promote that for the area around the train station.
Resident Lori Barden noted the importance of affordable housing to younger generations who crave metro living and want to come back to the state.
Kristina Contreras Fox, of the R.I. Coalition for the Homeless, was among those who emphasized the state’s serious problem with homelessness, saying development of affordable housing is a key solution.
City resident and former council candidate Andrew Maguire noted that developers, with only a 10 percent affordable housing component, will only lose about 2 percent on their price.
“We can’t bend over backwards for 2 percent,” he said.
Other young professionals emphasized the importance of bringing in other people who are looking to add value to a community.
Jessica Vega, a councilwoman in Central Falls, urged city officials to go beyond the 10 percent, calling it a “bare minimum.” Minimums of 20 to 25 percent would be better, she said.
Andrew Pearson, of Pawtucket Central Falls Development (PCF Development), urged leaders to pass inclusionary zoning, saying it would be a mistake to make the Conant Thread District “100 percent exclusive.” Such developments near other commuter rail stops are seeing rents start at $2,000 per month, he said, meaning someone would have to be earning $84,000 per year to afford them.
A 10 percent limit is a fair compromise to create a “more equitable and inclusive TOD,” he said.
Pearson emphasized that these are not low-income units, but moderate-income ones housing people earning up to $60,000.
Alison Bologna, an Oak Hill resident and owner of Shri Yoga, spoke in favor of the 10 percent mandate, noting that she’s trying to bring a 37 percent affordable housing component to her her new Pine Street location.
“Other larger developers could do the same,” she said.
Bologna said she loves Pawtucket for its diversity and said she sees a tremendous opportunity create an example of inclusion and affordability here. Ten percent is the minimum officials should go with, she said.
Wilma Smith, of the PCF Development Board of Directors, said developers should not be using housing as a bargaining chip. Pawtucket already has a shortfall of about 362 affordable units, she said, 2 percent lower than the 10 percent state standard for affordable housing.
Board member Kevin Kazarian agreed, saying displacing existing residents should be avoided. If developers walk away, so be it, he said, as others would take their place.
Jeremiah O’Grady, former council president in Lincoln and state representative now working for the Local Initiatives Support Corp., or LISC, noted the 25 percent affordable mandate Lincoln previously used for its mill overlay district.
Comprehensive community development should promote neighborhoods where people can work, worship, play and shop, all with easy transit options, he said.
Linda Weisinger, executive director of PCF Development, emphasized that units around the train station would be filled with residents of moderate income levels. She said there are plenty of federal resources available to develop such housing, as her organization has proven.
Mara said the planning for the district around the future train station, with construction due to get started this summer, first started nearly 15 years ago. The effort to fill vacant old mills and tie in local neighborhoods is important to the city, as it will maximize residential, commercial and leisure space, she said.
About 100 parcels of the development, or 140 acres, are located in Pawtucket, while another 30 properties covering 40 acres are in Central Falls. These are largely vacant and underutilized properties that are ripe for development, she said, and the city is seeing a lot of interest from developers.
Councilor Meghan Kallman took offense to suggestions of stepping back to consider options on the proposal, saying she opposed separating out the affordable housing component and approving the rest of the zoning ordinance amendments and saying she would want a guarantee that the council will consider the affordable housing mandate at a later date. She questioned why the document seemed “hastily and poorly put together.”
Councilor Tim Rudd said he also didn’t want to see the sections separated, as developers could easily move forward as officials consider the affordable housing component, starting the gentrification process.
Mercer took issue with suggestions that the council is against affordable housing. He said he hasn’t heard from a single developer who has pressured the council to vote their way, saying he’s simply trying to do what’s best for his constituents and the city.
“The council’s not anti affordable housing, we’re anti half-ass statutes,” he said, adding that he, too, found the proposed ordinance to be irresponsible.
The council heard from a couple of landowners within the district, William Coyle III and George Hovarth, who weren’t happy about being included within its confines and questioned why they would be included with little advance notice.
Director of Commerce Jeanne Boyle assured them that their properties would be grandfathered into the district, even if they were sold in the future. Hovarth said he would like to see an opt-out clause added to the final ordinance.
Courtesy of The Valley Breeze
By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Managing Editor
PAWTUCKET – Officials are asking the City Council to adopt the majority of the proposed Conant Thread District Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zoning ordinance for the area around a coming train station so redevelopment efforts there don't grind to a halt.
In a letter last week to the council suggesting the move to approve the majority of the ordinance, Director of Commerce Jeanne Boyle referenced public testimony at an April 10 meeting centered on a proposal to institute a 10 percent mandate for affordable housing in the TOD district.
During that meeting, it became clear that there were a number of areas requiring further research and refinement, said Boyle, and the council requested that the Planning Department review the ordinance and provide additional information on best practices for inclusionary zoning ordinances incorporating the affordable housing component.
“As this is a complex issue and there (are) a variety of approaches that the City Council may take, I would respectfully request that the (council) consider proceeding with the adoption of the remainder of the TOD ordinance as it reviews inclusionary zoning models,” she wrote.
City Council President David Moran said he anticipates that Boyle's letter will be referred to the council's ordinance and ad hoc economic development and neighborhood improvement subcommittees for review and discussion during the council's meeting tonight, April 24.
“After that it may come back to the floor to discuss and possibly vote on that portion of the ordinance but continue to study the affordable housing issue as well within the time frame previously laid out (90 days),” he said.
Councilor Meghan Kallman previously said that she would want to see any breaking up of the ordinance to come with a guarantee that the affordable housing component will be considered at a future date.
Council action on the ordinance is critical for a number of reasons, Boyle said, including that:
“We had anticipated that certain projects in the TOD were poised to proceed based upon the passage of the TOD zoning,” she wrote. “We are concerned that a delay of several weeks and the uncertainty associated with the zoning approval may result in financing delays or loss of financing,” wrote Boyle.
“In a difficult budget year for the state, we have urged the General Assembly to proceed with this legislation because we were aware of development projects poised to move forward in the TOD,” Boyle wrote. “We are concerned that the delay in the adoption of the TOD zoning will result in the delay of these projects and will diminish our ability to convince the state legislature to adopt the tax credit legislation.”
Boyle assured the council that the Planning Department will provide comprehensive information on inclusionary zoning within the TOD as well as guidance on what may be the best approach to creating more affordable housing and limiting gentrification, or forcing people out of the area due to higher rents.
The council learned prior to its April 10 meeting that the proposed requirement for 10 percent affordable housing within the TOD district, without a corresponding incentive for developers, was illegal.
The TOD zoning is designed to create a cohesive district promoting uses easily accessible within walking distance from a planned train station off Pine Street and Barton Street, where construction is due to start this summer. It is intended to promote certain uses above others to maximize residential, commercial and leisure space.
Courtesy of The Valley Breeze
PAWTUCKET – The City Council is planning a series of meetings on a proposal to require 10 percent affordable housing in the new Transit-Oriented Development district around a coming new train station off Main Street.
Councilor Terry Mercer, head of the ordinance subcommittee, said this week that the council will hold a pair of meetings tonight, May 1, separating out the affordable housing component from the rest of the planned TOD zoning ordinance.
At 6:45 p.m. at City Hall, the council will begin discussing all aspects of the TOD ordinance other than the inclusionary affordable housing component, said Mercer. It appears all previous issues with those aspects of the ordinance have been ironed out.
At 7:15 p.m., a workshop of both the ordinance and economic development subcommittees will “start the ball rolling on addressing the proposal for an affordable housing component to the ordinances,” he said. The entire ordinance was previously sent back to both committees for further review, and Mercer expects the committees to vote separately on sending the “bulk of that ordinance back to the floor” at the next council meeting.
Members of the city’s commerce and planning departments have asked that the council adopt everything except the inclusionary zoning portion of the ordinance so developers can move forward with what they need for their projects. Developers are counting on making certain investments to take advantage of available incentives.
On the affordable component, said Mercer, there’s “a whole lot more vetting to be done.” Meetings will be held every other Wednesday, on off-council nights, he said. In two more weeks, there should be enough additional information “to meet again and wade through it,” he said.
Councilor John Barry III asked Planning Director Sue Mara last week that the city notify every property owner in the TOD district that they are part of the district and can come to meetings to hear the details. He was responding to previous complaints from longtime owners who said they weren’t notified of their inclusion.
“I just want to make sure that people know what this ordinance means to them and their property,” said Barry.
Mara said all property owners were properly notified previously and a meeting was held with more than 200 people at The Guild on Main Street. She said officials will again make sure everyone is notified of subsequent meetings through multiple modes of communication.
PAWTUCKET – Preliminary drafts of the city’s new affordable housing ordinance do not include a mandate for a minimum of 10 percent affordable units within the Conant Thread district surrounding a coming new train station, says Councilor Terry Mercer.
Mercer told The Breeze significant progress has been made on what has been a controversial issue and he expects an ordinance to be ready to send to the full council by its first meeting in August. There are a number of kinks to still work out during one more planned workshop, he said.
The latest proposal addresses Councilor Meghan Kallman’s particular concerns about the “secondary creep” of gentrification, or forcing out of residents due to higher rents, in neighborhoods abutting the train station district, said Mercer.
The councilman said there will be a quarter-mile overlay district running outside the Conant Thread district, creating incentives to add affordable units.
City Planner Sue Mara said that district is proposed as the “Neighborhood Stabilization District,” which would accomplish two things:
• Create an overlay zone where projects that include affordable housing would receive density increases as well as some dimensional flexibility.
• And allow in-law apartments by right for single-family and two-family homes.
Under the proposal, in-law apartments as accessory dwelling units are not currently allowed in the city, but those would be incorporated into the overlay district as a compromise, said Mercer. Family members who are disabled or who are age 62 or older would be able to live in those units, potentially preventing them from being displaced from a home they’ve lived in for a long time. An amendment would also allow family members up to age 26 to live in such units, allowing those just out of college or just joining the military to stay at home with their parents to help them out and not force them to pay market rate for a place they can’t afford, said Mercer.
Mara said planning staff has provided the council with some alternatives intended to stabilize the neighborhoods around the proposed train station, a facility providing needed public investment to support the redevelopment of the mill complexes within what’s known as the new Transit Oriented Development District and downtown.
“There had been concern about this investment potentially displacing existing residents in the surrounding neighborhoods,” she said.
The zone being crafted by Mara and others would also provide the boundary lines where the council prioritizes projects that include affordable housing when they are disposing of public land or where properties go through the receivership process.
“These are recommendations at this time, and there needs to be additional work to refine the neighborhood stabilization boundaries and also to determine the zoning incentives,” she said.
By ETHAN SHOREY Valley Breeze Managing Editor
PAWTUCKET – Finalizing local rules on affordable housing will take plenty of creative thinking, say those doing the legwork.
City Councilor Terry Mercer, who heads up the ordinance subcommittee and ad hoc economic development and neighborhood improvement committee, which are meeting together to discuss affordable housing requirements, said the joint committee is “nowhere near” ready to finalize a proposal.
On the table are potential incentives to compensate developers for creating more affordable housing, said Mercer.
At a May 15 workshop, the committee heard from for-profit and nonprofit developers, he said, and the for-profit developers offered plenty of concern about a proposed 10 percent affordable housing mandate.
The city is considering developing new requirements for the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone around a future new train station off Main Street, but could also expand those requirements citywide.
According to Mercer, for-profit developers Colin Kane, Aurora Leigh and Seth Zeren all offered feedback that a 10 percent requirement would “put a damper on the likelihood of projects moving forward,” either within the TOD or citywide. They came at it from a standpoint of economic equality, he said.
“Many of their projects don’t quite pencil out as it is,” said Mercer, never mind with additional requirements.
Charging $2,400 or $2,500, even for a very nice unit in Pawtucket, simply isn’t feasible, according to the developers, and there’s no comparison here to Boston.
“They’re not paying regardless of how nice they are,” he said.
Nonprofit developers, including Brenda Clement of Housing Works R.I. and Andrew Pierson of Pawtucket Central Falls Development, were more enthusiastic about having a requirement for a minimum amount of affordable housing, calling for balance and equity while also acknowledging the issues facing developers.
At the May 15 meeting, officials got an update on the number of residential units that are currently in the pipeline for the city. Planning Director Sue Mara said there are four projects currently with building permits, involving 102 total units, and another nine projects through the planning and zoning process, for another 683 units.
Zeren said at the May 15 meeting that he’s not a fan of inclusionary zoning requiring affordable housing. The symbolism is powerful, he said, but the cost hurts development.
Clement said if there are incentives for local inclusionary housing, then there need to be local benefits.
Pierson noted that there are $50 million in public subsidies for development around the train station, so there needs to be a public benefit. He said he understands incentives are needed.
Kane said he has done three projects with inclusionary affordable housing. Pawtucket has plenty of it, he said, and doesn’t need more. The math doesn’t work in Pawtucket, he said. Private developers can’t be responsible for affordable housing.
Leigh, who is doing a number of residential projects around the coming train station, said private developers are taking the risk with their projects and need higher-income residents. Pawtucket has plenty of affordable housing now, she said.
Mara noted that the city is close to the state goal of 10 percent affordable housing.
Councilor Meghan Kallman, an advocate for more affordable housing and against gentrification forcing lower-income residents out, said many city residents can’t afford $900 for monthly rent. She’s seeking more information on available options.
Mercer said he would like more information on off-site offsets and incentives used elsewhere, including Fall River, Mass.
A number of options are available, said Mercer, including possible extensions of tax treaties and easing density requirements. One possible option being discussed is to offer up city-owned foreclosure properties in exchange for development of affordable units.
The committee will likely meet one more time next week before hopefully coming up with recommendations, said Mercer.
By NICOLE DOTZENROD, Valley Breeze Staff Writer
LINCOLN – The “Lincoln Lofts,” proposed to transform the former Sayles Mill building off Walker Street into apartments, moved forward in the planning process Tuesday night after the Lincoln Zoning Board agreed to grant parking relief to the project.
The developer, Dakota Partners of Waltham, Mass., came before the Zoning Board to apply for dimensional variance for parking relief to renovate the former factory building at 90 Industrial Circle into 45 units of affordable housing. Lincoln’s Technical Review Committee members recently called the mill complex “the Wild West for parking,” but recommended the approval of the application on the basis that the proposed ratio of 1.67 parking spaces per unit, or 75 spaces total, would be enough to accommodate the needs of future residents.
Under the town’s current regulations, 45 units of housing would require 90 parking spaces. The Zoning Board approved the developer’s application for a parking variance, bringing the required number of parking spaces down to 75 total, or 1.67 spaces per unit, due to lack of space for additional parking on the property.
Rio Sacchetti, a project manager for Dakota Partners, said market-rate rent is usually one parking space per unit, and affordable housing is usually .8, according to data by Rhode Island Housing. Board member John Barr noted that Lincoln has a very limited bus service, and that the RIH numbers may be based on the state’s urban areas and may not be applicable to this project.
“We originally proposed 64 spaces, and after meeting with the town planner, zoning official and Technical Review Committee, we came up with a parking formula based on the 100 percent affordable housing, which uses the number of bedrooms,” said Mary Shekarchi, attorney for the applicant.
Shekarchi said she worked with town officials on the formula, which essentially grants two cars for each of the project’s 30 two-bedroom units, and one car for the 15 one-bedroom units.
The developer was also granted relief from the town’s requirement that parking spaces be 9 by 20 feet.
The town’s definition of a parking space was originally 9 feet by 18 feet at the inception of this application back in 2006, Zoning Board Chairman David DeAngelis said.
“Since time has progressed, your application outgrew the ordinance, which is now nine by 20,” said DeAngelis.
Shekarchi and Sacchetti said parts of the property are environmentally contaminated, and that the 75 parking spaces were the best they can do while maintaining green space for residents.
“There were not great areas to add parking and have the green space around the building for quality of life of future residents,” Sacchetti said. “We don’t want people to be parking on the street … we don’t want a headache.”
Contamination on the site will be addressed as part of construction and paid for by Dakota Partners. The company will have to remove between one and two feet of existing soil and replace it with fill.
The cost of the environmental mitigation, according to Shekarchi, “is a moving target, but it’s going to be quite expensive … hundreds of thousands if not more.”
Parking relief aside, the project did not require any zoning relief concerning the conversion of the actual building into affordable housing. The property is owned by AF Homes LLC and under agreement with Dakota Partners, with Dakota planning to close on the property by early next year. This is Dakota’s first project in Rhode Island.
As an affordable housing project, units will be restricted to people making at or below a certain income, and/or rent-restricted. Rent is expected to be in the $800-$900 range for a one-bedroom, and $900-$1,000 for a two-bedroom unit, with heat and hot water included. The project will be required to meet HUD’s Section 8 Housing requirements.
A second-story bridge connecting 90 Industrial Circle to the building behind it will be taken down, while a shared loading dock will be removed and replaced with green space. The building is currently completely vacant, last used as commercial/light industrial space, and has fallen into disrepair.
Two individuals spoke out with concerns about the property’s current state at Tuesday’s meeting, including Bill McManus of Rockridge Road, who said, “the renderings of this plan look very nice, but the physical condition of the property has been a serious issue for many years. It’s a dumping ground for people to dispose unwanted trash, box springs and mattresses, TVs … it’s a health hazard.”
McManus asked that the board recommend that prior to any consideration of approval, the area be cleared of trash, mattresses and furniture.
“As a zoning board we can’t do that,” DeAngelis said, adding that he would ask someone from the town to look into the situation.
Jean Birchell of Smithfield Avenue, where properties back up to the mill, echoed the concerns of McManus.
“If you stop at the light at Walker Street you can see the mattresses – there’s 18 of them in all,” she said.
Zoning official Russell Hervieux said AF Homes LLC has been cited several times for the state of the property, “sometimes successful, sometimes not. The town is addressing this as we speak.”
The board voted to move the project forward, granting parking relief at 1.67 spaces per unit.
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