WARREN, R.I. — For nearly two hours on Monday night, Warren residents testified in front of the town’s planning commission against a proposed mixed-use development project that would create affordable housing units but would force the demolition of two properties in the historic district.
The project, located at 119 Water St., will require that two buildings be razed: one home at 113 Water St. and an existing mixed-use building at 119 Water St., which was built in 1850 and currently houses clothing boutique Beleza Shoppe.
The proposal includes a new, standalone 4,530-square-foot, four-story mixed-use building that would include 17 residential units and one commercial unit on the ground floor. In documents sent to the Warren Planning Commission, the development’s 17 units would include 14 one-bedroom apartments and three, two-bedroom units. Some units will include small balconies.
At least 25 percent of the units — meaning a minimum of five units — will be “low- to moderate-” income housing. Representatives for the project said it’s expected that 15 of the 17 units will be considered “affordable.”
The buildings are owned by Daniel Teodoro, who also owns neighboring Waterdog Kitchen & Bar. Teodoro did not respond to the Globe for comment or to give additional information on the affordability of these units.
Zoning law would require the project to include 39 parking spaces; 26 spaces for the 17 units and 13 spaces for the commercial space. Yet, Teodoro is seeking a dimensional variance as the proposed development includes a 24-space parking lot.
During a public comment period, some residents argued the property’s future dwellers will still need a place to park, that the building could increase the amount of traffic in the area, and others said the development does not fit into the “character” of the neighborhood.
John C. Healey, who has lived in Warren all his life, said he looked at the flyer he received about the proposed development “and thought it was a joke.”
“I’m totally against... the height of the building,” said Healey. “There’s too much development and not enough parking on Water Street... And we continue to make it worse.”
Steven Thompson, a former member of the planning commission and former city councilor, said the height variance is “excessive” and that the members should be consistent with previous rulings.
The proposed project will be up for review again at the next commission meeting on Oct. 24.
Others who testified expressed outrage that the proposed development would raze two buildings in town’s historic district. Eileen Collins, the president of the Warren Preservation Society’s board of directors, said the planning commission should not easily approve a historic building being razed.
“Asking for the demolition.... anywhere in the district is an issue that needs to be flushed out,” she said. Collins said the society is willing to hire a preservation expert to do a cost-analysis study before the structure is demolished. Planning chairman Frederick Massie said that is at the discretion of the owner.
Only the existing structure at 119 Water St. is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to an evaluation report by ZDS Inc., an architecture firm in Providence, and J2Construct Inc., a Middletown-based construction company, it would cost nearly $932,000 to repair the existing structure.
Teodoro received a field review of the existing property’s basement by Burrillville-based Structures Engineering and Design. In a letter to Teodoro from Structures principal Jeremy J. Page, the basement’s foundation walls and floor framing are in “poor condition.”
The proposal’s news comes as homelessness is on the rise in Rhode Island, which is being fueled by the lack of housing stock across all income levels.
Rhode Island state law requires that 10 percent of all year-round housing in every city and town be for low- and moderate-income housing. But Bob Rulli, director of Warren’s planning and community development, said as of 2021 only 4.23 percent of all housing in Warren is considered “affordable,” which is a decrease from 4.49 percent in 2020. Rulli said a group home closed, which is why the number of affordable units decreased.
“Police officers, teachers, EMS people... These are all people who fall into these categories who cannot afford to live in Warren,” Rulli said about how 80 percent of area median income in Warren is $79,690 annually, which is more than what many town employees earn.
The income needed to afford an average two-bedroom in Warren also increased by more than 17 percent in one year, from $65,280 to $78,920 in 2021.
Rulli said he testified in front of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Rhode Island Low- and Moderate-Income Housing Act on the issue in December 2021, but said “no one” has reached back out to see what Warren is doing to meet the state’s requirements on affordable housing.
“I don’t want to rely on the state of Rhode Island to help us work through this,” Rulli said about reaching the 10 percent minimum requirement. He said the town will complete its comprehensive plan on housing by November or December.
“This application (of the proposed Water Street development) is within the requirements of the state statue that exists,” Rulli added. And “this is not a Section 8 project.”
While some residents said they agree more affordable housing needs to be built in Warren, they oppose this project. Resident Roka Francis said the town should not approve this development “just to” work toward fulfilling its affordable housing needs.
“This is the beginning of the end... The end for the next time a house is ‘unfixable,’ a developer can come in and do something that is not part of the Water Street tradition,” said resident Leslie Hartwell.