Yarn Mill development leaves many questions in need of answers

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 1/20/22

A team representing Brady Sullivan Properties presented plans and answered questions from members of Bristol’s Planning Board and community members for nearly three hours last Thursday, Jan. 13 via Zoom.

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Yarn Mill development leaves many questions in need of answers

Posted

A team representing Brady Sullivan Properties presented plans and answered questions from members of Bristol’s Planning Board and community members for nearly three hours last Thursday, Jan. 13 via Zoom.

The proposed redevelopment of the Robin Rug mill, to be known as “Bristol Yarn Mill”, would include 151 apartment units and approximately 6,300 square feet of commercial space. The considerations include a change of zone request.

Presenting were Project Engineer Shawn Martin of engineering and planning firm Fuss & O’Neill; John McCoy, attorney for Brady Sullivan Properties; Edward Pimental, land use consultant; and Joseph Lombardo, community planning consultant.

For about the first half hour, Martin gave an overview of the project, addressing some of the concerns that arose at the Dec. 22 Technical Review Committee Meeting. Then Community Development Director Diane Williamson opened the floor to questions and concerns from the members and alternates of the Planning Board, as well as members of the public.

Density up for discussion
The number one concern was density: the density of the units, the density of the parking spaces, and the density of increased traffic came up over and over again. The last time the town began the process of approving a development plan for the Robin Rug factory was 2008. That plan was for 98 units — this one is asking for 151.

“There are lot of positives,” said Planning Board member Stephen Katz. “I don’t think there’s a single person in the town of Bristol who doesn’t want to see this happen, but in the right way.” That sentiment was echoed several times during the course of the evening.

Negative revenue was another significant concern for Katz, among others.

“I have a deep, deep concern taxpayers will pay for this negative revenue,” he said, which is roughly calculated at over $300,000 per year, mostly attributed to expenses due to the addition of school children and infrastructure usage. Attorney McCoy asked Lombardo, who did the initial fiscal impact analysis of the project, to address that. Lombardo admitted there could definitely be a deeper dive into the numbers, and that was only a snapshot; he suggested that there could be a significant increase to the tax rolls due to the valuation of the property, and the the numbers don’t take into account spending that residents would do locally. They did not have numbers to indicate if the revenue impact of the Tourister redevelopment in Warren, consistently held up as a comparable to this project, was positive or negative.

Katz also addressed the density issue. Referencing the 2008 plan, he said, “You’re asking for a 50 percent increase in residences. How do you sell that to this town?…You can see our concern.”

Planning Board member Charles Millard had questions about the parking plan.

“Mr. Martin said the requirement is for 162 parking spaces, and we have 310?” Martin corrected him — there are 311 parking spots planned for the development.

“Why, then, if have the spaces we need, are we making them smaller? I don’t understand why that request for a variance is on the table if we don’t need them,” Millard said.

Asked how many spaces would fit without the requested variance to reduce the size of each space, Martin was not able to answer. “We have not done that calculation,” he said.

“You should be able to defend a request for a variance you don’t need,” replied Millard.

Millard also took issue with the requested increase in units.

“Why go from 98 to 151 units, to profit the developer at the expense of the town?” he asked. Addressing the projected negative revenue, he said “If you’re putting your best face on it, we should be really concerned. I’ve been a big fan of developing this property, but it has to be the right plan.”

Planning Board alternate Brian Clark noted the plan’s use of the traffic study done back in 2008.

“Density is an issue for everyone. There’s a traffic jam on Hope Street every afternoon. I’m concerned about the age of a traffic study dating to 2008,” he said. “We’re going to own this, it’s going to be part of our town forever. So we want it to be right.”

Alternate Richard Ruggeiro noted that he thought 98 units was too dense back in 2008, and if anything, density concerns have only increased.

“I don’t know how you go about changing a unanimous vote of a council in 2008,” he said. “This project is almost double the numbers of Stone Harbor.”

Prior to opening the discussion to the public, Planning Board Chairman Jerome Squatrito succinctly expressed his
Take on the situation: “Right now they’re looking for everything, and don’t want to give nothing,” he said. “You want something you’ve got to give something. You can’t take the whole pie, just a slice of it.”

Public concerns echo board’s
Michael Sousa of Hope Street opened the public comment with an insider’s perspective, as an engineer and a former employee of Fuss & O’Neill who worked on the Stone Harbor development.

“I hired Shawn Martin, he’s a great guy and I appreciate all he’s done,” he said. “Mr. Katz, Mr. Millard, you were spot on. Developers hire consultants to say what they need them to say. Mr. Clark, you’re right, traffic can’t get worse.”

“The developer is asking for quite a bit of relief here,” Sousa continued. “I’d love to see it get done, but the right way, as everyone else has said. I’m imploring Planning, Council, Zoning…there needs to be some fairness. Make this a really good development for the town of Bristol.”

Abigail Demopolous, of Constitution Street, raised concerns about the impact of the sea level rise anticipated for Thames Street over the next 30 years, a concern that was echoed by Catherine Zipf of Greylock Road.

“They are asking for 151 units of people in a building that will flood all the time no matter where you park,” said Zipf. “In 30 years will they want a bailout? I want to love this development but please make sure there’s a legal document that guarantees nobody comes after Bristol to recoup the loss.”

Several Constitution Street residents expressed concerns about the buffer around the lot, and the potential loss of enjoyment of their own property from the increased activity and traffic in a space that has been dark and quiet for as long as they have owned their homes.

“I really want to love this, but I don’t want my property diminished,” said Nancy Chase. “Try to give the neighborhood as much peace as you can.”

Their concerns were echoed by Landscape Architect Jessalyn Jarest of High Street, who did not think that the proposed 10-foot buffer around the parking area would be enough, and encouraged the Board to request a planting plan. She also expressed concerns about the width of the drive aisle between the parking spaces.

Additional concerns expressed by members of both the Planning Board and the public included remediation of brownfields (polluted land) on the property, parking for Prudence Island, allocation of satellite lots, the loading ramp at the bottom of Constitution Street, parking for Elks Club events, affordability for families, concerns that it could become college student housing, marketability of the smaller units, and access to the Church Street Dock for emergency vehicles. The developer’s representatives and the Community Development office will be compiling these questions in anticipation of the developer’s response at the next meeting.

The final speaker, Maryanne Bergenholtz of Hope Street, asked the Board to look very closely at the “very conservative” numbers the developer was offering, suggesting that per capita, Yarn Mill residents will drive less, have fewer cars, fewer school-age children, and use fewer municipal services.

“These numbers are inconsistent with the rest of Bristol,” she said. She also noted that the project is eligible for significant tax credits. “That’s real money going into the pockets of these developers — and taxpayers will be paying. This is a project that any developer would love to have.”

At the three-hour point, the meeting was continued to Feb. 10, and the developer was asked to prepare responses to the many issues raised.

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