The East Bay CDC is proposing a 40-unit, 4.5-acre development on Child Street, which would be 100% rental units open to people making 60% of the area median income.
On Monday, Nov. 27, the Warren Planning Board heard a more comprehensive presentation on “Penny Lane”, a 40-unit affordable rental housing development proposed by the East Bay Community Development Corporation (East Bay CDC) that was first announced about a year ago.
Located at 581 Child St. in the northeast section of town near the Swansea border, Penny Lane is billed by East Bay CDC and its development team as a much-needed remedy to affordable housing needs in the area, which also promises to create the feel of a new neighborhood within Warren.
The development is comprised of a series of 14 townhouses made up of a mix of 8 one-bedroom apartments, 14 two-bedroom apartments, and 16 three-bedroom apartments. An existing building on the site will be renovated and converted into 2 two-bedroom apartments for a total of 40 units and 88 total bedrooms.
Each of these town houses would not exceed two stories tall, which the developers argue keeps in line with the surrounding neighborhood. As opposed to other recent developments submitted in Warren which have come with a dearth of parking attached as a required variance, the Penny Lane developers tout being able to fit 91 parking spaces within the area, well above the 60 spaces required by zoning for a project of this scope.
The name East Bay CDC may be recognizable to some in Warren and the surrounding towns already. The Bristol-based nonprofit owns and manages 344 existing affordable units in Bristol, Warren, and Barrington, including the Franklin Court Independent Living and Franklin Court Assisted Living facility on Wood Street in Bristol (188 units total), and the 46-unit Sweetbriar and 47-unit Palmer Point developments in Barrington.
The lone property operated by East Bay CDC in Warren is at 328 Main St.
“We have long hoped to increase our footprint in this great town,” said East Bay CDC executive director Diane Mederos. “We think that the development we are proposing, Penny Lane, will be a terrific addition to Warren.”
Affordable housing only
The East Bay CDC team introduced Francis Spinella, of FJS Associates, as a consultant who has worked with them on multiple affordable housing projects in the state.
Spinella said that the Penny Lane development would only rent to residents who make a maximum of 60% of the area median income (AMI), which calculates out to a single person making a maximum of $43,020 per year; a two-person family making $49,200 per year; a three-person family making $55,320 per year; and a four-person family making $61,440.
Rents within the development would range from $638 per month for the smallest, one-bedroom unit to $1,075 a month for the larger, three-bedroom units.
The total cost of the development, Spinella reported, would be around $14.5 million, and is paid for through a combination of the nonprofit’s own funding and low-income tax credits from Rhode Island Housing.
Spinella said that the funding mechanism involves a 30-year deed restriction, which is refinanced after 15 years to keep costs “affordable in perpetuity”, and keeping up to date with inflation.
“There are plenty of current Warren residents that would qualify for this,” he said. “The waiting list at all of our developments are huge. The need is there, the need in Warren is there for people within these income guidelines.”
Some waivers required
Although parking was satisfied, the development does require a few variances from local zoning ordinance, including use variances for an office and laundry building that would be constructed to serve the site.
Additionally, the developers requested variances for setbacks on the rear, front, and side of the property, but argued that the setbacks requested were very similar to zoning in the surrounding area.
Board chair clashes with aggrieved neighbor
Throughout the meeting, Planning Board Chairman Fredrick Massie tried to contain comments from one neighbor who attended the meeting who made his criticism of the proposed development clearly known.
“You want to build up Metacom? Put it on Metacom Avenue. You can make it look nice. Not in this neighborhood,” said Tyler Harris of Fern Drive, who works for a private EMS company. “There's beautiful wildlife — deer, geese, fox; all of this wildlife that we appreciate and we like to see when we drive home. When I work a night shift after dealing with high stress, I enjoy my drive home. I look in the field and I see deer, geese, it's beautiful to me. We live in a small town in the smallest state, there's really no places to build anymore.”
Harris finally ran afoul of Massie after making several interjections during the development team’s presentation, when he insinuated that the new housing project would open up the town to problems like seen at the Sweetbriar development in Barrington, where a stabbing took place in 2009.
“I'm sorry, it does bring trash. It is true. It does, okay,” he said. “Have you ever dealt with someone who got stabbed before? I'm sorry, but I have. It's not fun.”
“We can’t be talking about human beings as trash,” Massie said in response, before trading some more charged words with Harris, who claimed he meant that such developments bring problems, and wasn’t referring to people as trash.
The board moved to continue the meeting with the applicant’s approval to Dec. 18, and concluded shortly after.
Massie, reached on Monday morning, said that he understands the anxiety that occurs from a proposed development like this, but that it is important to stick to the facts and the process set forth by the planning board to ensure everyone has accurate information.
“I can particularly understand it for people who live around that area that they moved into that area with the understanding it would be a neighborhood or a farm,” Massie said. “All that said, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it is just understandable that passions would run high and we hope that is tempered by people understanding the process and having some faith in the fact that the planning board is not rubber stamping anything, as clearly evidenced by Water Street and Liberty Street.”
Massie said that there would be a two-page informational sheet handed out at the Dec. 18 meeting outlining the process for public comment, in the hopes to avoid another fiery back and forth like occurred last week.