Zoning Board approves housing project for historic North Main Street building

Zoning Board approves housing project for historic North Main Street building

(Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)
‘Johnston Block’ will hold 17 units

WOONSOCKET – A century-old building, vacant for nearly a decade, will soon spring back to life when a Smithfield-based investor converts the four-story structure into 17 residential “micro units,” seated above two commercial storefronts.

The Zoning Board on Monday granted a variance for the project at 122 North Main St., known as the Johnston Block, with a 4-1 vote. Zoning Board member Roland Michaud cast the sole dissenting vote against the plan, which had vocal support from city planners and other downtown advocates. Developers say they hope the property will attract new residents with disposable income, including young professionals and retirees, to help support a growing city center.

A previous proposal that would have seen three additional units, for a total of 20, had been denied. The building once held 10 larger three- and four-bedroom apartments, but has been vacant since December of 2009.

“By creating more, yet small units, the overall density would be significantly reduced as the small units would generate less occupants in each unit by default,” wrote City Planner Rui Almeida in a letter supporting the proposal, put forth by 122 North Main St. LLC, a business owned by investor John Messier.

Built in 1891, the 18,632-square-foot property is situated in a mixed-use zone and was purchased by Messier seven months ago. Last August, Messier presented a plan to create a range of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments in the structure. Neighborhood Property Management, a company owning an additional 12 properties throughout the city, is listed as manager and co-owner of the building.

The initial request for a variance was denied by a vote of 3-2, with only Chairman Alan Leclaire and member Normal Frechette voting in favor of the plan. Messier spoke before the City Council in October appealing for help in the denial, and ultimately presented a new project that somewhat reduced the scope of his plan.

Almeida noted that the building is located in the city’s Downtown Overlay District, an area specifically marked to allow additional uses and encourage growth of art, culture and entertainment in Woonsocket’s center.

“We believe that this type of measured approach should be encouraged as the pathway which will result in an improved downtown which not only attracts shoppers and visitors, but provides a new home to residents with disposable income to support themselves and the neighborhood, without the need for additional subsidized housing,” Almeida wrote.

The rehabilitated building will house a business center and a dining establishment in the vacant commercial spaces. Developers also plan to add a back entrance to the building, and a bridge to an adjacent 30-space parking lot. It will also include a new outside deck space and a courtyard.

The Zoning Board plans to meet in two weeks to approve its findings of fact on the variance.