Board approves revised plan for Fuller Mill

Board approves revised plan for Fuller Mill

The Fuller Mill as it appears from across the Blackstone River. To the left is Tolman High School.

PAWTUCKET – The City Planning Commission last month approved a revised plan for the revitalization of the historic Fuller Mill, at 145 Exchange St.

Attorney Michael Horan, at the January meeting, gave a brief overview on the status of the project, noting that plans have been revised to increase the residential unit count from 18 to 22 and eliminate a structured parking deck that would have been accessed from Exchange Court.

Horan submitted the Zoning Board decision for the record as well as an analysis of parking impact produced by Woodard & Curran.

Applicant Scott Davis, of Fuller Mill Realty LLC, said the structured parking deck became untenable from an engineering and cost standpoint. With this parking change, he said, he is also shifting the potential tenant demographic group from more “empty nesters” to young professionals.

The Fuller Mill is located across from Tolman High School on Exchange Street, on the riverfront and across from Pawtucket City Hall.

At last month’s meeting, architect Christian Ladds reviewed details of the current site plan, floor plans and elevations with commission members, who had some questions on access and circulation.

Ladds indicated that all units could be accessed from Exchange Street with interior staircases. He confirmed there are no interior elevators, but units facing the rear courtyard may be accessed individually and by a ramp to meet accessibility requirements.

Ladds also confirmed that two courtyard parking spaces are intended for short-term pick-up and drop-off. He described exterior improvements to include painted clapboard, slate roof repair, historically sensitive windows, and probable use of Hardie board at lower portions of the façade to reduce the level of regular maintenance required.

All exterior modifications require final approval by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.

Barbara Binder, of the Riverfront Lofts Condominium Association nearby, stated general support for the reuse of the historic mill structure, according to minutes from the meeting.

The primary concerns of the association are congestion that occurs on Exchange Court, potential waste pickup on Exchange Court, the location of a ground-mounted transformer on the public sidewalk, ongoing water runoff onto the Riverfront Lofts structure causing damage, frequency of deliveries on Exchange Court, and coordination during construction.

Binder stated there are reasonable design solutions to address these concerns. She emphasized that the Exchange Court right-of-way should not be narrowed because a bottleneck already occurs and should not be made worse.

Aaron McGovern stated that his Riverfront Lofts condo unit is the closest in proximity to the Fuller Mill structure. He indicated concern about the location of the electric utility approximately 15 feet from his unit.

McGovern generally supported the redevelopment of the mill if issues are addressed moving forward.

Joan Hausrath, of the Riverfront Lofts, agreed that street parking and deliveries on Exchange Court are an ongoing issue that would further deteriorate if Exchange Court is reduced in width. She noted that Exchange Court does become private property and, therefore, illegal parking and/or deliveries become an enforcement burden if not addressed by the Fuller Mill property owner.

David Katson, also of Riverfront Lofts, stated that parking demand in the immediate area is high during school hours and when large events occur at the Pawtucket Armory. He was not satisfied that the Fuller Mill project includes enough parking for future tenants.

Others also expressed concerns about parking and mail deliveries.

Rae Davis, of Fuller Mill Realty, stated she has had conversations with the post office about mail. Floor plans include a mail room at the ground level facing Exchange Street so the intended access point is Exchange Street and not the more congested Exchange Court.

Morris Nathanson, of the Design Exchange next door, said illegal parking occurs frequently within the surface parking area associated with his building located at 163 Exchange St. He suggested that an enforcement or preventative solution can be found, but should not be the burden of surrounding property owners alone.

Nathanson requested that representatives from Fuller Mill Realty commit to meeting with surrounding property owners to reduce parking challenges moving forward.

Acting Chairwoman Monique Renaud requested that Assistant Planning Director Jay Rosa review the findings of the Technical Review Committee. Rosa said staff of various city departments are supportive of the project, including design revisions that remove the proposed parking deck. The reuse of this historic structure is highly consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, he said, and the design is high quality as a result of significant input from the state historic office.

Rosa agreed that tenant parking may be absorbed by the surrounding “urban network,” but all effort should be made to maintain the functionality of Exchange Court.

He specifically noted design improvements supported by staff, including the relocation of trash and utility infrastructure off the Exchange Court public right-of-way, revising the Exchange Court sidewalk design to limit and reduce the Exchange Court street width, expanded landscaping and fencing details and mitigating water runoff onto adjacent properties through improved downspout and/or roof pitch design. Staff members recommended approval of the proposed redevelopment of Fuller Mill, subject to various conditions.

The Breeze first began reporting on plans for the Fuller Mill back in 2017. The project at that time was slated to kick into high gear within months. The project, expected to cost more than $7 million, involves the conversion of the 1880s George H. Fuller & Son Co. Mill into a modern mix of high-end apartments. The mill, at 151 Exchange St., was once a hub for making parts for jewelry, including clasps and hooks.