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Warren planners, attorney debate fees for Settler’s Green application

Affordable housing plan on Kinnicutt requires extensive town review, planner says; attorney believes amount was unfair so early on

By Ted Hayes
Posted 6/23/20

Members of the Warren Planning Board and the Warren Town Planner sparred Monday night with the attorney representing a developer planning to build a large affordable housing complex on Kinnicutt …

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Warren planners, attorney debate fees for Settler’s Green application

Affordable housing plan on Kinnicutt requires extensive town review, planner says; attorney believes amount was unfair so early on

Posted

Members of the Warren Planning Board and the Warren Town Planner sparred Monday night with the attorney representing a developer planning to build a large affordable housing complex on Kinnicutt Avenue, after the planner deemed Last Ever Realty LLC’s application for a comprehensive permit incomplete earlier this month.

In early June, Warren Town Planner Bob Rulli ruled Last Ever Realty’s application incomplete after representatives failed to include $40,000 in engineering study fees, an amount Mr. Rulli said was needed to cover the town’s engineering costs as it seeks to independently review the project with an eye on its impacts on wastewater treatment and other infrastructure here.

William Landry, who represents Last Ever, appeared before the planning board Monday to seek a waiver or deferral of those fees, countering that they seem excessive and in any case, aren’t pertinent in this, the first stage of the town’s multi-level review process.

Last Ever plans to build “Settler’s Green,” a large complex on 16 acres of land formerly owned by the Bettencourt family, just south of Frerichs Farm. The complex would include 12 single family homes along Denver Avenue and, just to the north, two large apartment buildings, each containing 54 units. It 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.

After the project first became known here, Mr. Rulli reached out to the town’s two engineering firms, Woodard & Curran and Fuss & O’Neill, and asked engineers to draw up review plans and associated costs to look at its impact on the town’s infrastructure and review Last Ever’s plans. The resulting $40,000 fee drew out of those conversations.

Last Friday, without prior discussion with Mr. Rulli, Last Ever officials dropped off a $13,000 check at town hall, and Mr. Landry said Monday that that amount constituted what he thought was an appropriate amount.

But planning board members seemed unimpressed. Chairman Fred Massie, who several years ago reviewed an earlier, unrelated plan by Last Ever’s principals to build several houses on Denver Avenue, said the $13,000 was inadequate and continued a trend of “disrespectful” behavior toward the town. He noted that police had to be called several times during the last project after developers were ordered to stop work on the site and illegally removed “stop work” signs the town had placed on the land.

“In a civil relationship thee would be discussion back and forth,” Mr. Massie said. “There’s been a disrespectful behavior toward the town. There’s a history of working against the town’s requests; most recently the request was for payment. It was made clear that it was an amount that had to be met and that was responded to with half of what was asked.”

“I don’t think I’ve been anything less than civil,” Mr. Landry responded. “That’s not how I operate. We may not agree completely on this issue, but you’re not going to get anything less than civility from me.”

Much of Monday’s hour-long discussion centered on whether the town has the authority to set whatever engineering fees it wants. Mr. Landry said it does not, though Mr. Rulli, as the town’s administrative officer, said ordinances (specifically, section 32-160 of the zoning ordinance) gives him that right. In this case, he said, the independent review paid for with those fees is absolutely necessary:

“To not allow us the opportunity to diligently evaluate your client’s application (and) make a recommendation to whether the planning board should consider this, I don’t follow that logic,” said Mr. Rulli, who noted that preliminary information on impacts provided by Last Ever seemed inaccurate in some points.

“You’re talking about adding a significant amount of pressure to the wastewater system. If there are going to be impacts ... I think your client needs to know that, I think the planning board needs to know that and I think the town residents need to know that too.”

Mr. Landry said his concerns aren’t just over the dollar amount, but timing as well. How, he asked, could the town require payment during the Master Plan stage of review to examine impacts and engineering plans that don’t even exist yet?

“I’m looking for some kind of reasonable sequencing here,” Mr. Landry said. “The whole purpose of a Master Plan (is) an artist’s rendering, if you will, of a project. I’m not suggesting the town doesn’t have the authority (to institute fees to review technical plans) but not to load it all in to a master plan concept. It’s premature.”

He also said some of the items included in the town’s study were dubious, noting in particular that town-paid engineers would research the project’s impact on the Metacom Avenue Corridor, a long-term plan for the future of Metacom Avenue that is still in its planning stages. To that point, Mr. Rulli yielded, saying that portion of the study could be removed from the town’s independent review.

In the end, Mr. Rulli and Mr. Landry agreed to meet prior to the planning board’s next meeting, set for Monday, July 27, to try to come up with a figure both sides could live with. Meanwhile, the application for comprehensive permit will stay classified as “incomplete.”

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