Board nixes variance for North Newport senior housing project

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 05-19-2024 5:00 PM

NEWPORT — The Zoning Board of Adjustment last week denied a variance for a proposed 96-unit senior housing complex on Route 10 in North Newport that the developer has said would help address the region’s housing shortage.

Runway Heights Senior Housing project is proposed to be an ell-shaped, three-story building located at the northern edge of the 17-acre parcel and cover less than 5 acres.

The property abuts the runway of Parlin Field, the Newport airport, with a buffer of trees in between.

The location of the proposed building is in the rural district portion of the property, which does not allow multi-unit housing without a variance.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board approved four of the five criteria required for a variance. However, in a unanimous vote it rejected the “unnecessary hardship” criterion and since all five criteria must be approved, the variance was denied.

“Hardship does not exist,” Ben Nelson, the board’s chairman, said. “There are other uses available for the property.”

Hardship, as defined in state law, means there are special conditions on the property such that there are no other uses for development.

The property is in the rural zone on the northern end, and light commercial or B-1 on the south end.

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The board did not address a second variance for a building exceeding the maximum structure height of 30 feet after it denied the first variance.

Jack Franks, CEO and president of Avanru Development in Walpole, N.H., which is working on the project with North Newport Land Holdings, said they are not abandoning their plans.

“Although the denial is disappointing, we remain undeterred in our efforts to bring a state of the art Senior Housing facility to the region,” Franks said in an email Friday morning.

Both variances were approved by the zoning board two years ago but, according to the town’s attorney, expired and the developer was urged to seek an extension.

The Planning Board approved the site plan for the senior housing project on March 19 before the variances expired.

Franks has said, in his presentations to both the ZBA and Planning Boards, the project would be a modern facility with a number of amenities including a community room and laundry facilities.

There will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units with a minimum age of 55, though that could increase to 62, and rents from $1,000 to $1,300 a month.

He has also said the project would not be a detriment to public health, safety or general welfare and meets the town’s master plan goal of more housing.

Nelson, who called the development a “great project that would be an asset to the town,” said Friday the location should be moved to the southern end of the property, where multi-unit housing is allowed in that district by special exception.

Franks said there are wetlands in the B-1 zone and moving the location would potentially violate state law on “nitrate setback” an area that must be large enough for nitrates from the onsite septic system to disperse in the soil.

“The only place the building can go is exactly where it is,” Franks said Friday, noting that they moved it 200 feet west to get it farther away from the airport runway.

Before denying the hardship criteria, a majority of the board agreed the project would not diminish surrounding property values, would not adversely affect the character of the area which is a mix use of residential, commercial and industrial and is not contrary to public interest given the need for more housing.

Residents on Cary and Allen streets, a neighborhood of single family homes on the opposite side of Route 10 have opposed the project.

Cary Street resident Don Dupont told the board the multi-unit housing proposal would bring light and noise pollution to their neighborhood and more traffic.

Managers of the airport have also opposed the housing project.

“This is not in alignment with the town’s zoning,” Dupont said. “Just in general it feels like it is going to have an impact and the people who have homes and invested in what it is — single family homes — are going to be affected.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.