JAMESTOWN — The former Bank of America site on Narragansett Avenue soon could be home to a three-story, mixed-use residential and business space if the developers receive approval from the Zoning Board of Review for certain aspects of the design.
“This is probably one of the most significant matters that has come before the Zoning Board in the 20 years since I’ve been here,” Chair Richard Boren said at the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 23.
Attorney John Mancini represented the landowner, We Dig Investments LLC, a development holding company for Smithfield-based home builder DiGregorio Corporation, at that Tuesday meeting. He agreed to push discussion over the item to the next regular meeting on Dec. 14 so the board could review the proposal with more depth alongside a third-party architect.
“Especially having heard from the chairman as to the significance of the matter, I want to make sure the board has all the information that it deems necessary,” Mancini said at the meeting. He later joked, “I like to hear I’m bringing a significant matter to you.”
The proposal before the board received conditional development plan approval from the Jamestown Planning Commission on Oct. 20 for a one-building development with three commercial spaces on the ground floor and three two-bedroom, townhouse-style residential units comprising the second and third floors.
Prior to approving the plan outright, the commission required the developers request zoning variance relief from the Zoning Board, which has final say over the approval of special-use permits and variances in zoning in specific cases.
Since the property is in Jamestown’s Village Special Development District, specifically in the Commercial Downtown (“CD”) zoning district, the developers have to acquire permission for the parts of the design that don’t conform to the area’s restrictions on building construction.
Currently, the zoning code does not allow buildings taller than 35 feet (the proposed structure is 40.91 feet), nor does it permit buildings with more than two stories. In addition to asking for relief on height, the applicant’s proposal also does not meet the zoning code’s requirement for a multi-family dwellings in the area. That would require a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet, where the plat in question only has 10,254 square feet.
After the current developers purchased the property in July for $625,000 and demolished the Bank of America building, which had been vacant since 2011, the group had few plans with what to do with the real estate, according to an interview corporation president Enrico DiGregio conducted with the Jamestown Press in September 2020. The original idea was to convert the property into an office space.
In May, the DiGregorio Corporation team submitted four plans to the town’s Planning Commission that underwent a peer-review process where third-party architect Donald Powers evaluated the designs alongside the commission to give a more expert view on the proposals.
Part of the reason the discussion over this development was tabled to December was the Zoning Board members wanted Powers present to help answer questions they may have. The main concern is the building’s location, since Narragansett Avenue is one of Jamestown’s main thoroughfares.
In addition to requiring variance approval for the proposed building’s dimensions, the Planning Commission added 12 other conditions the developers have to meet. Two of these conditions relate to stormwater management, as the extra height of the building could lead to water pooling or icy conditions if not properly managed, according to the Planning Commission’s memorandum on the proposal.
In the findings listed as a part of this memorandum, the commission notes the town has made “several statements over the last decade regarding building height on the island,” and amended the code so that buildings in special flood hazard areas could not increase beyond the 35-foot maximum based on base flood elevation.
Another condition the commission set for approval was to prevent the residential spaces from being used as short-term rentals by prohibiting rental periods of less than 30 days. The Planning Commission presented a draft ordinance to the Town Council earlier this year to establish a short-term rental registry with a $350 fee and regular inspections, among other limits on usage.
The proposed ordinance has yet to receive approval, as the subcommittee is still drafting the final ordinance and recommendations, according to Council Vice President Mary Meagher’s update at the Nov. 15 Town Council meeting.
If the zoning board approves the development’s zoning code variance requests, the plans will go back to the Planning Commission, which will then decide on whether to approve the final development plan.