With deadline looming, big questions remain for Robin Rug development

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 3/17/22

After another discussion lasting more than two hours last Thursday, March 10, Brady Sullivan Properties is only a couple of steps closer to a preliminary approval of their concept for the Thames Street property.

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With deadline looming, big questions remain for Robin Rug development

Posted

After another discussion lasting more than two hours last Thursday, March 10, Brady Sullivan Properties, the proposed redeveloper of the Robing Rug factory (the “Yarn Mill”) is only a couple of steps closer to a preliminary approval of their concept for the Thames Street property.

Chris Reynolds of Brady Sullivan Properties presented for the developer, opening the presentation mentioning that they would reduce the density of the development from 151 to 130 units, and relocate the dumpsters from the parking area to a location behind the building.

That seemed to be the only concession made to a Planning Board and neighbors that had, at earlier meetings, expressed concern about fiscal impacts, affordable housing, traffic, lights, activity, and a buffer around a proposed parking area with a density that will need relief for not confirming to current zoning regulations.

The developer seemed unwilling to concede any parking lot turf.

“There’s a need for parking and we want to maximize it,” said Reynolds. “Hopefully we have parking and can rent out for additional uses as Russell Karian (the current owner) is now. That’s a good business model for us and that’s why we are asking for as much parking as possible.”

Fiscal impact unclear, affordable housing inadequate
The fiscal impact is another issue that remains vague.

“This is a checklist item, it was done to the standard of typical subdivision,” said Reynolds of the fiscal impact study that implied a roughly $300,000 negative impact on town coffers. Reynolds asserted that the fact that most services are in place and they would handle their own trash removal may throw impact dollar figures into question. “This isn’t typical. This is an existing building, parking lot, and road.”

Affordable housing was yet another issue. State law calls for 20 percent of new housing to be “affordable” — ideally developers will integrate that housing into their plan, but the law also allows them to fund units “in lieu.” In this case, Brady Sullivan is proposing three offsite units in a building across Thames Street from the mill, and 10 payments in lieu — well short of what the state wants.

“Mill redevelopment doesn’t typically have any affordables,” Reynolds said.

The members of the Planning Board weren’t having it.

“I’ve got one good question,” said Chairman Jerome Squatrito. “You’ve got 130 units that I wish was 125. I can live with 130. But affordable housing…If we let this go at 10 percent, what happens when someone else wants that? I don’t agree with the 10 percent.”

“I don’t agree with payment in lieu,” said member Stephen Katz. “You can’t have it both ways, Chris.”

Katz also took issue with Reynolds’ suggestion that the fiscal impact of the project will not be negative.

“I will not support the Town of Bristol supporting a developer’s project. You did not answer the question.”

Reynolds noted that other mill renovations, in Warren, Pawtucket, and Coventry, have had positive impact on their communities, but the members of the Planning Board bristled when the developer presented other communities as comparables.

“This is not Warren, this is not Providence, this is Bristol,” said Squatrito.

“This is waterfront, and it is the last piece, the bookend of the waterfront,” said Brian Clark, the first alternate who sat in for Charles Millard, who recused himself. “This board is not going to rush this through anything. Bottom line is you are adding several hundred people to our town…and there’s costs involved there.”

“What I would want to see is an agreement that should this go forward and the town see negative revenue, you will make up the difference,” said Katz. “I see no reason why the town of Bristol should pay because a developer wants to do a project.”

“You want to capitalize on everything you possibly can, but we haven’t gotten anything,” said member Armand Bilotti. “I know you guys are good at what you do but the biggest thing we’ve gotten from you at this point is that you’re willing to not have a driveway off of Hope Street. I like the project, I think something needs to get done…but consider taking it on the chin a little bit because you are going to have a great project.”

“And how about present a project that doesn’t cost the town money, follows our zoning, and is agreeable to the unit plan we gave them? These asks are huge,” added Clark.

“They don’t want to give up anything,” said Squatrito. “Nothing for the town of Bristol. You are putting this project in jeopardy. You’ve got the whole pie, you don’t want to give us a piece? You want to eat the whole pie.”

“I don’t agree with that,” Reynolds objected. “This approval sat for 14 years. We think this a good project. It could go back to commercial or get abandoned. I think this a positive.”

Neighbors upset request for buffer plan ignored
“We wrote a lovely, collaborative letter from the abutters regarding the lot,” said Alayne White of Constitution St. “I feel you have glossed over the importance of our request for a buffer zone. The traffic, volume, and noise is going to have a big impact. I’m in favor, but if we don’t focus on the negative impacts of traffic, we are going to have a nightmare...I wish you had come to the table with more consideration and thought. I’m disheartened that we did not get clarity about the buffer zone we asked for.”

Like Katz, Caroline Jacobus was unhappy with the proposal to have the already-inadequate number of affordable units offered as payment in lieu of units. “Please, adhere to our code,” she said.

Marianne Bergenholtz of Hope Street was also disappointed by several aspects of Brady Sullivan’s plan, and offered a warning.

“We need to look at the reputation of this developer. It’s very bad,” she said, noting that they have had several lawsuits, environmental and fire code problems. “Can the town look at the developer’s reputation? The Town of Bristol needs to be careful.”

As the meeting wound down, it was clear that the two sides were far from an agreement. The Planning Board has until April 22 to approve or deny; if not, and Brady Sullivan does not agree to an extension, the project is approved by default.

“We don’t even have consensus among board members on unit density,” said Clark. “This is not where I hoped we would be at this point.”

“I’d like to have this project done, but I’m not opposed to walking away,” said Bilotti. “I’m not ready to make a decision. We’re not getting the answers we asked for.”

“If asked to vote now I’d vote no,” said Katz. “There are too many negatives.” He had a suggestion for Reynolds. “Go back and look at what we came up with in 2008 and come forward with that. If this is your best and final offer, I can’t go with that. You’ve got to do something that works for the Town of Bristol.”

Saying that they were not ready to walk away from the project, Reynolds asked that they work towards a consensus, a framework that would be acceptable to board and neighbors. The Board agreed to hold a workshop on Wednesday, March 16 (after the Phoenix deadline for today’s edition) at 7 p.m., while continuing the matter to their April meeting.

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