‘We’ve got nothing like this’

Officials, residents tour Print Works property, hear developer’s vision for immense residential, self-storage project at historic site

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 8/25/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Situated at the intersection of Cranston Street and Dyer Avenue, on the east bank of the Pocasset River, the former Cranston Print Works property has shaped the surrounding area for generations. From inside the sprawling property,

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‘We’ve got nothing like this’

Officials, residents tour Print Works property, hear developer’s vision for immense residential, self-storage project at historic site

Posted

Situated at the intersection of Cranston Street and Dyer Avenue, on the east bank of the Pocasset River, the former Cranston Print Works property has shaped the surrounding area for generations.

From inside the sprawling property, however – the vast majority now vacant, the remnants of its industrial past abandoned and decaying – visitors could be forgiven for feeling distant from the bustling streets and densely packed neighborhoods nearby.

“From the street, you have no idea … We’ve got nothing like this in Rhode Island,” Chris Reynolds, a professional engineer and project manager with New Hampshire-based mill developer Brady Sullivan Properties, told participants in a walk of the site on Saturday.

Reynolds described the property as having a “real campus-like setting,” in sharp contrast to many New England mill complexes the fit tightly on smaller lots.

“This one’s unique because there’s land,” he said. “There’s land all over the place here.”

The visit, hosted jointly by the City Council and Planning Commission, was designed to introduce local officials and members of the public to Brady Sullivan Properties’ plans to redevelop the historic mill for use as apartments, rental housing and self-storage units.

In all, the plans call for roughly 200 apartments, which will be housed in revitalized mill space as well as a new proposed multi-story building on the north side of the property near the Cranston Print Works Pond. Reynolds said his company will manage the apartments and the rest of the property once the project is complete.

During Saturday’s walk, Reynolds said the large majority of the apartments would be two-bedroom units, in keeping with Brady Sullivan Properties’ approach at its other developments in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England. Monthly rents would range from roughly $1,200 to $2,000, he said. In response to multiple questions, he also said all of the units will be market-based, with no plans for affordable, subsidized units.

Brady Sullivan Properties, he said, has “about 3,000 apartments” in its portfolio.

“We don’t have any affordable units in any of our developments,” he added.

On a portion of the side running parallel to Dyer Avenue, across from a stagnant canal that runs south from the pond, the developer envisions 17 single-family rental homes. He described those homes as “kind of a condo-type setting.”

Self-storage – a use not traditionally paired with residential space in similar developments – is the other major component of the project.

In all, tens of thousands of square feet of self-storage space is planned, including within two new buildings that would be situated near the Dyer Avenue and Cranston Street intersection. Across Cranston Street, Reynolds said, additional space would be geared toward “commercial-based storage,” serving businesses such as plumbers, carpenters or even computer technicians for equipment storage. The historic meeting house next to the fire station would become the leasing office for the site and may house additional commercial office space, he said. No retail or restaurant uses are planned at the location.

“We’re really apartment people at heart,” Reynolds said. “We want to keep our apartment people happy.”

Reynolds said the unique layout of the Cranston Print Works site compared with other mills – which has multiple buildings added over the course of many years, rather than a single, long building with a large number of windows – creates both challenges and opportunities for the developer. Self-storage, he said, fits well within the site because of this.

“The building is what the building is … We try to preserve and reuse everything we have,” he said.

Reynolds also acknowledged that much of the complex, interiors and exteriors alike, is in “very tough shape.” That was clear during the site walk, which included stops inside the buildings at various points. The large, dark spaces remain strewn with tools, equipment and debris from the thriving manufacturing operation that once existed at the location.

There are environmental challenges, too, which Reynolds said will require a lengthy permitting process. He noted that Brady Sullivan Properties, in acquiring the site, would assume ownership of the pond, its dam and the canal.

The difference in the flood plain at various points in the site means the lowest spaces – such as the bottom floors of the main mill complex – will be used to house non-residential components of the development, such as the facility’s amenities and a handful of indoor parking spaces.

“Anytime we’ve done residential, we have to raise it up, which is the idea here,” he said.

The dam at the pond, Reynolds said, is “going to need some work” based on the results of recent studies. Addressing the canal – which has stagnated to the point that it appears to be filled with something other than the water it actually contains – will require extensive talks with the Department of Environmental Management and other entities. Potential solutions, he said, include filling the canal in or cleaning it so that it begins running again.

There is also some groundwater contamination and “urban fill” remaining from the property’s heyday as a textile manufacturing hub, Reynolds said, but initial testing has found “nothing too bad.” Remediation of those issues will be worked into the development plan.

A couple of attendees at the site walk, including Gregg Mierka, resident caretaker at the nearby Sprague Mansion, raised concerns over the project’s impact on traffic in the area. Reynolds pointed to new access points that would be created to Dyer Avenue, saying those will help ease congestion. He also said the amount of space available on the site will allow for a design that prevents any backups from spilling onto the nearby roadways.

Procedurally, aside from the various permits and environmental issues, Brady Sullivan Properties’ plans for the Cranston Print Works site face local hurdles, too.

A zoning change would be required given that most of the property currently sits in an M-1 industrial zone, which prohibits residential use.

A recent legal advertisement for the site walk indicated the developer plans to seek the property’s designation as “a special zone to allow the mixed-use of multi-family residential development combined with commercial storage/commercial flex space.”

The zoning change would first go before the Planning Commission for review and a recommendation before heading to the City Council for approval.

As a major land development, the project would also require master and preliminary plan approvals from the Planning Commission.

Reynolds on Saturday said he anticipates the project will take multiple years to reach the point at which the planned apartments are opened to residents.

“I envision, you know, a year or more for permitting, a year or more for construction – kind of a two-, three-year kind of timeframe to get this going,” he said.

Reynolds said Brady Sullivan Properties has a set stable of subcontractors that work on its projects. That, combined with the company’s prior experience, makes it ready to move quickly as the process allows, he said.

“We are a mill redevelopment company at heart. This is kind of what we do … We know what we’re doing,” he said.

Reynolds estimated his company’s total investment in the development would be $30 million to $50 million. He also said the project, as envisioned, would utilize historic tax credits, given that many of the buildings date back to the early and mid-1800s.

He said all of the company’s other projects in Rhode Island – including the American Tourister property in Warren and the Pocasset Mills in Johnston, among others – have utilized the credits as well.

Robert Murray, the attorney representing the developer, said the Cranston Print Works development has the potential to become one of the city’s “signature projects” alongside developments like Garden City Center and Chapel View.

“I’m very excited to be involved in this project. These things only come about every so often … Cranston has a unique opportunity here today,” he said.

Murray also said multiple prospective buyers and developers have looked at the site over the years, but none until this point have gone much beyond initial consideration.

“We’re beyond kicking tires here … We’ve built the engine. We’re ready to start moving,” he said.

No votes were taken on Saturday, nor did the council or commission hold any discussions or deliberations.

It remains unclear when the developer will formally bring forward a zoning change request, which would be the first step in the process. During Monday’s City Council meeting, Council President Chris Paplauskas said he anticipates public hearings on that aspect of the project will take place at some point in the fall.

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