2009-01-29 / Front Page

Affordable housing plan withdrawn

By Sam Bari

John Lawless, owner of a Pemberton Avenue property that was approved by the Affordable Housing Committee as an affordable housing unit, withdrew his application at the Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 21.

Lawless proposed to subdivide his 24,405-square foot, two-lot property at 14 Pemberton Avenue into two lots. An existing two-bedroom house was to remain on the property that would be sold as an affordable housing unit and another house was to be built on the other half of the property where Lawless would live.

Church Community Housing had offered to purchase the existing house for $175,000 and sell it as affordable housing for $150,000.

Pemberton Avenue abutters David and Ellen Betzer, and Mary Ann Oldewurtel who owns a house on the Narragansett Avenue side of the property, opposed the proposal.

One of the reasons concerned a drainage issue that the Planning Commission said would have to be resolved before the proposal could be recommended to the Zoning Board of Review. Privately, Lawless said that the drainage was a serious problem that revealed its severity during the last snowstorm. He said that he was not sure that the issue could be resolved.

Lawless thanked the commissioners for their consideration of the application and extended his apologies for any inconveniences caused by his withdrawal.

In other business, an application by Bert Spencer for relief from Zoning Ordinance Section 314 to build a house on a High Groundwater Table and Impervious Overlay District in Sub-District A was extensively debated by the commissioners.

Mohamad Nader PE, from American East Engineers Inc., of Westerly represented Spencer and presented plans for the proposed construction of a 30-foot by 26-foot, two-bedroom dwelling to the commissioners.

Commissioner Richard Ventrone said that the plans for the "so-called two-bedroom house with two-bedrooms and a den on the second floor" thinly disguised a three-bedroom home. He said that any professional could convert the den into a third bedroom complete with a walk-in closet in less than a day.

Commissioner Nancy Bennett agreed with Ventrone and suggested that Spencer submit plans for a smaller two-bedroom dwelling.

Commissioner Barry Holland said that the plans met the criteria for a two-bedroom home because the proposed den did not have a closet. He also said that it wasn't within the authority of the commission to assume that the applicant would in fact, make inappropriate alterations to the design after the house was built.

Ventrone said that it was common knowledge that the ordinance was never enforced after an application was approved and a building was constructed. "Nobody goes in to check several months after the house has been built," Ventrone said.

Town Engineer Michael Gray said that well testing results for the property indicated Nitrate Nitrogen levels of 2.4 mg/L. Although, this is well below the DOH drinking water standards of 10 mg/L, he said that he is concerned that the groundwater is showing these elevated predevelopment nitrate levels.

The commissioners decided to continue the proposal to next month's Planning Commission meeting before making a decision concerning their recommendations to the zoning board.

Return to top