The original 21-unit, then 16-unit, then 13-unit Coggeshall Farm project was opposed by both neighbors and the town
It’s been four years since developer Tom Primeau first proposed 21 units at 62 South Pierce Road at Cora Street, a development he named Coggeshall Farm. The town Planning Board said 8 units was more appropriate and in 2019 ruled against Primeau’s plan, which had been decreased first to 16 units and then to 13. Litigation ensued. On Monday night, Town Solicitor Andy Teitz announced the town and Primeau have agreed to accept 8 units at the site.
Now Primeau will return to the Planning Board to seek plan approval, with issues like traffic and drainage still to be considered. “So, it’s not a done deal,” Teitz said. But the applicant can return to the Planning Board with a unit count that is much more acceptable to both the town and, importantly, the neighbors.
Those neighbors had fought the size of the development for the start, arguing that their smaller homes would be dwarfed by the duplexes and triplexes originally proposed. And, too, the neighbors and the Historic District Commission had wanted Primeau to salvage the farmhouse, which dates back to 1705, representing one of the oldest buildings in town. In recent years, however, it had fallen into significant disrepair.
Regarding the farmhouse, the agreement says “essential exterior elements will be preserved,” which means any exterior components need to match what was there previously but can be new. The chimney, alternatively, will be taken down and rebuilt. In addition, non-original additions to the structure can be demolished. The plan for the interior of the building (which is not protected) is a complete renovation, making it into two housing units.
The Historic District Commission can review and make recommendations about the farmhouse exterior but it would not have any power beyond that.
“I’m disappointed that we were not able to save the house, but it is a success for the neighborhood in another sense. We won’t have these huge behemoth condos being built in our little neighborhood,” said Mallory Walsh, who lives nearby. Walsh was one of a number of neighbors who attended multiple lengthy Planning Board meetings about the project.
Walsh and others had hoped to completely save and restore the old farmhouse. Primeau had argued it was beyond saving.
The property had been owned by the McKenna family for decades. They ran an informal dump there in the wetlands that take up a good part of the 5.4-acre property. Getting DEM approvals is one of the hurdles Primeau still faces. The property is one of the largest parcels of land in that section of East Greenwich. Walsh said that’s one of the aspects of the project she laments.
“We don’t have a lot of open space here,” she said. “It was nice to walk past it in the morning and see the deer. And we have tons of birds in this area.”
But Walsh said she wasn’t against change per se. “It is something that we as a neighborhood can live with as long as [Primeau] follows through. We want to make sure we keep him honest.”
One side benefit to all of this for Walsh is the recognition the project really brought the neighborhood together.
“It’s nice to see how we were able to pull together. I was amazed at the knowledge and the interest of the people in this neighborhood,” she said. “We did enjoy getting together with each other. We say hi more now.”
For Primeau, now the plan gets to move forward again. And while he had hoped for a lot more units, he said maybe the settlement is a boon in disguise.
“Sure,” he said, “look at the real estate in town and single family is actually more desirable than multi-family right now.”
That said, he expressed frustration with how he was treated in East Greenwich.
“Every approval that I always try is always a fight,” he said. “Every one of them has required a fight.”
Read earlier stories here:
Town to Appeal So. Pierce Road Development
Planning Board Votes Down 13-Unit South Pierce Road Proposal
Density, Historic House Still Problems for So. Pierce Condo Plan
Planning Board Weighs 16-Unit South Pierce Proposal