Proposal envisions 76-unit housing project on Great Road

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Editor’s note: This article has been edited to reflect that this plan was merely a proposal, while actual plans for the building are still being developed.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A group working with NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley has laid out a proposal including details and a timeline for a project to convert a vacant former mill on Great Road into three stories of affordable housing, with a $27 million project to be completed by 2024.

A Woonsocket-based non-profit that helps families attain home ownership, NeighborWorks purchased the property known as 765 Great Road for $300,000 in 2018. The lot holds a structure built in 1918 that once served as the Andrews Mills Company Plant.

The organization has not finalized plans for the building, but helped those creating the design, putting a group of graduate students in touch with local partners for the proposal, submitted in the Federal Home Loan Bank’s competition.

According the proposal, the 32-acre lot would hold 76 units, 100 percent of which would be affordable, and marketed to low or very low income residents, and families with children.

NeighborWorks has already remediated the single-story building, and the design plans envision it converted to a three-story apartment building. The property would include one, two and three bedroom units, along with retail space, gathering space, a river view deck and seminar room.

Construction would begin in the fourth quarter of next year, and would use green building methods, creating minimum waste by utilizing existing materials such as old bricks and installing solar panels, as well as a system to reuse grey water.

The adaptive reuse project envisions the former mill as a community anchor, bringing new life to Branch Village while connecting the area to nearby cities, and establishing a path to ownership and employment for both new and existing residents. The plan foresees on site programing that will include job readiness classes, homeowner and home buyer education and financial planning, provided in a 5,500-square-foot communal area.

“Andrews Mills and Branch Village occupy a unique space between the white, wealthy, well-educated community of North Smithfield and the more dense, diverse and working-class community of Woonsocket,” the plan notes. “Due to its unique location, Andrews Mill has an important role in bridging these gaps and supporting often excluded, underserved residents in Woonsocket.”

The housing complex would feature 124 parking spaces, and 15 of the 76 units will be dedicated to residents who earn 30 percent of the area median income.

The design plan was laid out by graduate students from Harvard University, and with input from local partners including North Smithfield residents John Flaherty of Grow Smart RI, and Cynthia Roberts, Aleksandra Norton and Megan Staples of Engage North Smithfield.

In addition to the main mill building, the property holds a boiler house, machine house boiler room, gate structure, water tower and pump house. But the single story former mill structure, which features a unique sawtooth roof, would be the focus as the project moves forward with an eye toward preservation. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.

NWBRV would restore the original look of the mill, removing modernizations added by the Tupper Corporation in the 1960s, such as metal panels that now cover the front facade.

And it would take time to get there. Plans anticipate due diligence work – such as environmental studies – to take place in 2021, as well as a focus on community engagement, with workshops and surveys to gauge how current residents would like to see the property used. Permitting would begin in 2022, with demolition, excavation and construction to commence by the fourth quarter of next year.

Construction would take around 20 months, with units move-in ready by the second quarter of 2024.

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