‘Lincoln Lofts’ at Sayles Mill gets OK from Zoning Board

‘Lincoln Lofts’ at Sayles Mill gets OK from Zoning Board

LINCOLN – The “Lincoln Lofts,” proposed to transform the former Sayles Mill building off Walker Street into apartments, moved forward in the planning process Tuesday night after the Lincoln Zoning Board agreed to grant parking relief to the project.

The developer, Dakota Partners of Waltham, Mass., came before the Zoning Board to apply for dimensional variance for parking relief to renovate the former factory building at 90 Industrial Circle into 45 units of affordable housing. Lincoln’s Technical Review Committee members recently called the mill complex “the Wild West for parking,” but recommended the approval of the application on the basis that the proposed ratio of 1.67 parking spaces per unit, or 75 spaces total, would be enough to accommodate the needs of future residents.

Under the town’s current regulations, 45 units of housing would require 90 parking spaces. The Zoning Board approved the developer’s application for a parking variance, bringing the required number of parking spaces down to 75 total, or 1.67 spaces per unit, due to lack of space for additional parking on the property.

Rio Sacchetti, a project manager for Dakota Partners, said market-rate rent is usually one parking space per unit, and affordable housing is usually .8, according to data by Rhode Island Housing. Board member John Barr noted that Lincoln has a very limited bus service, and that the RIH numbers may be based on the state’s urban areas and may not be applicable to this project.

“We originally proposed 64 spaces, and after meeting with the town planner, zoning official and Technical Review Committee, we came up with a parking formula based on the 100 percent affordable housing, which uses the number of bedrooms,” said Mary Shekarchi, attorney for the applicant.

Shekarchi said she worked with town officials on the formula, which essentially grants two cars for each of the project’s 30 two-bedroom units, and one car for the 15 one-bedroom units.

The developer was also granted relief from the town’s requirement that parking spaces be 9 by 20 feet.

The town’s definition of a parking space was originally 9 feet by 18 feet at the inception of this application back in 2006, Zoning Board Chairman David DeAngelis said.

“Since time has progressed, your application outgrew the ordinance, which is now nine by 20,” said DeAngelis.

Shekarchi and Sacchetti said parts of the property are environmentally contaminated, and that the 75 parking spaces were the best they can do while maintaining green space for residents.

“There were not great areas to add parking and have the green space around the building for quality of life of future residents,” Sacchetti said. “We don’t want people to be parking on the street … we don’t want a headache.”

Contamination on the site will be addressed as part of construction and paid for by Dakota Partners. The company will have to remove between one and two feet of existing soil and replace it with fill.

The cost of the environmental mitigation, according to Shekarchi, “is a moving target, but it’s going to be quite expensive … hundreds of thousands if not more.”

Parking relief aside, the project did not require any zoning relief concerning the conversion of the actual building into affordable housing. The property is owned by AF Homes LLC and under agreement with Dakota Partners, with Dakota planning to close on the property by early next year. This is Dakota’s first project in Rhode Island.

As an affordable housing project, units will be restricted to people making at or below a certain income, and/or rent-restricted. Rent is expected to be in the $800-$900 range for a one-bedroom, and $900-$1,000 for a two-bedroom unit, with heat and hot water included. The project will be required to meet HUD’s Section 8 Housing requirements.

A second-story bridge connecting 90 Industrial Circle to the building behind it will be taken down, while a shared loading dock will be removed and replaced with green space. The building is currently completely vacant, last used as commercial/light industrial space, and has fallen into disrepair.

Two individuals spoke out with concerns about the property’s current state at Tuesday’s meeting, including Bill McManus of Rockridge Road, who said, “the renderings of this plan look very nice, but the physical condition of the property has been a serious issue for many years. It’s a dumping ground for people to dispose unwanted trash, box springs and mattresses, TVs … it’s a health hazard.”

McManus asked that the board recommend that prior to any consideration of approval, the area be cleared of trash, mattresses and furniture.

“As a zoning board we can’t do that,” DeAngelis said, adding that he would ask someone from the town to look into the situation.

Jean Birchell of Smithfield Avenue, where properties back up to the mill, echoed the concerns of McManus.

“If you stop at the light at Walker Street you can see the mattresses – there’s 18 of them in all,” she said.

Zoning official Russell Hervieux said AF Homes LLC has been cited several times for the state of the property, “sometimes successful, sometimes not. The town is addressing this as we speak.”

The board voted to move the project forward, granting parking relief at 1.67 spaces per unit.