The zone change does have some conditions, primarily about parking. But the Hamlet Court project at 350 Taunton Ave. took another step toward development with the zone change from commercial 3 to commercial 2.
Joseph Ruggiero of Barrington wants to turn the former Edmund Hall for Johnson and Wales University into the apartment complex, which will hold one-bedroom and studio units. It sits next to the Bowling Academy.
Representatives for Ruggiero went before the City Council with a Planning Board recommendation that the building be converted from a dorm to apartments with less than the required number of parking spaces – 115 instead of 150 or two per unit.
A large chunk of those spaces would be leased from the Bowling Academy. The recommendation for the zoning change also has the support of the public works, fire and police departments.
The plan for the building also is consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, said Kelly Morris, a land-use consultant for Hamlet Court Real Estate, the firm created by Ruggiero to convert and operate the building.
City Councilor Chrissy Rossi, the only councilor to vote against the zone change, said she was concerned about what might happen to the parking if the bowling lanes closed. She was told that a 99-year lease will be signed and carry over to whomever owns the property.
Rossi also questioned why none of the apartments were being set aside for affordable housing – instead of all market-rate units. City Planning Department Director Jeanne Boyle said there have been other projects in the city without affordable housing elements.
Paul Carlson, of Insight Engineering in Seekonk, said that 53 parking spaces already exist under the building. The additional 62 will come from the lease with the Bowling Academy, including 22 “shared” spaces.
“There is no parking issue based on the Bowling Academy demands,” said Carlson.
Most of the conditions involve the parking, particularly the need to lease the spaces in perpetuity. Loss of the lease would automatically turn that zone back to commercial 3, which does not allow multi-family housing, said Boyle
The former dorm has been vacant for three years since the university moved out. It was operated as a dormitory from 2002 to 2010. Before that, the building was an assisted living facility with the same number of apartments.
Work to convert the building could start as early as next month. Morris said the conversion also would yield about a $130,000 tax benefit to the city.