Transfer of property would make way for 'Branch Street Revival'

Transfer of property would make way for 'Branch Street Revival'

PAWTUCKET - Members of the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency will meet in two weeks to determine whether to hand over a vacant property on Branch Street to make way for a new 30-unit affordable housing complex.

PRA members postponed a vote from last week to Dec. 17 so they'll have a chance to hear from representatives of the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation about their proposed "Branch Street Revival" project.

Nancy Whit, executive director of the PCDC, told The Breeze that the planned affordable housing complex will be an "attractive" addition to a neighborhood that could really use a big investment. Rents here would range from $700 to $850 a month.

Those behind the project must still go to the Pawtucket Zoning Board to seek zoning relief for the structures being proposed.

According to Whit, the Branch Street Revival project would:

* Improve the quality of housing in the area, "leading to some improvements in terms of desirability." As shown elsewhere, home values should go up slightly as a result of the project, she said.

* Transform the target property from one that is frequently used for illegal dumping of "couches, mattresses and anything else that people might want to get rid of" to an attractive one where productive citizens reside.

This was once a swath of riverfront land that contained homes, said Whit, but one property after another sunk into a state of disrepair and was torn down. The housing complex would be located at the intersection of Branch Street, Roosevelt Avenue and East Street, right near the Pawtucket Water Supply Board on the Blackstone River.

The development will be made up of three buildings full of apartments containing one, two or three bedrooms.

The affordable housing development has received approvals from both the City Planning Commission and Riverfront Commission, according to Barney Heath, director of the Department of Planning and Redevelopment.

Because this "complex" project is on the riverfront, representatives from both the Department of Environmental Management and Environmental Protection Agency need to review and approve all plans, said Whit.

"A great deal" of thought has gone into making this project an attractive one from both sides, said Whit, especially from across the river. The project as designed would make cars parked in the back lot invisible from the river side.

"We like to say it has two front sides, two front entrances," she said. Members of the Riverfront Commission were concerned that the project be attractive from the river, said Whit, so planners obliged.

Whit did not have estimates on how much the development will cost, but said it will be paid for through a number of public and private sources.

PRA members last week said that some neighbors of the Branch Street property are opposed to the housing project, especially based on the large number of units for a relatively small area.

Members said this situation is like many where someone living next to a vacant lot doesn't want anything to happen, but Heath said the proposal offers a "sensitive design for the riverfront," and will "really change the way the riverfront is viewed."

Representatives from the PCDC are hoping to have the city property in their possession by January so they'll be able to access grant funding to clean up any pollution found there. Part of the property is in a flood zone but the buildings and parking lots are not, according to officials.

Since 1990, the PCDC has been responsible for 166 housing units in Pawtucket and Central Falls with a focus on the Barton Street neighborhood, where their efforts have been credited with a reduction in crime and a decline in prostitution activity.

The goal of all projects is to improve the physical infrastructure of neighborhoods as a way of promoting community change, according to the PCDC website, www.pawtucketcdc.org .