The Warren Planning Board decided by a 4-3 vote on Monday night to deny Master Plan approval for a 12-unit development proposed at 113 and 119 Water Street.
The Warren Planning Board decided by a 4-3 vote to deny Master Plan approval for a 12-unit development proposed at 113 and 119 Water Street, following a meeting that included more than four hours of testimony from all sides of the contentious issue.
A loud round of applause was heard after the final vote was read into the record, courtesy of the large contingent of historical preservation advocates that had filled the Town Hall Council chambers on Monday night — a cathartic release of energy for advocates who had rallied around efforts to save two buildings they argued were historically important to the character and value of Warren’s downtown waterfront district.
The demolition of those two buildings at 113 and 119 Water Street were at the center of the ultimate reasoning behind the four planning board members who voted in favor of denying the proposal, which was put forth by Daniel Teodoro (owner of the Waterdog restaurant, which abuts the proposed development) last year.
Frederick Massie, chairman of the Planning Board — which is the lone governing board in Warren with oversight into the project, as it came forward under the state’s comprehensive permit application under the notion of creating more affordable housing — listed off the multitude of reasons as to why the motion to deny was put forth.
Those reasons included the assertion that there was not ample evidence to justify the demolition of the two properties, which were both condemned by the town’s building official late last year due to their deteriorated condition. He argued that the applicant had not performed a proper analysis on the 113 Water St. property to assess how much it would cost to rehabilitate the property rather than tear it down, and so they had not fulfilled a requirement for the demolition of a property within the town’s historic district.
Furthermore, Massie argued that the Town of Warren was making clear strides towards fulfilling their affordable housing requirements as set by the state, as evidenced by other housing projects that had been approved or that have been proposed, in addition to the town’s updated Comprehensive Plan, which is in the works and focuses around an affordable housing development strategy based on the Metacom Avenue corridor.
Massie also argued that the applicant’s reduction in affordable units — from 15 of 17 total units when the proposal included a four-story structure, cut down to the proposal that was before the board on Monday night that included just 3 of 12 units within a three-story structure — meant that the development was not truly in the spirit of the comprehensive permit, as it wouldn’t contribute positively to the town’s affordable housing stock despite technically fulfilling the minimum requirements set forth in that statute, which he called a “flawed” statute multiple times throughout the evening.
An argument of setting a bad precedent for the town was made by Massie and fellow planning board member Matthew Atwood, who also voted in favor of denying the development, and said that approving this project on the basis that the applicant faced an undue financial burden to restore the historic properties would provide an opening for other developers to demolish historic structures under the same notion of claiming it to be financially unfeasible to restore them.
“The consequences of that would be devastating to the historic district,” Massie agreed. “I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but as a planning board…we have a duty to determine that anybody who comes in and says ‘I have to demolish this building’ proves it — clearly.”
One additional argument that came up throughout the lengthy meeting was in regards to the parking plan for the development. There would be 25 spaces total created in a parking lot that includes the current parking lot for the Waterdog restaurant. Zoning ordinances call for 31 spaces to accompany such a development, and Massie took issue with the concept that parking would be shared between the development and the restaurant, which neighbors testified was often full in its current condition and caused traffic issues along Sisson Street, where the lone point of entry and exit would be for the new development.
Massie said it seemed prudent that Teodoro should have gone to the Zoning Board of Review to amend his parking agreement for the Waterdog, which does not include a shared parking plan in its approved agreement.
"There were several months here when the applicant could have simply gone to the Zoning Board of Review and said, 'We have a problem here, what do you think?' — and that wasn’t done," Massie said.
Bret Jedele, attorney for Teodoro, declined to provide a full statement but said after the meeting that the merits of the application as it applied to the state's comprehensive permit stood on their own. He said he would need to speak to his client before deciding on whether or not to appeal the Planning Board’s decision. Should Teodoro go that route, the state’s Housing Appeals Board would then take up the case.
As for the vote itself, Massie, Atwood, Mike Gerhardt, and James Leffers voted to deny the application. Tyler Dixon, Brett Beaubien, and Ashley Medeiros voted in opposition of that motion, and were in favor of approving the development.
A more comprehensive story will be published in the Wednesday edition of the Times-Gazette.