Warren Zoning Board OKs Tourister variances

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tourister8The American Tourister redevelopment project cleared a big hurdle Tuesday evening, when the Warren Zoning Board unanimously granted a half dozen variances the project needs to get off the ground.
Calling the project “very exciting,” board chairman Alden Harrington said members voted unanimously to grant variances for building setbacks, parking spaces, flood zone requirements and more (see below).
He is excited to see the project move forward, he said Thursday.
“Frankly, some of the things that I like about the project, is that they’re controlling vehicle access, but it looks like they’re really trying to make it open and pedestrian-friendly,” he said. “It appears as though they’re going to open it up.”
The zoning board had already granted the apartment and commercial development a Special Use Permit, a requirement as it lies in the Waterfront Overlay District, and granted the variances Tuesday after a discussion that saw no members of the public comment publicly on the project one way or another.
“It was surprising, frankly, after what a big deal it was four or five years ago,” Mr. Harrington said, referring to the project’s previous iteration under a different developer.
From here, the project goes back to the Warren Planning Board for preliminary and final review. The planning board already granted Tourister Developers LLL Master Plan approval earlier this year. Meanwhile, approvals are needed from DEM and the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC).
Mr. Harrington said that his one question about the development lies in its timing. Broken into phases, the first will see the construction of about 200 apartments and commercial spaces. The second phase has not yet been scheduled, but would see the demolition of a large warehouse building on the south side of the property and the construction of an additional commercial space. Developers have been vague about when that phase would get off the ground — best guess, two to five years — saying a lot of that depends on how well the first units move.
Tourister Mill LLC is a partnership between Starr Development Partners in Massachusetts and Brady Sullivan in Manchester, N.H. The firms specialize in renovating old mills into residential and commercial spaces. Variances granted Tuesday evening include:
* A variance from dimensional requirements for construction in the waterfront zone.
* A variance to exempt the project from a section of the ordinance that prohibits nonconforming structures (like the mill) that lie in special flood hazard areas from being enlarged or expanded.
* Another variance that allows buildings to be set closer than 200 feet from a floodway (the Warren River).
* Off street parking spaces requirements. In all, zoning codes would require 892 parking spaces at the development; developers are looking to install 733 spaces.
* A variance from the town’s parking lot requirements, which require one “island” for every eight parking spaces. The amount of parking lot to be landscaped is also at issue.
* Finally, a reduction in the total number of loading spaces/docks required.

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