Potential developers of Stonecroft at Wickford Village, a small subdivision proposed for 173 Boston Neck Road, told the Planning Commission last week it was impossible economically to restore the 18th century farmhouse in the center of the property into an affordable housing duplex. The original plan had the converted farmhouse ringed by five houses to be sold at market prices.
Robert Carr and Alex Petrucci are considering buying the property, which is just south of Beach Road, from Richard Fryburg, who originally proposed the Stonecroft development. They were before the Planning Commission for the second time in two weeks, this time with rough estimates of what it would cost to make the farmhouse structurally sound. They hoped to be able to convince the commission to be able to amend the plan.
Various commission members, however, alternatively doubted the $750,000 number; questioned whether the project as originally conceived seven years ago could go forward if the farmhouse was not saved; and suggested the house be torn down and rebuilt to mirror the old structure.
It was commission member Michael Annarummo who questioned the validity of the $750,000 estimate, suggesting the potential buyers were just back before the commission with “old wine in new bottles.”
“Any normal person who is not in this business went in there would say, get a match,” Carr countered. “This building will NOT be saved.”
Petrucci, who developed South County Commons among other properties, said the drop in property values in recent years made the plan to restore the farmhouse as originally conceived unworkable today.
Commission members pointed out financial viability was not in their charge. Rather, they had approved a project based on one scenario. If that were to be altered, then developers would have to start over.
“My hangup is, we granted specific benefits to a previous applicant, and what we have now is, ‘We’d like the benefits, but we don’t want any of the drawbacks,’” said Commission Chair Gardner Palmer, voicing what he felt the potential buyers were saying.
By state statute, affordable housing units must appear from the outside to be indistinguishable from other housing units in a development. The Planning Commission originally approved Stonecroft at Wickford Village with two affordable units – in the form of the farmhouse-turned-duplex – which would look different from the five single-family units surrounding it.
“If you were to build a new building there … the reason they allowed the density at that time was because they were using an existing historic building for the affordable units,” said the Planning Department’s Nicole LaFontaine. “That fact that the structure was there allowed them to put the duplex in that structure.”
Commission member Jim Grundy, who was on the commission for the earlier vote, said he would never have approved the application with a duplex if not for the farmhouse.Another suggestion came from commission member Harriet Powell, who said perhaps the building could be demolished and recreated new, thus maintaining the historic look but at a price that was more palatable to developers. She said she would want to hear from an historic preservationist before taking such a vote.