Low-income apartments approved for corner of Mendon and Albion roads

Low-income apartments approved for corner of Mendon and Albion roads

CUMBERLAND - The State Housing Appeal Board has vacated a 2010 decision of the Cumberland Planning Board and given a green light to two developers proposing 16 "affordable" apartments at the corner of Mendon and Albion roads.

Mayor Daniel McKee told The Breeze the town will, however, be appealing the decision to the Rhode Island Superior Court.

Fred Pesaturo of Cumberland and Roy Gemma of Johnston have been trying since 2008 to develop a 36,126-square-foot parcel on Albion Road, across from the CVS drugstore.

This project was filed under the state's Low and Moderate Income Housing Act that requires 10 percent of a community's housing stock be available to lower income residents - those whose income is 80 percent or less than the area's median income.

In 2006, the General Assembly found "there exists an acute shortage of affordable, accessible, safe and sanitary housing for its citizens of low and moderate income," so "it is necessary that each city and town provide opportunities for the establishment of low and moderate income housing."

Until a community reaches the 10 percent goal, developers who include affordable units in their projects may use a streamlined approval process that requires presenting a plan to a single municipal board given broad authority to waive various zoning rules.

If the developer isn't satisfied with the outcome, he or she can appeal to an entity called SHAB, the State Housing Appeals Board. In this case, for instance, the lot is zoned for a single residence, not the multi-family being sought yet the developers were not required to get a zone change from the Town Council. Other lot size and setback variances would have also come into play.

Gemma and Pesaturo's plan calls for two eight-unit buildings of two stories, all priced to meet the state's affordability guideline.

Gemma and Pesaturo first proposed a project here in 2008 - a mixed-use building with offices on the lower level and four apartments on the second floor. It was rejected by planners then failed before the state appeals board in 2009.

SHAB said the plan was really a commercial development rather than one to address the needs of lower-income Rhode Islanders.

The two returned with the 16-unit plan in 2010 where it was rejected in May of 2010. The appeal wasn't heard until 2013.

Attorney Michael Horan of Pawtucket represented Cumberland before the SHAB because Cumberland Town Solicitor Thomas Hefner says he has a personal conflict.

The housing appeals board decision suggests Cumberland did not prevail for several reasons stemming from comments by the planners at their May 2010 meeting:

* Planning Board members who were opposed mainly cited their discomfort with installing rental units next to a subdivision of single-family homes on Peacedale Road, even though the site is within a half-mile of both Cumberland Crossing and Chimney Hill apartment complexes.

* The vote at 4 to 3 wasn't decisive and Chairman David Coutu, who cast the deciding no vote, called it a very difficult decision.

* The town is falling 538 units short of its goal of having 10 percent of its housing stock available to lower income residents.

Cumberland does have a state approved plan for meeting the 10 percent requirement.

When that plan was prepared in 2003, Cumberland was counting 719 affordable units, or 5.7 percent, mostly for senior citizens.

Cumberland described various target sites for future housing including the Ann & Hope Mill, Ashton Village and triple deckers near Town Hall - all near public transportation, retail centers and main roads.

But the plan doesn't rule out other possible areas and SHAB members noted that in their finding.

Cumberland's own Director of Planning and Community Development Kelley Morris is the chairwoman of SHAB but did not participate in the hearing on this case.