Hope Mill, originally built in the 1800s, in its current condition. Paramount Development Group is proposing a 193-unit residential development, adding two more buildings behind the main building, pictured above. (Breeze photo by Jackie Roman)
SCITUATE – Dennis Charland, Scituate Zoning Board of Review vice chairman, opened last Tuesday’s public hearing on the Paramount Development Group’s requested variances and special use permit with the statement that the company’s plan for the Hope Mill “will have a dramatic impact on the future of Hope.”
The mill on Main Street was originally built in the 1800s and at one time fueled the local economy, but in the years following mass production and globalization, it was slowly boarded up and then vacated in 2006.
The mill sits in the heart of Scituate, both geographically and culturally.
Paramount is requesting a special use permit to have a 193-unit multi-family residential development on the 32-acre property.
That request comes along with consideration of several building components that do not align with Scituate’s zoning ordinance, including:
• Building heights exceeding the maximum 36 feet.
• Less than the required two parking spaces per dwelling unit.
• A sewage disposal system less than the required 150 feet from the edge of any water body.
At the Aug. 1 public hearing, residents expressed concerns about the variances – specifically if the height of the building would make it difficult for residents to get out in case of fire, if the lack of parking would crowd neighboring streets, and if the septic system would stand in case of flooding.
Addressing the issue of fire safety, Hope Jackson Fire Company Chief John Robinson said that development’s proposed sprinkler system and fire protection features “would exceed some of those code standards” and give “people plenty of time to get out of a building.”
Representatives from DiPrete Engineering, assisting with the project, said that the septic system was already approved by the Department of Environmental Management and will be inspected regularly.
The project’s architect also announced possibilities for additional parking, bringing the total to 273 spaces.
Also addressed was the public’s concern about what “affordable housing” actually means, in definition and implementation.
Approximately 40 percent of the total units would be reserved for affordable housing, a number that would bring Scituate closer to compliance with The Rhode Island Comprehensive Housing Production and Rehabilitation Act of 2004 and Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. Those laws require that 10 percent of a municipality’s housing be “affordable.”
A total of 29 communities are covered by the act, with 10 exempt due to their current percentage of affordable housing inventory or rental housing.
Several communities have made adequate progress in reaching the 10 percent requirement, but Scituate is one of five communities that has made zero progress, according to the last available statistics from 2010.
Because of the misconceptions associated with the term “affordable housing,” Rhode Island Housing Executive Director Barbara Fields said she prefers to say “housing at all price points.”
According to Rhode Island General Law and Rhode Island Housing’s 2016 report, rental housing is considered affordable if rent, heat, and utilities constitute no more than 30 percent of the annual household income for a household making 80 percent or less of the area median income.
The U.S Census estimates that the median household income in Scituate is upwards of $90,000. So who makes 80 percent or less of $90,000?
Fields said it could be the local paralegal, firefighter, nurse, or teacher. Neighbors, friends, and family – not necessarily strangers.
“We all know someone who would qualify,” Fields said.
Scituate’s growing senior population could also take advantage of the Hope Mill housing, according to officials.
The Rhode Island Housing 2016 report states that low-income elderly households rose from 46 percent to 66 percent between 2000 and 2012. At the same time, the number of available affordable housing units in Rhode Island is shrinking.
Co-founder of the Paramount Development Group, Richard DeRosas, said his proposed residential development will not only increase Scituate’s affordability, but also save the historic Hope Mill.
“No one has stepped up to save this mill except myself,” DeRosas said.
Working in conjunction with the National Park Service and Hope Historical Society, DeRosas said he hopes to have the property placed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the Hope Village Historic District is listed on the national register, the Hope Mill itself is not.
“We’ll be very proud of that,” DeRosas said.
The zoning board will reconvene at the Scituate High School Auditorium on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. to issue their decision on Paramount’s applications.
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