Newport This Week

Middletown Approves Next Step Toward Housing Development

The Middletown Planning Board unanimously approved the primary plan submitted by Mesolella Development Corp. on Aug. 31 for a multi-use commercial and residential complex at 1747 West Main Road, paving the way for a vote on final plan approval slated for the next regular meeting.

Known as Rosebrook Commons, the proposal by the Providence based developer seeks to utilize the town’s comprehensive permit ordinance for low-tomoderate income housing, which transfers approval authority for major new developments to the Planning Board instead of the Zoning Board of Review.

The proposal is to complete the construction of two of eight buildings fronting West Main Road in the first phase, which will include 64 residential units, 23,000 square feet of commercial space and 2,000 square feet of office space. The final six buildings to be built in phase two will house the remaining 80 units, which all told will include one-, two-, and three-bedroom rental apartments.

Owner and principal Derek Mesolella said the firm is in the process of applying to Rhode Island Housing to be included in the annual Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program for 2023, which awards 9 percent tax credits to support construction costs of private development of housing stock in the state. The company applied, but did not receive tax credits in the previous round, said Mesolella.

Mesolella said phase one will include 51 affordable housing units, whose tenants will receive some level of rent-control according to the brackets of area median income based on federal guidelines. He said they are planning to reserve approximately 30 percent of the total units toward affordable housing, with the remainder rented at market rate.

The 16-acre site was previously used as a storage facility for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and is under an environmental land use restriction by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. It is one of multiple reasons, in addition to potential increased traffic congestion and stormwater runoff, that have been cited by residents and some board members concerned about the size and scope of the project.

The restriction does not prevent development on the site, said Me- solella attorney David Martland, but only mandates a remedial action work plan be negotiated between the developers and RIDEM, followed by approval of a long-term management plan to be overseen by the owners.

Victoria Howland, senior civil engineer at Pare Corp., said the team has tried to address these concerns. The application included a multi-faceted stormwater management and drainage system in its engineering plans.

“We listened, we heard,” she said, adding the engineering submissions have been reviewed by RIDEM, as well as both Middletown’s staff and a third-party engineer.

Traffic impact continues to be a concern. The plan calls for 333 parking spaces. A report commissioned by housing consultant Joseph Lombardo states the development could eventually house 263 people.

“If anybody from this new development wants to make a left turn out of this development without a [traffic] light, they’d better pack a lunch,” said board member Art Weber. “And the reverse [will happen] in the afternoon.”

Mesolella said the further along in the approval process the project was, the more likely they would receive the tax credits to finance the development. The rising cost of labor and material has put the company in a precarious timeline, he said.

“Total development cost is the most highly rated aspect of that application,” he said. “If you are exorbitantly expensive, it is very unlikely you will be awarded credits or considered for credits.”

Another issue frequently mentioned is whether the proposed housing will be occupied by Middletown residents. State and federal law bars any discrimination in the tenant application process, including geographic considerations.

“You can’t discriminate on the basis that someone lives off the island versus somebody who lives in Middletown,” said town solicitor Peter Regan.

Mesolella said that, in his experience, “Many times, the bulk of the applicants are local.”

Asked about a construction timeline, Mesolella said phase one would be contingent on tax credits. The two new buildings could be completed in 14 to 18 months from the start date.

“If we don’t get them this year, put the schedule out 16 to 18 months [into] next year,” he said.

In arguing for approval, Martland said, “This is a critical need for folks that want to stay here, [and] folks that want to come back and support the local economy.”

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