Planning Board approves preliminary motion to deny Robin Rug development

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 3/21/22

After discussing the wide valley between the developer's plans for Robin Rug and the wants of the Town Planning Board, a preliminary motion to deny the proposal was approved unanimously.

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Planning Board approves preliminary motion to deny Robin Rug development


Last week, after yet another long and minimally productive meeting between the Bristol Planning Board and representatives of Brady Sullivan Properties, the firm seeking to redevelop the Robin Rug property into a mixed-use residential and commercial complex, the members of the Board met Wednesday, March 16 to clarify what exactly each of them needed to see in order to be able to approve the project.

The plan submitted by Brady Sullivan is not the first proposal to redevelop the massive factory complex at the south end of Thames Street; and though the terms approved by the Town more that a decade ago no longer stand, they aren’t entirely forgotten.

While Board members conceded that the roughly 20,000 feet of commercial space requested in the old plan no longer makes sense in today’s commercial real estate market, it was clear that every one of them thought that Brady Sullivan’s initial 151-unit ask, well beyond the 98 units approved years ago, was beyond the pale.

Adding to the Board’s sense of frustration at the prior meeting on Thursday, March 10, was their impression that Brady Sullivan’s concession of 130 units and a relocated dumpster was well short of the compromise they expected to hear, with the developer giving very little ground on other areas of concern, like the parking lot design and the number of affordable housing units.

“I’d like to have this project done, but I’m not opposed to walking away,” said Board Member Armand Bilotti at that meeting. “We’re not getting the answers we asked for.”

Wednesday’s meeting, a discussion among the members of the board facilitated by Community Development Director Diane Williamson and Solicitor Andy Teitz, was an effort to clarify exactly what Bristol wants to hear from Brady Sullivan Properties if this project is to get greenlit. There is an April 22 deadline to either deny, or approve by default.

Airing of needs
The meeting began with Williamson recapping the specific issues that remain on the table, and one by one, the members detailed their areas of concern.

Stephen Katz began the conversation. He said he is focused on density (about 98 units would be acceptable to him), negative revenue projections (he will not agree to a plan that is not at least revenue neutral), and affordable housing.

“I think you’re on the right track,” said Armand Bilotti. “There are some things you can’t live with that I can, but I agree with most of what you’ve said.”

Tony Murgo’s wish list included 100 units. He was okay with most of the proposed parking plan, but wants to see the plan include a buffer to protect abutters. Like a few of the other board members, he wants to see the parking lot at Church and Thames become part of the plan to get the project to the requested 10 percent publicly accessible space.

Brian Clark pointed out that while nobody wants payment in lieu instead of actual affordable units, given the fact that units will be rented and not sold, there is a burden of maintaining enforcement.

“I do worry about how we would force them to handle that,” he said. Clark also advocated for about 100 units, calling out the developer for the drop to 130 from the original request of 151 units. “They were asking for the sky,” he said. “It was not based in reality.”
Planning Board Chairman Jerome Squatrito spoke last.

“I’d go along with 98 to 100 units,” he said. He also noted that he would like to see closer to 15 or 20 of the units reserved for affordable housing.

A preliminary motion to deny
After further discussion about which issues were and were not the Board’s concern during this concept review phase, Solicitor Andy Teitz guided the board through the next steps. As the board was in agreement that the applicant is requesting a unit number significantly higher that what anyone was willing to consider, Teitz recommended a motion to deny, rather than drafting a motion to approve with a laundry list of conditions.

Between all five of you, you had 105 units max, and given that, all five of you were unhappy with affordable,” Teitz said. “We are so far apart I think the appropriate thing is a motion to deny. We can’t give a master plan decision of ‘better buffer it’. We have conflicting goals, and we can’t design their parking lot on the fly.”

“It’s clear that you are so far apart from the developer on the number of units, I’m not sure we need to worry about the number of affordable units at this point,” Teitz added.

After further discussion, the Board confirmed that they would approve 105 units, 16 of which (15 percent) would be affordable in a combination of payments in lieu and actual units. Other issues they would have to see resolved on any new plan submitted by Brady Sullivan would include a robust buffer around the parking lot, a peer-reviewed study showing the revenue impact, an updated traffic study, 10 percent public access, the design of the boardwalk, an exterior parking plan that does not require a variance, and a deed restriction that will prevent a parking structure on that lot.

“So we will need a motion to deny unless the developer, who knows now about what would be approved, would like to request a continuance,” said Teitz.

“We’ve given them the direction that we think is appropriate,” said Bilotti. “They can come back with what we want.”

“We will have denial if they aren’t requesting a continuance,” Teitz pointed out. “I don’t think they will be able to revise their plans before the next meeting.”

Clark moved to request the solicitor prepare a preliminary motion to deny, in the event the developer does not return with either a new plan or a request for an extension. Katz seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

The next Planning Board meeting will be held April 14.

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