High Rocks, town reach agreement on affordable units

High Rocks, town reach agreement on affordable units

The developers of High Rocks Condominiums and the town have reached an agreement on a 38-unit expansion that would add to the town’s affordable housing stock. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – One year after the town demanded answers from the developers of the High Rocks Condominiums as to why promised affordable units were never built, the two sides have reached an agreement on a path forward for the building.

Last Thursday, Feb. 6, the Planning Board approved a plan to add 38 residential units to an area of the building once used as commercial space. Eighteen of the 38 units will be designated as affordable, meeting a requirement that at least 10 percent of the units in the housing complex are affordable.

The plan replaced a previous proposal to add a standalone, 14-unit building on the property to comply with the affordable housing requirement.

The issue was first raised in 2018 when a dispute between the homeowners’ association and developer over parking brought the town’s attention to the nearly finished project. When the mill conversion project was first approved in 2006, the company agreed to sell at least 10 percent of the units, or 12 of the original 120, as affordable. A decade later, those affordable units never materialized, a situation company representatives said was due to the housing market crash of 2008.

In the fall of 2018, the town froze the company’s progress on the project, refusing to issue certificates of occupancy for three units that had already been sold to buyers until they resolved the issue of affordable units.

Last week, the company agreed to place $40,000 for each of the 12 original promised affordable units in escrow until they’re completed, offering financial surety in exchange for the certificates of occupancy.

“I see a path forward,” said Town Planner Tom Kravitz, who negotiated the agreement with the developer. “I’m trying to work with them, they’re trying to work with us.”

Some Planning Board members were still skeptical of the unique arrangement, pointing out the company had not made good on their promises to build affordable units in the past.

“Based on the history of this property, this project, I don’t feel comfortable releasing anything to this applicant because they still owe us 12 affordable units,” said Jeffrey Porter.

State law mandates that communities set a goal of having 10 percent of the housing in their communities affordable. North Smithfield does not currently meet that goal, so town officials often require housing projects to include 10 percent affordable units.

The proposal drew opposition from the building’s residential sub-association, who’ve raised various concerns with the project over the past year. In addition to parking, residents have claimed the developer does not have the authority to construct additional units in the building, as any new projects should be approved by a master property owners’ association.

Last week, Mike Milas, a lawyer for the homeowners, told the board they planned to challenge the company’s right to build the project.

“We do plan to challenge this at Zoning and through Planning if necessary,” he said.

In spite of the allegations, Town Solicitor David Igliozzi told the board the ownership dispute would have to be resolved in state court and they should only rule on the application at hand.

Board members ultimately voted 5-0 to advance the project to the next stage of application, resolving a question that has dragged on for more than a year. Homeowners, meanwhile, continued to raise concerns and said they plan to pursue the issue through other legal means.