2019-01-17 / Around Town

Zoning Approved for Cranston-Calvert

By James Merolla

The conversion of the former Cranston-Calvert School into 34 moderately-priced apartments designed for the city’s workforce population came a step closer to reality on Jan. 9 after the City Council approved three amendments to the zoning ordinance to allow its redevelopment.

The vote was 6-1, with Justin Mc- Laughlin opposed.

The vote came after a public hearing on proposed changes for this project only, although the Planning Board wants the ordinance changes to apply to other properties as well. The changes for the school include use regulations, density requirements and parking space standards.

In a Dec. 4 letter to the council, the Planning Board offered its opinion that zoning changes needed to be widened and made more comprehensive.

The board said the proposed changes were consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, but “were not consistent in best land use [to provide a balanced city consisting of residential, commercial and employment uses consistent with the character, resources and vision of the community].”

Board Chair Melissa Pattavina wrote, “As proposed, the amendments only address a single property and do not consider similar properties in other neighborhoods or districts where such a development may also benefit the city and its residents as a whole.”

She went on to say that the board recommends that either the amendments “be made broader to encompass other potential sites, or that the City Council considers referring the project for a special use permit approval of the Zoning Board of Review.”

Addressing the issue, attorney Peter Regan, representing the developer, BCM Realty Partners of Newport, and its principal, Connor Melville, said, “That’s the only problem the Planning Board had, that this zoning change only applied to this property.”

Regan said that it was intentional in order to reach out into the community and assess its success in the neighborhood as a touchstone for other kinds of projects requiring different amendments.

“We think that what is best for this particular property in this particular neighborhood is the right approach,” he said.

The project repurposes a dormant building that is empty, deteriorating, unmanaged, and adds it to the tax rolls," said Regan. "If this building is going to be saved and going to be rehabilitated, it must be now."

The developer has consented to allow City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson, Jr. to write a series of conditions that the site must meet.

Citing the need for affordable housing for workers, Regan said, “This project tries to increase the supply of year-round rentals … marketable rentals.”

The development would create 22 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom apartments priced from $1,000 to $1,500 per month.

Councilor Jeanne Marie Napolitano supported the project. “I think this is a Godsend,” she said. “This is in a very vibrant section of Broadway. This is a good use. Workforce housing for police, fire, teachers, young people, potentially [working at the proposed] Innovate Newport building. They don’t need a huge place, but they need a place to call home. I think it’s a great concept.”

In opposition, McLaughlin said he thought the one-bedroom apartments had the potential for “turnover.” He also said the process being used to change the zoning ordinance was not proper, and that the council “isn’t the best board to decide this. "

“You are not going to go before the Zoning Board of Review to get what you want. You are coming before the council,” he said.

“This process is not possible without a zoning change,” Regan argued.

Two residents spoke at the public hearing. “One of my concerns is losing input on traffic and parking,” said Richard Anderson, who resides at 6 Calvert Street. “If the zoning laws get approved, where would I now have a voice in this property? I ask the council to consider everything. I support doing something with this property. I just worry about having input into it.”

During previous workshops, neighbors were concerned, as Regan put it, with “parking, parking, parking,” along with the impact on their neighborhood.

Mayor Jamie Bova said neighbors will have more workshops to provide input.

The newly-formed Technical Review Committee will next review the plan, City Solicitor Christopher Behan said. The committee is comprised of staff and city officials, the city planner, engineers and volunteers, who will address such issues as stormwater runoff, infrastructure, parking, traffic and public input.

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