2011-11-24 / News

Residents speak up against affordable housing project

BY KATHLEEN MCKIERNAN

Bridges Inc. hopes to construct a five-unit affordable housing facility for people with development disabilities in 2012, a proposal that has gotten many of its Clinton Avenue and Hammett Court neighbors riled up.

At a public hearing held on Nov. 16, the Planning Commission heard why town residents may or may not support the 501(c)3 nonprofi t’s proposal to construct a 34,000-square-foot live work residential building that would abut both Hammett Court and Clinton Avenue.

Bridges is a human services agency that provides support services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Because it is proposing a facility dedicated to affordable housing, Bridges applied for a comprehensive permit, allowing it to streamline the approval process and submit a single application to the planning, zoning and other town boards for a permit to build low- and moderateincome housing.

The project would help Jamestown move one step closer to reaching the 10 percent state mandated amount of affordable housing in the community. Earlier this month, the town held a public hearing on affordable housing, where a new nonprofit group – The Equity Project – highlighted how many people who work on the island cannot afford to live here.

The project is funded through Rhode Island Affordable Housing. It comes with a 30-year minimum affordability restriction targeted for people with developmental disabilities. The Church Community Housing Corporation is doing the financing of the project.

Though many of the town residents touted the Bridges’ proposal as admirable, many were concerned of the vast size of the project, the parking availability along Clinton Avenue, and the future outcome of the facility.

Bridges is seeking a waiver to have 30 parking spaces at the facility, an amount the project architects feel is adequate to serve the group’s needs. This is 11 less than the 41 spaces, which is the legal requirement. The leftover space would be used for green space to add an aesthetics piece for those living and working there. Bridges’ attorney John Murphy said if it was determined at a later date that Bridges needed additional parking spaces, they could have gravel placed on the green area and that could serve as additional parking.

Though Commissioners Rosemary Enright, Michael Jacard and Richard Lynn said they would approve the parking waiver, Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury stated he would like the nonprofi t to add four more spaces for increased flexibility. Planning Commission Chairman Michael Swistak attended the meeting, but abstained from his active role due to a conflict of interest.

With the proposed project expected to extend into two zoning districts, Zone R8 and CD, many Clinton Avenue residents worried about the sheer size of the building.

“I applaud what Bridges is doing,” resident Kristin Michalik said. “I applaud the concept of the model, but what frightens me is the grandiose size. As residents, this seems quite large. If Bridges decides to relocate, then we have this area under contract and parking lots designated by this model and it’s no longer Bridges. It doesn’t seem like the size works. It will defiantly impact us. My fears are what if. There are a lot of what ifs that residents have to face. I know we all have to have a little faith but this is a lot of faith.”

Residents worried what would happen in the future if Bridges does not continue its ownership of the building.

“I think all projects start with great intentions,” resident James Wright said. “But there are assumptions being made in this project that I think may or may not play out. I think it’s a great thing but I’m concerned with what happens in five years. I think there’s risk in five years it doesn’t work out.”

Lisa Rafferty, executive director of Bridges, said the nonprofit has been around for 25 years and does not plan to leave anytime soon.

“It’s really difficult for people with developmental disabilities to live in just affordable housing,” she said. “They don’t have the right setting. The increase in autism is rising. In Rhode Island between 200 to 250 people who turn 21 with a developmental disability will become eligible for services. I can’t promise you anything, but the trend for services for people with developmental disabilities in the future is not going to go down.”

The town solicitor said if the Planning Commission approved the project, they could set a condition that states if Bridges vacates the property, any revised use of the property from that which is presented to in the final plans would have to come back to the town and go through the approval process as a revised use. Any permits granted for this process would be invalidated by Bridges changing use.

In setting the conditions of approval, Pendlebury said the proposed development meets requirements of the Zoning Ordinance. He cited that the project is seeking relief on lot width, front and side setback, frontage, build out, and building placement. The town fire marshall has approved the property and it now awaits approval from the building official.

Once it has the complete record of findings and conditions, the Planning Commission will decide the fate of the project at its next meeting on Dec. 7.

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