Burrillville Council adopts major, long-term redevelopment plan for Nasonville

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BURRILLVILLE – A plan that aims to revitalize the village of Nasonville and bring opportunities for development to the area has been approved and adopted unanimously by members of the Burrillville Town Council.

The product of four years of work by the Burrillville Redevelopment Agency, the 68-page document outlines plans to rebuild the bridges, add water and sewer, create more walkable streets, and add trails for walking and biking, among other elements, with the goal of encouraging private development of housing and other mixed use projects.

“We have consulted with economic and planning specialists, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, area business owners and the public,” noted a letter to the council from BRA Chairman James Langlois. “The plan advances the concepts and ideas brought forth in the town’s Comprehensive Community
Plan and will help set the stage for future development of Nasonville.”

The project focuses in large part on the Nason Mill, a roughly 5.5-acre blighted property that’s been vacant for more than 15 years. Founded in 1825 to manufacture axes and hoes, the mill one fueled creation of the village, which takes its name from former owner Leonard Nason. Historically, the mill at 770 Douglas Pike has also been used to produce cashmeres and woolens, and finally, plastics, before it ceased operations in the early 2000s.

BRA envisions a mixed-use, residential and commercial development on the lot, with apartments as the primary use. Commercial uses on the are ground level are, “envisioned as having a symbiotic relationship with residential uses and include small-scale retailers, medical and food services.”

On a nearby 11.4 acre property that has frontage on Broncos Highway and Route 7, the plan imagines another mixed use building, with commercial spaces facing the highway.

At another 40-acre property behind the Western Hotel, the agency sees 55 plus housing, and some self-standing smaller residential properties, with shared parking and passive-active recreation amenities.

Pedestrian circulation between those three lots is considered a vital element to the plan, and safety issues would be addressed including creation of sidewalks and trails to become a walkable village, according to the approved conceptual plan.

The plan also addresses the need for traffic improvements, and key among them is building a new bridge crossing the Branch River. BRA sees the old, historic bridge, a narrow 50-foot-long structure built in 1907, maintained but out of use, and potentially covered with flowers and used as an attraction for the area. The agency and council have also endorsed the idea of building a roundabout to improve safety, with a project by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation expected to begin in 2026.

Other infrastructure improvements include extending water and sewer service in the area, and talks have begun with both the Harrisville Fire District and the Burrillville Sewer Commission.

Along the former railway, a bike path could be built, and further recreation opportunities would focus around the Branch River and Upper Slatersville Reservoir. An accompanying solar project and low impact practices could help to make Nasonville energy efficient and sustainable, according to the vision.

“Much work still needs to be done in order to improve Nasonville,” noted Town Planner Raymond Goff. “The adoption of the Nasonville Redevelopment Plan by the Town Council is the next major step.”

Full implementation of the redevelopment plan, passed unanimously by the Town Council at their meeting on Wednesday, April 28, is expected to take up to 20 years.

But the envisioned changes for the village are much more than just a pipe dream. Formed in 2001, the Burrillville Redevelopment Agency has already begun implementing similar revitalization plans in both Harrisville and Pascoag.

“Those projects have certainly set a precedent for what can be done in a well-thought out and planned out way,” said Council President Donald Fox, an achievement also cited by the BRA itself.

“The agency has demonstrated success in advancing the redevelopment and revitalization of these two areas,” the Nasonville plan notes.

The vision will guide improvements in the area with the hope to bring in – and help – appropriate developers, with potential for tax incentives.

“The redevelopment plan and its strategies do not contemplate public acquisition of any private properties but rather is designed to recognize the importance of strategic public investments to establish an attractive market for private investment,” it notes.

And it may all begin with the former mill, which BRA points out currently has a blighting effect on the whole area. Diverse improvements there create an optimistic vision for future residents.

“Here is found a center for creative thought and innovative services and a concentration of incubator industries,” notes the plan. “The area houses restaurants that overlook the Branch River, retail that offers a diverse range of goods and services. Opportunities for socializing, recreation, quiet and solitude are all close at hand, as are facilities and events which enrich the mind and spirit.”

The next step in hopes to see that vision according to proponents is creation of a Nasonville Overlay Zone in the town’s zoning ordinance establishing specific permitted uses; the approval process and design standards for buildings requirements that include for pedestrian amenities and outdoor activities.

In his case for support of the plan, Langlois noted that it lays the groundwork for the village.

“It is the first comprehensive look at the Nasonville village and there is a lot there,” Langlois said. “There’s recreation opportunities. There’s business opportunities.”

“They’ve done an incredible amount of work in conjunction with the town,” said  Fox.

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