An LLC with a troubled history in Warren is proposing a large housing project just east of the Kickemuit River, a stone’s throw south of Frerichs Farm, and received a not-so-warm welcome during a live-streamed meeting of the Warren Planning Commission Monday evening.
An attorney for Last Ever Realty LLC, which is controlled by the owner of Biszko Contracting in Fall River, introduced “Settler’s Green,” a large housing project that would include a dozen single-family homes and two large apartment buildings. Those buildings, four stories tall each, would house a total of 108 apartment units, with space around them for 212 cars.
The project is being proposed under the Rhode Island Low And Moderate Income Housing Act, which allows developers to take advantage of tax credits and streamlined local approval processes as long as they designate 25 percent of the units for low to moderate income families. The plan has not been formally submitted to the town, but Last Ever attorney William Landry appeared before the board Monday to introduce it and said an official application will be filed in the coming weeks.
Though Mr. Landry spoke Monday about Warren’s need for additional housing for low to moderate income families, dozens of Warren residents watching from home via YouTube weren’t so sure, and commented angrily about the proposal throughout the 40-minute presentation. Planning commission members, as well as Warren Town Planner Bob Rulli, also commented on Last Ever’s past relationship with the town, which soured after the LLC received town approval for a separate four-lot subdivision adjacent to the site a year and a half ago and consequently cleared land there without permission.
“There’s not an outstanding amount of good will with your client going into this, you should be aware of that,” Mr. Rulli told Mr. Landry.
“I have heard that there were various disagreements,” Mr. Landry said. “I don’t know the details. I don’t know what my client’s response would be on that issue.”
Last Ever’s plan is to build the two apartment buildings and 12 homes on approximately 16 acres of land near Kinnicutt Avenue and Denver Avenue. The homes would be built on the south portion of the site, with the apartments to the north. A right of way, Dallas Avenue, would bisect the property from east to west and separate the homes from the apartment buildings.
In his presentation, Mr. Landry spoke at length about the low to moderate income housing act and Warren’s comprehensive plan, which he said affirms the need for such housing in Warren and, according to him, identified the site as a potential development of “moderate income housing at high densities.”
“What’s being proposed is consistent with the local housing needs,” Mr. Landry said. “This is one of a few sites that are available that are underdeveloped, that have access to water and sewer. The need is there.”
Tuesday morning, Mr. Rulli said he disagreed with that opinion. The last time the state approved a Warren Comprehensive Plan was 2003, he said, one year before the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act was passed. And in that town document, he said, there was no mention of the property, or the surrounding area, being a suitable place for low or moderate income housing.
He also said that while the low/mod housing act gives developers certain advantages and a streamlined process, it is not a blank check to build what they want, and will not stop the town from doing due diligence to make sure the project does not adversely affect the environment or the quality of life in the town.
“We didn’t choose this site, we didn’t choose the developer,” Mr. Rulli said. “We can’t deny someone the ability (to seek to use the housing act to develop the property). But regardless of what the applicants and his engineers and consultants say, under our ordinance we have the ability to retain our own engineers (paid for by Last Ever) and we’re going to work independently through that.”
“We understand and share the concerns that the residents have,” he added.
There are many. Residents chimed in from the Internet constantly while the YouTube meeting progressed, and the overwhelming sentiment was negative.
“This type of project is not something that is worthy of this neighborhood,” resident Debbie Sharples commented.
“Can we stop talking about acts and affordable housing plans, and how this is not right for the area?” asked Nicole Mello.
Other commenters questioned the project’s impact on sewers, water availability, roads, the schools and more.
“I live on Kinnicutt Avenue and I can tell you that the water pressure is not sufficient,” said Karen Ramos. “This is not about affordable housing. This is about making money.”
Planning Commission Chairman Fred Massie several times spoke of Last Ever’s past relationship with the town, and whether the contracting family still controls four separate house lot sites that were pre-approved before the contractor started clearing land without permission 18 months ago. He instructed solicitor Benjamin Ferreira to look into the old case to see if it has any bearing on the viability of the current project.
Meanwhile, Mr. Landry said he would speak with his client about the project, and noted that the town could expect a formal application in the coming weeks.
In 2018, after Last Ever Realty purchased the 17-acre tract of land on which the development would sit for $470,000, the LLC appeared before the Warren Planning Commission to introduce a plan to build four house lots on the site, and was approved.
That October, Biszko workers started clearing land at the site without town or DEM permission, allegedly to use the area as a staging point for equipment they planned to use on a job for the Bristol County Water Authority.
After neighbors complained to Warren Building Official Tony Carvalho, Mr. Rulli contacted the son of company owner Michael Biszko, who “said they had every insert word here right to be there,” Mr. Rulli said Monday.
After Mr. Carvalho sent a violation notice to the Biszkos' former attorney, police were called out after neighbors saw workers back out at the site. According to Mr. Rulli at the time, the men stopped working when ordered by a police officer, but subsequently returned after the officer left. Later that day, Mr. Carvalho posted red stop work orders at the site, which allegedly were subsequently removed by Biszko. Soon after, Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto filed an injunction against Biszko.
At that time, Mr. Massie said Monday night, “we acted in good faith and that good faith was not met by your client.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy - and many of the advertisers who support our work - to a near standstill. During this unprecedented challenge, we continue to make our coronavirus coverage free to everyone at eastbayri.com - we believe it is our mission is to deliver vital information to our communities. If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please consider a tax-deductible donation.
https://givebutter.com/helpthewarrentimes-gazette" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Donate Here
Thank you for your support!
Matt Hayes, Warren Times-Gazette Publisher