Hope Mill moving forward after town appeal denied

Hope Mill moving forward after town appeal denied

SCITUATE – The Hope Mill project has been cleared to move ahead after a Rhode Island Superior Court judge denied the town the right to appeal the Planning Board’s decision to approve the 175-unit housing development plan.

On Jan. 28, Superior Court Judge Brian Stern said the town did not prove to be an “aggrieved party” and the development is not a threat to the public.

“A real threat to the public interest exists where a zoning board’s decision jeopardizes the preservation and maintenance of the integrity of zoning laws,” said the judge.

Stern said the Planning Board did not act egregiously by ignoring the zoning process, and the developer, Paramount, made several concessions to stay within the rural character of Hope.

The developer changed the plan, which was pushed through under the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, by decreasing the number of housing units from 193 to 175 in accordance with the Planning Board’s conditions. The number of LMI units, at 40 percent of construction, dropped from 75 to 70.

Paramount also removed the top floors of the two new construction buildings to conform to the comprehensive plan and preserve the town’s rural character.

“Here, the town has not established the Planning Board’s conditional approval of the permit jeopardized the comprehensive plan and applicable zoning laws,” Stern said.

“Accordingly, this court denies the town’s motion for relief from the stay,” the judge wrote in his decision.

Members of the former Town Council hired attorney John Mancini to represent the town in the case last November, for “legal guidance, specifically, exploring, researching and instituting any and all legal actions necessary” to ensure the interest of the town and its people related to the Hope Mill.

The council asked Mancini to appeal the Planning Board approval and research a stay of action, or restraining order, placed on the town to prevent interference with Hope Mill receiver Peter Furness.

Mancini said while the decision is not what he hoped for, it was essential to petition the court before making any further action.

“The town ran the risk of jeopardizing themselves and getting sanctions from the court,” he said.

Mancini said it is “very rare” and “interesting” for a town to appeal its own board’s decisions. He said the denial means the town will not be able to pursue the issue any further.

But, he said the master plan is only the first of three stages in the development process that will be before the Planning Board before construction begins. At each level, the public will be given a chance to be heard.

Town Council President James Brady and Paramount owner Richard DeRosas did not respond for comment.

Vincent Coccoli, the former owner of the Hope Mill who previously lost the property to a receivership process, responded to the Superior Court decision on behalf of the Hope Mill Concerned Citizens group. He said it was difficult to understand how the court did not see that the project could cause irreparable harm when irreparable harm is the overarching theme of the project.

“I am proposing the Town Council create a resolution to enforce that the Planning Board meet the prosperity, safety, health and common good of the general community requirements when reviewing the Hope Mill development plan, and to ensure they will impose all the conditions required that impact town safety and welfare,” Coccoli said.