N.S. Council moves forward with agreement for High Rocks, RFP for police station

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the Town Council have approved an agreement with the developer of the former Tupperware Mill that will see the town retain a $480,000 security deposit if a promise to establish 10 percent affordable housing in the building is not met within four years.

The agreement is part of a planned expansion from 132 to 170 units in the building at 1 Tupperware Drive for High Rocks II, LLC. The contract for the security deposit will only take effect if the project receives final plan approval from the Planning Board, in an ongoing process that will also require a zoning variance. 

Councilors expressed some frustration with the developer over lack of adherence to project plans originally approved in 2006, from the number of units already built, to the lack of affordable units built thus far. 

“I’m in no rush to make a motion to approve this,” said Councilor Paul Zwolenski. 

An association of existing condo owners has been fighting the proposal, and last week, the group submitted an objection to High Rocks’ current petition before the Zoning Board, with concerns about parking and infrastructure.

Zwolenski asked if there was anything in the agreement to stop the developer from leasing out the units. 

“I want to make sure the value of the homes for the people paying these mortgages stays in tact,” Zwolenski said. “These people paid a lot of money to buy their homes here.”

Council President Paul Vadenais responded that all of the new units are expected to be rental properties.

Councilor Terri Bartomioli made a motion to approve the agreement with a  three year deadline for the developer to complete the required units before forfeiting the deposit. But Ryan Hurley, an attorney working on behalf of the developer, objected to the time constraint. 

“It would be very difficult for my client to do it within three years,” said Hurley. “If it was three years, they probably would not move forward with this agreement. Five years would be ideal.”

Ultimately, councilors unanimously approved an agreement with High Rocks with a four year deadline. 

Also on Monday, councilors voted to get a cost estimate for the work needed to either build a new police station, or refurbish the department’s current headquarters at the town Annex to meet health and safety standards.

The decision followed a public tour of the facility on Saturday, Aug. 1. Several town officials, including Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, have asserted that the town needs a new station, and that the $1.4 million of bond funding available will not be adequate to complete the work. 

This week, members of the town Municipal Buildings Review Task Force were before the board seeking instructions on how councilors want to move forward. 

Councilor Claire O’Hara said she was disappointed more residents didn’t tour the facilities. 

“A lot of people said they were concerned, but there were very few people there,” O’Hara said, adding of the building, “It amazes me that this town allowed this to happen. All of us are frugal but it’s an unhealthy place.”

“The building itself is not conducive to officers doing their jobs,” O’Hara added. “It saddens me. I think we have an obligation to the people that work in this town that they have a safe and healthy building.”

Zwolenski echoed her concerns.

“If anyone took the time to walk through it over the weekend, they’d see it was deplorable,” he said. “It’s unsafe – actually unsafe. I don’t like spending money. I don’t like going off of the bond. I’m doubtful that the $1.4 million is going to accomplish what we need over there.”

Discussion of improvements to the town’s police facilities have been underway since 2012, when the building was first evaluated by a commission working for a prior council. In 2014, voters approved bond-financing to move ahead with renovations to the current headquarters on Smithfield Road, but Ezovski has stated such work would be a waste of money, a sentiment he repeated this week.

During a virtual meeting Monday, Town Administrator Gary Ezovski pointed to the town’s decreased debt status.

“We do need a modern police station that allows us to at least compete with our neighboring districts,” Ezovski said. “Anything that we do there will be a bandaid.”

Ezovski noted that the town’s debt status as of this year is $30 million, down from $36 million in 2011.

“It’s not that I’m saying that I want to spend money,” Ezovski said. “I’m just saying that you have the resources available to do so.”

O’Hara on Monday said she wanted to move forward with acquiring an estimate for a new building, without any additional comparison estimates for renovations. 

“When it was built it was a small, neighborhood school,” O’Hara said. “Any money put into that school is a total waste.”

But Councilor Douglas Osier said he’s still in favor of focusing on renovations.

“I still believe we should honor the original bond that was passed,” Osier said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s responsible to even talk about building a new one in this given age with COVID and all the uncertainty that’s out there.”

“There is a burden here that will eventually be passed to the taxpayer,” he added.

Councilors voted unanimously to put out a request for proposals for estimates of both potential paths forward. 

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