The planning commissioners last week were presented with plans from a nonprofit developer that wants to build six affordable housing units on a 1.3- acre lot at 91 Carr Lane. The proposal, however, was met by resistance from a group of neighbors with concerns about water, drainage and traffic.
The planners heard the details Sept. 4 during the pre-application phase, which precedes the masterplan presentation and public hearing. No decisions are made at this point, according to Mike Swistak, chairman of the commission.
“We’re just listening and sharing ideas,” he said. “So, when they do come back for the next phase, they’ve heard what our thoughts and concerns may be.”
The proposal by Church Community Housing, a nonprofit developer that serves Newport County, would retrofit the existing structure into an apartment with three affordable units. The three remaining units would be built as single-family homes.
The Carr Lane property was purchased by the town in June 2018 for $450,000, which was subsidized by a $150,000 state grant. For the front 1.3 acres of the 9-acre lot, which abuts the street, there is a purchase-and-sale agreement between the town and Church Community Housing. That deal is pending approval from the planning board.
The rear section that is bound by North Pond will be preserved for watershed protection. That land contains deciduous wetlands and shrub swamps that are part of 133 acres that protect and filter drinking water before it flows into the reservoir.
Mark Liberati, an attorney representing the nonprofit developer, is asking the planners to consider this proposal to be a four-lot minor subdivision. While the applicants cannot satisfy subdivision requirements in the zoning ordinance because there is not enough land, which Liberati said was because the “wetlands complex is so enormous,” he said the proposal meets the purpose of the rules.
“If the goal of a cluster subdivision is to concentrate development in an area to protect the surrounding area from development, we certainly are meeting the spirt of that principle,” he said.
Liberati also pointed to the state mandate for each municipality in Rhode Island to have 10 percent of its housing stock earmarked for residents with low and moderate incomes.
According to Town Planner Lisa Bryer, Jamestown is at 4.4 percent with 113 total affordable units. The board, Liberati said, will need to consider “the kind of complex planning that is presented with this application” if it wants to meet the mandate.
“It is extraordinarily difficult in Jamestown to build affordable housing because of land costs,” he said.
The goal of the proposal, Liberati said, is “to create a balancing act” by relaxing zoning standards that would not negatively impact the environment.
A petition with 100 signatures, however, was submitted in objection to the plan. Carr Lane’s Bonnie Hogan said she was worried about the size of the project because of the impact it would have on the water supply. Wells and septic systems would need to be installed. “Our aquifer is overstressed now,” she said.
Hogan also was concerned about the potential for 15 more vehicles routinely traversing Carr Lane, which she called “a country lane” that already has been transformed into a crossover highway between North Main and East Shore roads. Finally, she said this plan ignores the “driving theme” of the comprehensive community plan, which is to keep Jamestown as a rural place to live.
“Why do we have a plan if we’re not going to pay attention to it?” she asked.
The objectors said they were not against affordable housing on Carr Lane. Instead, they were worried about density. The executive director of Church Community Housing, however, said reducing the units was not feasible.
“There is no fewer number of units that we can propose and be anywhere in the ballpark of financial viability,” Christian Belden said.
While no votes about the plan were taken, the board did take two votes about how it will move forward. First, the planning commissioners unanimously voted to act as the local review board. That means the decision rests exclusively with them.
“It’s a one-stop application,” Swistak said. “It comes to planning, and it goes nowhere else. We become the planners. We become zoning. We become the conservation commission. We become the traffic committee.”
The board also voted to consolidate the next two phases. Instead of a separate meeting to present a master plan, the proposal will go directly to a public hearing.
Bryer said a timetable for the public hearing depends on the applicant, which is expected to conduct traffic and drainage studies in the meantime.