Above: The Coggeshall Preserve development at 62 South Pierce Road, which got a positive ruling at the State Housing Appeals Board, would take down part of this historic house, keep the exterior but completely renovate the interior as part of the 13-unit condo proposal (this caption has been corrected since it was originally posted. Our apologies for the error.)

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Town Council voted 4-0 Monday night to appeal a ruling made by the State Housing Appeals Board that would allow a 13-unit housing development for South Pierce Road to proceed. Councilman Mike Zarrella recused himself, noting previous business dealings with the developer, Tom Primeau. The appeal will be heard in Superior Court.

The EG Planning Board denied the proposed development in March 2018, saying the lot was not designated by the town’s Comprehensive Plan as a site for such density. Neighbors of the property, in opposition, also came out in force throughout the entire Master Plan approval process, which included an unusually high six public hearings. 

A view of part of the proposed 13-unit Coggeshall Preserve development.

Primeau had originally sought to build 21 units in duplexes and triplexes on what’s known as the McKenna property South Pierce Road at Cora Street, in a neighborhood of largely modest, one-story houses. Over the course of the hearings, he dropped the number to 13 units but that was still well beyond the 3 plus 5 units deemed appropriate for the lot under residential zoning guidelines. The property without any variances would accommodate 3 housing units but the project could expect a “density bonus” of 5 additional units. Primeau proposed 4 of the 13 units would be affordable*.

The developer first came to the Planning Board in 2017, looking for a “comprehensive permit,” a fast-track option that a developer can seek when the project in question includes at least 25 percent affordable units, 15 percent more than the state mandate. The idea is to encourage developers to build more affordable housing in communities that have not yet reached a total housing stock of 10 percent affordable (EG has just shy of 5 percent affordable housing stock).

A comprehensive permit process allows a project to bypass the Zoning Board and the Town Council (and, in this case, the Historic District Commission because of an historic, if very dilapidated, house on the property), with final approval resting with the Planning Board alone. Primeau’s appeal went to SHAB, which is known for supporting affordable housing above all else. While SHAB appeals are usually ruled in favor of the developer, then Planning Board Chair Mike Donegan (who now sits on the Town Council) said at the time, “We feel like we followed the law…. We think that we considered all the statutory and local requirements and presented a decision that follows all of that.”

On Tuesday, Council President Mark Schwager echoed that sentiment. 

“In general, the council felt our denial of the master plan had merit, he said. “It was worth clarifying some of those issues in Superior Court.” 

About a dozen residents of the South Pierce Road neighborhood attended the Town Council meeting Monday even though their topic was only going to be discussed in executive (i.e. closed) session. 

“Our neighborhood is delighted that the town is challenging the decision,” said Mallory Walsh, one of the neighbors, after the Town Council reconvened in open session to announce its vote on the matter. “The Planning Department and the board made a reasoned decision, and we’re sure the court will agree.”

Primeau, after the ruling in March 2018, accused the neighbors of being not-in-my-backyard types. Walsh Tuesday said that wasn’t the case.

“We expected and were unphased by the thought of a number of houses going up, or even the possibility of a McMansion,” she said, referring to the upwards of 100 residents who have been in contact about the future of the property. “It’s the scale of what Tom Primeau is proposing that throws us. The buildings would be massive in comparison to our houses, and three would be clustered at the corner in front of the farmhouse for a total of four multi-family structures, with another at the far end of the property.”

EG News was unable to reach Primeau for a comment.

*By state law, municipalities are supposed to have 10 percent of their housing stock in the affordable category. East Greenwich’s affordable percentage is 4.6 percent. To reach 10 percent, East Greenwich would need to add 290 units, according to HousingWorksRI. (Affordable housing is not the same as low- to moderate-income housing. Rather, for home ownership, it is calculated to serve people who make less than 120 percent of the median income for, in this case, Kent County.) The state created the Comprehensive Permit application to help fast-track developments that include affordable housing units since so many communities fall short of the 10 percent goal.

Read more about this here:

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

If you like what you’re reading on East Greenwich News, please consider becoming a sustaining member or making a one-time donation – we’re a 501(c)(3)!. We are building to sustainability but we are not there yet – you can make a difference! Use the Donate button below or send a check to EG News, 18 Prospect Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818. Thank you!