WESTERLY — The town planner, members of the Planning Board, and residents are raising concerns about the size and scope of a project planned for the former St. Pius X School property on Elm Street. Some board members, though, said they were glad the plans called for reuse of an old building and that the project includes an affordable housing component.

The concerns were raised during a Planning Board meeting Tuesday. The board conducted a more than 90-minute-long pre-application review of plans filed on behalf of Trendsetter Properties LLC, a Watch Hill-based company that purchased the former school and surrounding 2.64 acres in May. The company is proposing a three-lot subdivision with two multi-family residential buildings, including use of the former school for apartments on one lot. A second lot would support one single-family home, and a third lot would support one two-family home at 32 Elm. During the meeting, William Nardone, the lawyer representing Trendsetters LLC, said the company planned to sell the two proposed house lots if the subdivision is approved and did not plan to build the houses.

The pre-application review stage of the Planning Board’s review process is a preliminary step intended to give developers direction and input. One planning board member praised the company for developing plans to reuse an existing building, but raised concerns about “building mass.” Another member said the project would provide much-needed affordable housing. The company has applied to the board for project approval under the state’s Comprehensive Permit process, which allows developers to bypass local density requirements if they commit to providing a percentage of low- and moderate-income units.

The former school building would be converted into 14 two-bedroom units and three one-bedroom units. The new 3-story building would be constructed as the second phase of the project and is proposed to accommodate a maximum of 31 bedrooms. Twenty-five percent of the 45 units on the property would be reserved for moderate-income families, amounting to a total of 11 units.

“It doesn’t fit in at all. It’s too big, too tall,” said board member Richard Constantine. He was referring to the proposed three-story apartment building.

Town Planner Nancy Letendre also questioned the size of the new apartment building. She also suggested the board and developer focus on the affordable housing aspect of the plan.

“The Comprehensive Permit is intended to generate low and moderate housing … that  has to take precedent over other matters. So as we talk about need and who these will be designed for, we really should be thinking about who the tenants are going to be,” Letendre said.

Nine residents addressed the board to raise concerns about the project. Many of the residents, including Gina Morrone Patterson, discussed the historic character of the Elm Street neighborhood. “You can’t discount the historic relevance of Elm Street. This is a massive disruption to the aesthetic,” Morrone Patterson said.

Paul Uricchio, an Elm Street resident who moved to town in 2020, said he became worried when he first heard about the project.

“I wondered how badly it would deter from the ambiance of the street …. After looking at the size of the building and the number of apartments my fears have come true,” Uricchio said.

The residents also said they were concerned the project would cause traffic congestion and add to storm water drainage problems in the area.

Andrew Delisio, a member of the board, said the Comprehensive Permit process is the most likely way of accomplishing a mandate in state law — that 10% of every municipality’s housing stock qualify as affordable.

“We do have a genuine need for affordable housing. The legislature has made some effort to make it more appealing for developers who are probably only going to do it with incentives. I think this is a really good area for affordable housing,” Delisio said, noting the Elms Retirement facility is nearby and that the Windsor condominium development is across School Street from the former school.

Nardone said his clients listened to the input and were aware of the concerns.

“We are cognizant of the comments made by the town planner and opinions expressed by members of the board. It isn’t the use of the property so much as the physical size or massing, so maybe those units need to be packaged in a different way,” Nardone said.

Nardone also noted that his clients have proposed uses of their property that are allowed under the town’s zoning regulations.

The developer will be required to submit more detailed plans if the company goes through with the next two rounds of Planning Board review. Each of those reviews would include additional time for public comments. The Comprehensive Permit omits the typical, additional reviews performed by the Zoning Board of Review.

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Plan for former St. Pius X School in Westerly draws mixed reviews at pre-application review – The Westerly Sun

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