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Condo plan scrutinized on all fronts
WARREN — The Planning Board last night wrapped up a public hearing on the proposal to redevelop the American Tourister complex, listening to what has become a familiar litany of concerns about its possible effects on downtown traffic, the municipal sewer system and the surrounding neighborhood.
It was the continuation of a Jan. 8 meeting that packed the council chamber in Town Hall and stretched late into the night as residents questioned representatives of Meredith Management Corp., the project developer, and critiqued its plan to transform the mill site on the Warren River into 350 condominiums with additional first-floor commercial space.
Again last night, townspeople focused on the scope of the project — potentially the largest in the East Bay — in asking why the town doesn’t bring in an outside consultant to take a comprehensive look at what is being proposed for the 16-acre site. Planning Board members have asked the same question, as have members of the town’s Voluntary Historic District Committee.
In addressing the board last night, Richard Valenti, a member of the committee, questioned what he called a “lockstep rush” to move the project through the planning process.
“It hardly provides time for … a close scrutiny,” he said.
He and others cautioned restraint. Resident Tom Padwa announced to the board that he had started a petition calling for the project to be rejected until it comes under further review.
However, the board seems to be in no rush to make a decision on approving a master plan for the project. They closed the hearing after a half-hour of public comment, and again had project engineers answer questions about the site and what is being planned there. Two hours later, they had given the developers a list of recommended changes to the plan and adjourned until Feb. 26.
Board members referred to some of the same concerns brought up during the public hearing, but questioned John Rosenthal, president of Meredith Management, and other members of his team in greater detail. They asked for exact dimensions of the buildings and plans for sewer hookups.
“The requirements are pretty strenuous,” said board member André Asselin.
The project would be completed in phases. The first part of the plan calls for dividing the main Tourister building into 200 condominiums. The remaining 150 units would be in townhouses and larger buildings on the southern end of the property. A warehouse that currently stands there would be torn down.
Along with the residential units, the project also includes 40,000 square feet of commercial space and 240,000 square feet of open space.
Other features include restaurant and retail space on Water Street, affordable live/work space for artists, a 1,400-foot waterfront walkway open to the public, and pedestrian and bike paths connecting the waterfront walkway and the East Bay Bike Path to the Warren Town Wharf.
Perhaps most troubling for the developers last night was a letter read by Asselin from the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission that voiced objections to the proposed addition of two floors to the main Tourister building and the demolition of several buildings on the site. The letter also questioned the designs of the new buildings that would go up on the south portion of the property.
It concluded by saying the state commission could not recommend approval for the project as proposed.
Although the commission is not a permitting authority for the project, it is working on an advisory basis with the Coastal Resources Management Council, which does have approval power over the project.
“We’re going to address as many of their concerns as we can,” said Anthony DeSisto, attorney for Meredith Management.
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