2011-12-15 / Front Page

Panel approves 4,000-square-foot residential building on Hammett Court

BY KATHLEEN MCKIERNAN

Ever since Michael DeTour moved into the group home at Bridges Inc. on Pemberton Avenue, he has thrived and grown, gaining independence and living in the community in which he was raised.

With the Planning Commission approval on Dec. 7 of a 3,979-square-foot, five-unit residential building at 2 Hammett Court, Bridges hopes to extend that opportunity to more individuals with developmental disabilities.

After a contentious public hearing that extended into two meetings where neighbors abutting the Bridges project argued that the residential building is too large, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to support the project for its basic value to the community. Commission Chairman Michael Swistak and Commissioner Michael Smith abstained from the meeting.

Bridges is a 501(c) nonprofit human services agency that provides support services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

With four one-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit, the project will be reserved for affordable housing, the basic value that influenced the commissioners’ decision. Jamestown is working towards reaching the state mandated 10 percent goal of affordable housing in the community. Jamestown faces an imbalance where many people who work on the island cannot afford to live here.

Tom and Christine DeTour know what kind of value the new project at 2 Hammett Court will bring to Jamestown.

Twenty years ago, the DeTours looked for a human services agency that would allow their son Michael to still be a part of the Jamestown community he grew up in. Through school, they met Jim and Lisa Rafferty who created Bridges about 25 years ago to support people with developmental disabilities. They favored Bridges for its location in Jamestown, its small size and ability to adapt to people’s individual needs.

“Bridges really respects the dignity of the individual. They feel everyone needs to be part of the community,” Tom DeTour said.

In eighth grade, the professionals at Bridges helped Michael learn in the classroom at the Lawn Avenue School and remain with other Jamestown students.

Bridges continued to assist Michael, 31, whose disability leaves him dependent on others for his needs. For the past seven years, Michael has lived full time at the Bridges’ group home with five other housemates on Pemberton Avenue, a move that has helped him become more independent and allow him to stay in Jamestown close to his family.

“He thrives since he’s been in the group home. It’s his home. We’ve seen him do things we haven’t seen him do before. He’s really grown,” Christine DeTour said.

“They’re a little family down there. They manage Mike’s care totally,” Tom DeTour said. “They serve a lot of people like Michael who need a lot of care and others who live on their own who don’t need as much. If you can maintain someone living on their own, it’s so much more fulfilling and effi- cient than having to send them to a nursing home or institution.”

Providing services to those with developmental disabilities to live on their own, the Hammett Court residential building will be similar to where Michael lives.

“[The Hammet Court project] seems like it has the potential to be a good thing,” Tom DeTour said. “A lot of people with developmental disabilities can benefit from a program like that.”

Though neighbors abutting the new residential building supported the project’s mission to help people with developmental disabilities, many residents wished Bridges could design a building smaller in size. The project will extend into two zoning districts, Zone R8 and CD.

At the Nov. 16 Planning Commission meeting, abutters arrived in droves, filling the Town Hall chambers. At the Dec. 7 meeting, residents had their chance again to speak their mind.

“I’m not against the proposed project or its use,” Gary Girard said. “I do have people who are constricted in my family and I understand the need. I personally am concerned with the size and density of the residential unit. I have no problem with them building a residential building, but it’s huge. Absolutely huge.”

To address concerns raised at the first November public hearing, project architect Stephanie Zurek said they shifted the stairwell 2 feet to the north, creating a break in the facade, setting the stairwell back from the rest of the building. The change will provide relief in the facade.

“We believe there’s plenty of relief in this facade. It’s not what residents fear in being single plain elevation,” Zurek said.

The project architects also readdressed the amount of available parking spaces. Bridges sought a waiver to have 30 parking spaces at the facility, which is 11 less than the 41 required by the town ordinance. The leftover space would be used for green space to add an aesthetics piece for those living and working there.

At the November meeting, John Murphy, the attorney for Bridges, 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. As such, architect Michael Darveau said the proposed park at the rear of the building could be used for parking.

Some residents said the project’s size does not fit with the look of Narragansett Avenue, but Murphy said the building is between 3,400 to 4,000 square feet, similar to what already exists in the area.

“The facts are as we presented,” Murphy said. “This application has been thoroughly vetted. The motion was worded out carefully with the assistant town solicitor. We’re satisfied that the legal requirements of ordinance and the state statue have been met. The facts presented are accurate. We shouldn’t adjust it now for what are generally off-the-cuff comments.”

“I recognize they’re in good faith,” Murphy continued, “but to change what has been worked out here – think carefully before you do it. That’s our request. It frequently happens that someone has a bright idea to change this and doesn’t realize the effect it would have. Right now to change it to a smaller building size would require a whole new presentation.”

The commission approved the comprehensive permit with the stipulation that if the project is changed in the future, it will need approval again. They placed a minimum 30-year restriction on the deed as well.

The comprehensive permit allowed Bridges 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 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 financing the project.

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