News & Event
By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer
NORTH SMITHFIELD – The developer of Dowling Village appeared before the Planning Board last week to discuss plans for a 21-unit condominium complex on Old Louisquisset Pike, a component he’s calling the “final piece” of the 15-year project off Route 146A.
Brian Bucci, owner of Bucci Development, and his attorney, John Mancini, told board members the complex would be divided into two buildings, one with 15 units and the other with six. The buildings would be constructed on a patch of land behind Planet Fitness and Dowling Village Boulevard that currently includes several single-family homes, only one of which is occupied.
“The area, as you’ve seen if you’ve been there, is dilapidated,” said Mancini. “The developer has not yet incorporated this into Dowling Village.”
Though the complex will officially be part of the Dowling Village project, the parking lot and sidewalks will not have access to Dowling Village Boulevard due to concerns with the steep slope leading up to the road. Instead, the complex will access Old Louisquisset Pike, a primarily residential street that also includes the Rock Cliff Farm housing development.
The complex, according to the developers, will mark the final major addition to a project that has been in the works since 2004. Except for a small commercial pad located between Texas Roadhouse and Buffalo Wild Wings, the proposed lot is the last remaining portion of the property slated for development. Another residential building, consisting of 81 units, is currently under construction on a parcel to the right of Lowe’s.
As the development approaches the end of active construction, Mancini told board members the details of the buildout have changed since the original plans were approved in 2004. The original special use permit approved by the Planning Board in 2004 allowed for mixed commercial and residential use with the number of residential units capped at 76 – later increased to 81 – and the maximum footprint not to exceed 751,000 square feet. Though the current development only covers 552,000 square feet, Mancini told board members the developer is finished with the commercial portion of development and has decided to increase the residential portion due to market changes. If the Planning Board approves the additional residential units, the total footprint of Dowling Village would cap out at about 575,000 square feet, well below the original footprint approved by the board.
“From a big picture perspective, I want to clean up that area, keep my commitment to finishing Dowling Village,” said Bucci.
The garden-style style condominiums, Mancini said, would include two bedrooms each and be priced between $230,000 and $250,000, or $1,500 and $1,700 monthly if rented out as apartments. Though Bucci said these prices would place the units in the affordable range, Town Planner Tom Kravitz noted at least four of the units would need to be sold under deed restrictions in order to meet the town’s requirements for affordable housing. Under the current plan, the complex would include 45 parking spaces, slightly more than two per unit.
At the current application stage, the project does not require a formal vote of approval by the board, though Bucci told members he wanted to gauge the town’s response before moving ahead with the next application step.
“I don’t want to get into a whole protracted situation. If the town’s like ‘We don’t like it,’ then I’ll go pack my bags, work on something else,” he said.
Members were generally receptive to the project, with one member, David Punchak, suggesting they increase the number of parking spaces to allow for visitors. Only one member, Megan Staples, said she was opposed to the project due to her concerns about parking and fire truck access.
“I am not in favor only because from the engineering standpoint, I do not feel it could work,” she said.
Staples added she would prefer to see commercial development on the property, an option Bucci said he has no intention of pursuing due to the parcel’s access on a residential street.
In addition to his appearance before the Planning Board, Bucci also recently met with town officials and members of the Conservation Commission and North Smithfield Land Trust to resolve concerns over access to Booth Pond, a property located behind Lowe’s. The property was jointly purchased by the town and the Land Trust in 2014 with the understanding Bucci would provide an easement through his property at Dowling Village once construction was complete. As construction continues on the 81-unit residential building, Land Trust board member Carol Ayala told The Breeze local conservationists sought an update on the project and reassurance that the agreement still stood.
At the meeting, she said, Bucci reaffirmed his commitment to provide an access point once construction is complete, a date he estimates will occur in another 15 months.
Courtesy of The Valley Breeze
LINCOLN – A proposal for a 28-unit condominium development at the former Highridge Swim and Tennis Club will be heard by the town’s Planning Board after the Technical Review Committee gave it a thumbs up this week.
That project, called “The Village at Albion,” was one of five developments the TRC recommended for approval on Tuesday ahead of the July 24 planning meeting.
The attorney for the project at 192 Old River Road, Joseph Shekarchi, said the developer feels the project across from Kirkbrae Country Club is “a nice fit for the area” and that it’s consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. Proposed are one-level condos with two-car garages.
Frank Paolino, owner of Link Commercial Properties LLC, said he expected the condos to go on the market at $400,000 apiece, and that they would be offering a buyout to circumvent the requirement for affordable housing.
Town Planner Al Ranaldi said the town does not have a mechanism to accept a buyout, and that “the town administrator is not happy to implement something like that.” Ranaldi the town will follow the law if it allows for a buyout, but asked whether there’s “a way to have affordable housing units without the town becoming a bank and developer.”
Shekarchi said the developer is willing to work with the town to explore its options.
The project will need a zoning change to move forward. Link is proposing 28 units rather than the original 34, though the developer will need an additional zoning variance, as the town’s lot width requirement only supports 23 units.
The TRC recommended master plan approval and a zoning change. If approved, there will be a public informational hearing in August.
The board also recommended approval for an extension of Rockyroad Avenue off Chapel Street to build six new homes, with one designated as low to moderate income housing.
The sub-development by Terrapin Development LLC would build off the existing cul-de-sac, though the developer will need a series of waivers and conditions for approval, including:
• A 94-foot waiver to extend the cul-de-sac.
• Permission to build a 40-foot right of way. The existing roadway is 30 feet wide, but the town requires a width of 50 feet.
Rockyroad Avenue has always been maintained as a town road, but Ranaldi said it was recently discovered that the road is a private way. The developer has agreed to turn it over to the town, but a temporary easement will be needed for residents to legally use the road.
The TRC requested that at least one side of the new road have sidewalks.
Part of the discussion during the project’s July public informational hearing will likely be related to parking, as the TRC raised the possibility of exploring parking restrictions along one side of Rockyroad Avenue because of the narrowness of the existing road.
Public hearings have also been set for July 24 for two other developments:
• A subdivision off Great Road
• And a new storage facility at 678 George Washington Highway.
The first calls for the subdividing of two vacant lots and a portion of an abutting vacant lot into six residential lots, accessed by a new cul-de-sac.
Barring any unforeseen issues brought out at the Planning Board, the TRC recommended approval for both projects.
They also recommend approval for a minor subdivision at Woodward Road and Old Louisquisset. Property owner Dawn Sherman, who will need a homeowner’s association as a condition of approval, said she plans to sell the entire parcel to a developer.
Courtesy of The Valley Breeze
By JACKIE ROMAN, Valley Breeze & Observer Staff Writer
SCITUATE – Dennis Charland, Scituate Zoning Board of Review vice chairman, opened last Tuesday’s public hearing on the Paramount Development Group’s requested variances and special use permit with the statement that the company’s plan for the Hope Mill “will have a dramatic impact on the future of Hope.”
The mill on Main Street was originally built in the 1800s and at one time fueled the local economy, but in the years following mass production and globalization, it was slowly boarded up and then vacated in 2006.
The mill sits in the heart of Scituate, both geographically and culturally.
Paramount is requesting a special use permit to have a 193-unit multi-family residential development on the 32-acre property.
That request comes along with consideration of several building components that do not align with Scituate’s zoning ordinance, including:
• Building heights exceeding the maximum 36 feet.
• Less than the required two parking spaces per dwelling unit.
• A sewage disposal system less than the required 150 feet from the edge of any water body.
At the Aug. 1 public hearing, residents expressed concerns about the variances – specifically if the height of the building would make it difficult for residents to get out in case of fire, if the lack of parking would crowd neighboring streets, and if the septic system would stand in case of flooding.
Addressing the issue of fire safety, Hope Jackson Fire Company Chief John Robinson said that development’s proposed sprinkler system and fire protection features “would exceed some of those code standards” and give “people plenty of time to get out of a building.”
Representatives from DiPrete Engineering, assisting with the project, said that the septic system was already approved by the Department of Environmental Management and will be inspected regularly.
The project’s architect also announced possibilities for additional parking, bringing the total to 273 spaces.
Also addressed was the public’s concern about what “affordable housing” actually means, in definition and implementation.
Approximately 40 percent of the total units would be reserved for affordable housing, a number that would bring Scituate closer to compliance with The Rhode Island Comprehensive Housing Production and Rehabilitation Act of 2004 and Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. Those laws require that 10 percent of a municipality’s housing be “affordable.”
A total of 29 communities are covered by the act, with 10 exempt due to their current percentage of affordable housing inventory or rental housing.
Several communities have made adequate progress in reaching the 10 percent requirement, but Scituate is one of five communities that has made zero progress, according to the last available statistics from 2010.
Because of the misconceptions associated with the term “affordable housing,” Rhode Island Housing Executive Director Barbara Fields said she prefers to say “housing at all price points.”
According to Rhode Island General Law and Rhode Island Housing’s 2016 report, rental housing is considered affordable if rent, heat, and utilities constitute no more than 30 percent of the annual household income for a household making 80 percent or less of the area median income.
The U.S Census estimates that the median household income in Scituate is upwards of $90,000. So who makes 80 percent or less of $90,000?
Fields said it could be the local paralegal, firefighter, nurse, or teacher. Neighbors, friends, and family – not necessarily strangers.
“We all know someone who would qualify,” Fields said.
Scituate’s growing senior population could also take advantage of the Hope Mill housing, according to officials.
The Rhode Island Housing 2016 report states that low-income elderly households rose from 46 percent to 66 percent between 2000 and 2012. At the same time, the number of available affordable housing units in Rhode Island is shrinking.
Co-founder of the Paramount Development Group, Richard DeRosas, said his proposed residential development will not only increase Scituate’s affordability, but also save the historic Hope Mill.
“No one has stepped up to save this mill except myself,” DeRosas said.
Working in conjunction with the National Park Service and Hope Historical Society, DeRosas said he hopes to have the property placed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the Hope Village Historic District is listed on the national register, the Hope Mill itself is not.
“We’ll be very proud of that,” DeRosas said.
The zoning board will reconvene at the Scituate High School Auditorium on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. to issue their decision on Paramount’s applications.
By NICOLE DOTZENROD, Valley Breeze Staff Writer
LINCOLN – In the words of landowner John Cullen, “the odyssey has ended.”
On April 23, the Rhode Island State Housing Board of Appeals vacated the town of Lincoln’s denial of Cullen’s long-awaited Whipple-Cullen Farm Affordable Senior Development.
The Lincoln Planning Board previously denied the conceptual plan in June 2016, with its six members divided on whether the number of units was too many.
While the original proposal included 200 units, the number was brought down to 158, according to Town Planner Al Ranaldi.
Cullen has been fighting to create a conservation area and age 55-plus living community for Lincoln’s seniors for 25 years. Only two families, the Whipples and the Cullens, have owned the land through history, with the latter owning the property for the last 150 years.
The proposed one-story condominiums would be built on the 79-acre lot on Old River Road across from Lincoln’s Town Hall and Police Department. The lot is currently undeveloped farmland, including sloping, open fields and wooded areas. About half of the acreage will be left as undeveloped conservation land.
Cullen said he feels a kinship with Odysseus following the SHAB’s decision, which he saw was wrong and hurtful to his family. He said they’ve “been trying for years to do something good and preserve more than half of the land rather than do a cookie-cutter expansion.”
“The many people who want this project to move forward are elated. We’ve suffered a lot, but I think the years we’ve put into this will be worth it,” he said. “This is going to be such a wonderful addition to the Lincoln community.”
He said it will be the “pride of Lincoln and the Blackstone Valley.”
Cullen, who grew up making memories on the land, said he used to sell off lots to those who loved the land and opposed its development. Many neighbors have enjoyed his family’s farm as a back yard.
“Then, they turn around and oppose it when I want to open it up to seniors,” he said. “I could have lined Old River Road with houses years ago, but that would have injured mine and my family’s soul.”
Cullen said those who oppose his plan for the property have “run the day for almost 25 years … but we stood the course and it looks like we’ve prevailed for the benefit of my beloved town of Lincoln.”
He added, “We didn’t want a McMansion development. That would have ruined the views, scenic and historic value – the soul of the land.”
Cullen began the appeal process before the SHAB in April of last year, nearly two years after the Planning Board voted 3-3, effectively denying the project. SHAB members said the case was unique because the Planning Board voted down the proposal despite generally favorable opinions of the development from town officials such as Ranaldi and Town Administrator Joseph Almond.
“When this was in front of the Planning Board my phone rang every week about people inquiring about the units in a positive way,” Ranaldi said, noting that Lincoln has a demand for affordable senior housing as people age out of their large, two-story homes.
The community will not drain revenue from the town’s public services such as plowing and garbage pickup, Ranaldi said. He added that the likelihood of school-aged children in the development is very low.
If no one appeals the Housing Board’s decision, the development of the community can proceed to the preliminary plan review phase, which includes engineering roads, utilities and stormwater runoff and matters of regulatory compliance.
By ETHAN SHOREY Valley Breeze Managing Editor
NORTH PROVIDENCE – A proposal for a 30-unit condo project in a single-family residential neighborhood on Marconi Street has been withdrawn, said Town Planner David Westcott.
Westcott said the applicant, Country View Holdings and Armand Cortellesso, apparently saw a “whole mess of problems” included in his opinion advising against the Planning Board approving a master plan for 41 Marconi St., withdrawing it prior to a June 12 meeting. The meeting was then canceled.
Among the issues with the project was that there was not enough of a drainage plan for a neighborhood that already has “acute drainage” issues, said Westcott.
The plan for 30 one-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood directly behind Lowe’s Home Improvement at Mineral Spring Avenue and Douglas Avenue was supposed to be heard in May, but was postponed to June 12. Westcott said the project was not in compliance with zoning or subdivision requirements, essentially putting a 30-unit development “at the end of an 800-foot cul-de-sac in a mostly single-family residential zone.”
The planner said he plans to meet with the developer soon and will talk to him about what might be needed to make a development happen, including getting input from neighbors. He said a neighborhood meeting should be held.
The property is zoned residential general, allowing for single-family homes, duplexes or multi-family development as long as it’s compatible with existing development.
“In this case, the applicant has assembled a collection of lots within the ‘Grand Trunk’ Subdivision, a development that is overwhelmingly single-family homes,” Westcott previously told The Breeze.
He was proposing units of 800 square feet apiece, down from 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom units previously.
The Planning Board denied an application for a 12-unit development on a part of the same property last April, citing inconsistency with the town’s comprehensive plan, non-conformance to the minimum requirements of the Zoning Ordinance, and design features that conflicted with land development regulations.
“At that time, the Planning Board also heard testimony from multiple abutters who objected to the intrusion of high-density condominium development into their predominantly single-family development,” said Westcott.
The Planning Board made a decision last November to advise the Town Council that the rights-of-way of Lombard Street and Tyler Street still provide significant utility for future use as public ways and advised the council against approving the applicant’s request to abandon those streets. The most recent application still proposed to abandon those streets, but the applicant has offered some drainage and access improvements to mitigate some of the impacts of abandonment.
The latest proposal differed from its predecessor because the developer acquired additional properties, bringing the total land area to about 1.5 acres with abandoned streets factored in.
The applicant had offered to provide some affordable housing units as part of the development, which would have been the first such units approved in town in several years, according to Westcott.
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.
By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Managing Editor
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