LINCOLN — The developer behind the so-called Walker Lofts development has cleared the latest hurdle on the path to reconstructing a mill complex in Saylesville into apartments.

The Planning Board gave the mill conversion project the go-ahead on Oct. 27.

The plans submitted by Walker Lofts LP call for a total of 126 apartment units spread across four historic textile manufacturing buildings off Walker Street. Two buildings will be razed to make way for tenant parking and a new courtyard.

The developer has been working for several years behind the scenes to hammer out the details of the project. The site is complex, having been built up slowly over 50 years starting in the mid-1800s.

Town Planner Al Ranaldi said the applicant “has been working diligently” to address any issues raised by the town. Two outstanding concerns during last Wednesday’s meeting included:

  • A waiver requested for asphalt sidewalks over concrete sidewalks. Since the state is scheduled to redo Walker Street in the future, Ranaldi recommended the developer stick with the Department of Transportation standard of concrete.
  • An existing memorial on the fence outside the complex, which would need to be dismantled to replace the fence. Ranaldi said he spoke to the applicant directly, and that there would be no issue with restoring the memorial after the fence is updated.

There are several conditions to the Planning Board’s approval, including:

  • Sidewalks will be removed along Walker and replaced with new 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalks. Moshassuck Road will be slightly reorientated, leveled and overlayed with new pavement.
  • Existing fencing along Walker will be replaced with something similar to the wrought-iron fence in front of the original mill.
  • The developer must designate 32 units (25 percent of the total) as affordable, in accordance with Rhode Island Housing standards.

If any unidentified public infrastructure is discovered during construction, the town will be allowed to evaluate it and determine whether it’s obsolete.

“It’s an old mill building, so nobody really knows what’s under those buildings until they start opening things up,” Ranaldi said.

The plans call for 98 one-bedroom units, 22 two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units. The affordable units will be mixed in throughout the several buildings.

An attorney for the developer said the apartments will be made in more than a dozen different layouts, thanks to the complicated floor plans of the historic buildings.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, only one resident spoke. David Hart said the redevelopment would be a “godsend,” and that the town has been “lucky that there haven’t been any suspicious fires there” to date.

Planning Board member Jeff Almond agreed, and said there was actually a fire there not too long ago. There’s still an arson watch sign on the property, he said.

“We were fortunate the fire didn’t go anywhere, but it’s very important to get these former mills back into full use, so we don’t have these vacant spots for these things to happen.”

“By approving this, you’d make a huge enhancement,” Hart said. “There aren’t too many mills left in this town that can be turned into housing.”

The project was approved unanimously, with final plan approval delegated to the administrative officer.

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