New planning application underway for Chepachet housing complex, to feature reuse of former winery

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GLOCESTER – The organization that purchased the former Purple Cat Winery and an adjacent vacant lot this month expects to submit new plans for the properties, and to go before the Glocester Planning Board to discuss the future of a new Chepachet housing complex.

NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley became the official owner of the two village lots this month, known as 0 and 11 Money Hill Road respectively, with the intent to build affordable housing. The properties total 25 acres, and include a roughly 10,000-square-foot former winery, coffeehouse and theater company.

Executive Director Joseph Garlick noted that the organization submitted planning applications for the lots several years ago envisioning a 38-unit project to serve residents at or below 80 percent of the area median income. But Garlick said NeighborWorks has scraped that project, and is now working with engineers on a new application.

“We’re reviewing everything again,” said Garlick. “It will be affordable housing. We haven’t really settled on the number of units.”

While many details remain uncertain, Garlick said the group does plan to utilize a currently vacant structure on the site. Set back from Route 44, the former Purple Cat Vineyard and Winery, named after the iconic restaurant, was built in 1980, according to town property records. The unique 1.5 story building once held an indoor mall and an antiques market, and was home to the Theatre Company of Rhode Island in more recent years.

“That’s a beautiful building,” Garlick said, adding that plans now underway would incorporate the existing building.

Garlick addressed several of the questions posed by residents after NRI NOW broke the news of the acquisition earlier this month. He noted that preliminary plans foresee a single affordable housing complex on the lots, accessed from the main road. The properties feature existing wells, and engineers are working to design a wastewater system, which will require approval from the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management. A traffic study, Garlick noted, will also be required.

“We’re hoping to work with the town on this,” Garlick said. “We have to comply with state requirements.”

The need for more affordable housing in the region, he said, is clear. State law requires Rhode Island municipalities to maintain 10 percent of their housing stock as affordable units, but Glocester has just 2.44 percent, according to data updated by Rhode Island Housing. To qualify, units must receive a subsidy from a federal, state or local source, and have deed restrictions in place maintaining required income levels for at least 30 years.

“Glocester is pretty far behind there,” Garlick said. “There’s such a shortage in northern Rhode Island.”

NeighborWorks, he noted, currently maintains 400 units in region, and has a wait list of 3,300 in Woonsocket, Burrillville and North Smithfield.

Garlick said his group looks forward to working with one of their new neighbors in Chepachet: Al Constantino, owner of the future Purple Cat Antique Co.

“We’re excited about the development in front of us,” Garlick said.

Last year, Constantino purchased the adjacent lot by the roadway, which once held the Purple Cat Restaurant, with plans to build six structures to house a new antique store, commercial units and eight one-bedroom housing units. Construction of the new buildings, co-owned by Meshell Adamo, is now well underway. 

“We’ve worked with Al before,” Garlick said, noting that Constantino was involved in NeighborWork’s award-winning Clock Tower project in Burrillville. “He’s a great neighbor.”

The Glocester project, Garlick said, will likely take several years to come to fruition, and it is still too soon for residents in need of housing to add their names to a wait list.

Although it may not be for some time, NRI NOW plans to publish the information once it is available.

“We’ve got to complete an engineer and design plan to submit to the town,” he said. “We’re exploring a new plan and we’ll probably be having some community meetings.”

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