Still a path to move forward on Hope Mill project

Still a path to move forward on Hope Mill project

SCITUATE – The Hope Mill project, while delayed by several years, is not dead, according to a memo compiled by the West Warwick Town Planner Mark Carruolo.

Since Scituate does not have a town planner or town manager of its own, Carruolo was asked to review files related to Hope Mill and provide an analysis of the project’s past, present, and future. The 1844 former textile mill is on a 20-acre site located on an elbow of the Pawtuxet River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Richard Derosas, president of Paramount Development Group, the current developer, stated in previous interviews with The Valley Breeze & Observer that he plans to re-develop the Hope Mill property while maintaining its historic character.

In the past, developers have not been able to fulfill that promise.

The original developer most closely identified with the One Main Street mill is Vincent R. Coccoli Sr., who has said in 2007 he bought the mill.

For more than a decade, the property sat vacant.

For various reasons, including the withdrawal of Coccoli’s then-partner, Belfonti Companies LLC, of Hamden, Conn., from the project, the mill went into receivership.

Then, with Rhode Island Superior Court approval of the purchase, in 2016 Paramount proposed a $56 million plan that, according to previous reports, called for approximately 118 “workforce” apartment units plus an additional 75 “market rate” units on the 38-acre property.

But as months have come and gone, construction has yet to begin. This has made some residents wary, but the memo, although containing evidence of stumbles along the way, shows there is a path to moving forward.

According to the memo, presented at a March 13 Town Council meeting, the planning board held a meeting in Jan. 2016 to amend the Master Plan for the Hope Mill project. This included a reduction in units from 207 to 193 and the elimination of the requirement to connect the project and other municipal properties to the West Warwick Sewer System. The project now proposes an Onsite Wastewater Treatment System.

However, the proposed changes to the Master Plan are not in compliance with the Dec. 2006 Zoning Board approval, so the applicant must reapply to the Zoning Board to amend or replace the previous approval.

The Planning Board voted to approve the amended Master Plan with the proposed changes and the singular stipulation that all agencies approve, with no explanation as to which agencies it was referring to. The Planning Board also did not record a formal decision letter, as is required.

Other problems arose when the Planning Board held a public hearing in August 2016 and granted a preliminary approval.

First, the Planning Board had not yet made a finding that the proposed development was in compliance with the standards and provisions of the municipality’s Zoning Ordinance. The project should have been referred back to the Zoning Board for a new or revised approval prior to consideration for preliminary approval. The developer must also resubmit for five permits related to issues like freshwater wetlands and public water systems, since these approvals were not in place at the time of the public hearing in August 2016.

The planner’s memo ends with eight conclusions:

• The Scituate Planning Board did not comply with Rhode Island laws when it did not record written decisions for each approval stage.

• The original Nov. 2006 Master Plan approval was acknowledged by the Zoning Board and several stipulations were included in the Dec. 2006 Zoning Board approval.

• The Dec. 2006 Zoning board approval remains valid as a result of the receivership and it currently controls use of the property.

• The Jan. 2016 Master Plan approval, while valid, should be clarified and perfected with a written decision.

• The August 2016 preliminary approval is invalid.

• The next step in the approval process, after clarification of the Jan. 2016 Master Plan, is for the applicant to apply with the Zoning Board to request a new special use permit and relief from conditions contained in the Dec. 2006 Zoning Board decision.

• The applicant must seek approval from the Hope Village Overlay District for historic compliance and approval from Coventry.

• After new Zoning Board approval, Hope Village Overlay District approval, and approval from Coventry, the applicant must reapply for preliminary plan approval from the Planning Board.

Comments

Why is the town not seeking the opinion of our own legal council for the Hope Mill? I thought one of the reasons the new law firm was hired, is because one of the partners
Had a degree in Planning?
Or are we not following the advise of our own legal council again?