Fate of Liberty Street School development remains undecided in Warren

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/29/24

The development is currently undergoing an appeal in Superior Court brought forth by an abutter, and the Planning Board recently punted any final decision to their next meeting on June 24.

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Fate of Liberty Street School development remains undecided in Warren


The fate of a 20-unit proposed housing development at the site of the historic Liberty Street School remains to be determined, as the Warren Planning Board opted to push the deciding vote to their next meeting on June 24.

The decision to continue the matter to next month came after around two hours of additional testimony from attorneys and experts on both sides of the issue, including an attorney hired by an abutter who in late April filed an appeal in Superior Court of the Planning Board’s decision to grant Master Plan approval of the project back in January. That appeal has yet to be decided on.

“It’s 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag. It’s too much on this site,” said Kelley Morris Salvatore, an experienced land use attorney and the Town Solicitor for Cumberland, who is representing Frank Alde, a direct abutter of the proposed development who lives on Miller Street.

Salvatore argued that the applicant had failed to supply enough details to warrant a preliminary approval, specifically related to any proposed changes they would make to the exterior of the existing school building, and what exterior features they would use on the proposed three-story, 4,000-square-foot building that would be constructed to contain 12 of the proposed 20 units at the site.

“This isn’t a negotiation or a menu where you check off what you want,” Salvatore argued. “The applicant is responsible to present a plan to you, essentially a final plan.”

Salvatore enlisted the help of Brent Runyon, an expert in historical preservation who most recently spent years leading the Providence Preservation Society. Runyon argued that the proposed development did not satisfy the stringent requirements of preserving the historical significance of the Liberty Street School Building.

“In my view the proposed development should be denied if possible,” Runyon said. “It doesn’t uphold the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act in that the proposal will do two things: have a negative impact on the historic character of the district, and destroy the integrity of the historic school and its site.”

Bruce Cox, attorney for the development team, argued that their proposal is the first one to actually try to maintain the historical integrity of the site, while previous owners allowed it to deteriorate to the condition in which it exists today.

While the issue of exterior materials resonated with some members of the Planning Board (member Jenny Flanagan asked for a cut sheet of proposed materials the development team were planning on using), Salvatore also expounded at length of a variety of issues that had already been brought up many times throughout the year and three months that the development has been discussed since being introduced, such as parking concerns and emergency vehicle access.

John Lannan, of Bristol, who leads the development team (Liberty Street Partners, LLC) alongside Ron Louro, of Warren, reasoned in an interview on Monday that some of those critiques being made by opponents of the development were problematic.

“We would have loved to have that attorney along with her people come from the beginning and attend all of the technical review meetings,” he said.

“Everything we were asked to do, it’s already been asked for and answered, and now at the eleventh hour you have a good attorney getting paid to come in to throw water on everything and dampen everybody’s enthusiasm,” he continued. “They’re bringing up stuff that was already asked and answered, like the location of a dumpster, ‘Oh that turn radius looks a little tight’. It’s an existing school building that has been here since before both of us were here. It’s positioned where it is, and the fact that we have two egresses set up, the fact that we did make the turning radius, you can’t say ‘Jeeze, I wish it were a little better.’ Of course you do. We didn’t put that building there, but we made it work.”

Town Planner Herbert Durfee, apparently unhappy with the discussion happening between some members of the planning board and their apparent desire to gather more information prior to making a decision, cautioned the board that they had already granted Master Plan approval to the application before them.

“There is an application on record…This is not a time frame where you receive additional information and consider that as part of the application,” he said. “I want to remind the board that you’re all sitting in a quasi-judicial fashion. You need to weigh the benefits and the costs of the application that’s before you and the information in that application…You are not currently in deliberation. So I caution the board in terms of what you’re saying at this particular time frame in a quasi-judicial fashion. Please.”

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