Tensions rise over parking problems at High Rocks condos

Tensions rise over parking problems at High Rocks condos

Residents at the High Rocks Condominiums complex fear a proposed addition will worsen parking problems that have long been a source of tension between unit owners and the developer.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Last year, a dispute over parking between residents at the High Rocks Condominiums and the company that developed the complex from the former Tupperware Mill drew the town’s attention to the project, which is nearing completion after 13 years of construction.

Since then, town officials have enforced a previously unmet requirement that at least 10 percent of the units be designated as “affordable housing,” prompting the company to return to the Planning Board for approval of a final addition last Thursday, July 11. At the same time, residents are asking the town to ensure their needs are met before allowing the company to move forward with any activity on the property, saying the parking problems are only going to get worse.

According to Armen Harootian, one of the principals of the Blackstone-Smithfield Corporation that initially developed the property and owner of High Rocks II, a new LLC that now oversees the project, the issue stems from the gradual buildout of the former mill building over time. When the project was initially approved in 2006, the plans stipulated two parking spaces for each of the 120 residential units, with some of those spaces numbered and assigned to individual unit owners. Today, a residential sub-association oversees 128 units, and Harootian said the property has at least 256 parking spaces to suit the needs of those residents.

“Each unit when it was sold was given one parking space. It came with the unit. If they wanted another parking space, they had to purchase it. Some did, and some didn’t,” he said.

As the complex filled up over time, spaces that were previously used by visitors were sold off to individuals units and the lots on the property became crowded. At one point, Harootian offered to sell 25 parking spaces at $1,000 apiece to the sub-association to be designated for visitor parking, an offer that was rejected, according to both Harootian and representatives of the sub-association. The spots were then numbered and sold to individual units, exacerbating the already tight parking situation.

Harootian said his decision to charge for visitor parking was an effort to recoup revenue lost during the housing crash of 2008. The spaces, he added, were costly to develop, running between $6,000 and $7,000 due to a large deposit of granite of the property.

“When you spend the kind of money that we did to create all those parking spaces, we couldn’t give them away,” he said.

Members of the residential sub-association see the issue differently. Michael Debroisse, a member of the sub-association board, pointed out the original plans approved in 2006 included parking that was not designated for individual units and said residents felt they should have a place to park their visitors without having to purchase additional spaces.

“When you have visitors that come in that don’t know where to park, they’ll park in somebody else’s spot, and people get upset with that,” he said.

The complex, he said, has long felt isolated from the rest of North Smithfield, which is physically cut off from the property by the Blackstone River. Residents pay sewer and water fees to the town of Blackstone and access the property by Butler Street but pay property taxes to North Smithfield and send their children to North Smithfield schools. The association, he said, was glad to see town officials looking into the concerns of residents who’ve long felt forgotten by the town.

“If you look at it, we are on an island by ourselves out there,” he said.

In addition to the parking, Debroisse said residents have concerns about a new building proposed by the developer to comply with the affordable housing requirement. The new building will include 14 units on the eastern edge of the property between Butler Street and the canal that separates the complex from the Boys and Girls Club. In addition to the 14-unit building, the company plans to build a second, 16-unit building on the Blackstone side of the property, a project that would shrink the property’s already tight parking and pedestrian space.

“We just hate to be choked in such a tight area. We’re used to having it as open space,” he said.

Members of the Planning Board told residents they plan to look into the number of spaces and residential units on the property before granting approval to move forward with the 14-unit building. Though members said they couldn’t negotiate the division of spaces between the developer and individuals units, they opted to postpone consideration of the new building proposal until August to give the board more time to look into the original requirements for the project.

“We understand there’s an issue with the parking. We hear you loud and clear,” member David Punchak told residents during the meeting last July 11.

Harootian told The Breeze he’s disappointed with the dispute after spending several decades of his career developing the property. Now 80, he plans to retire soon and hopes to find another developer to complete the remainder of the project.

“It’s not the way I wanted to end my career, but it is what it is, I’ll get through it,” he said.