By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – A proposal to convert the former Carey Elementary School into a 13-unit condominium complex passed its final test on Monday, as Zoning Board members voted unanimously in favor of the project. The decision lays to rest a more than three-year effort to redevelop the longtime school house after it was deemed obsolete by the school committee and transferred to the city for sale.
The proposal, which had already received the conceptual approval of the City Council, and the endorsement of the Planning Board, calls for the development of a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom units that will retain many of the building's original features. The application also promises residents the use of a shared terrace that will feature an enclosed glass seating area and "dramatic views of the City, Newport Harbor, and Newport Bridge."
And while developers Arch Street Development have promised to ensure that the building doesn't overwhelm the area, some neighbors remained skeptical.
Helen M. Powidzki, a Carey Street resident who has been a vocal critic of the proposal, again voiced her opposition to the board as she had done before the city planners earlier this spring.
In the past, Powidski wondered what type of impact the project would have on issues such as storm water runoff, traffic, and fire safety.
Speaking for the applicant, attorney Turner Scott noted that his client has attempted to address some of the concerns raised by neighbors in the past.
Most notably, he said that the project would now include more robust vegetative screening and provide ample drainage for stormwater runoff.
Colin O'Keefe, a principal of Arch Street Development, LLC, also testified that the building lends itself well to a residential conversion, and said that he believed the project was viable.
According to paperwork on file with the city, condo sizes at the former school will range from 951-square feet for the building's lone one-bedroom unit, to about 1,200-square feet for 11 two-bedroom units, and 2,400-square feet for the largest residence, a three-bedroom penthouse in what today is attic space. Each unit would be assigned parking in what is currently the old playground, with access for vehicles turning off Narragansett Avenue taking the place of a no parking zone.
Vacant for over three years, the school occupies a prominent lot at 32 Carey St., not far from the heart of the Fifth Ward and the beginning of the Bellevue Avenue Mansion district.
In 2008, the city had acquired the building from the school department after it was deemed obsolete, and soon began preparing the property for sale.
In December, councilors signed off on a $735,000 purchase and sale agreement with Arch Street Development, LLC to redevelop the building, which if approved, would bring the property on the tax rolls, generating both property taxes and water and sewer fees for the city.
Zoning Board members gave the project a hardy endorsement.
As Chairwoman Rebecca McSweeney noted, "The thing that is before us is a special use permit to construct a residence in a residential zone."
Marvin Abney added, "I think it is in compliance with the comprehensive land use plan. I think it's good for Newport. And I think it will be good to the neighborhood."
And Mike Martin, who attended Carey School as a child, also endorsed the project, while imploring developers to "Keep the spirit of Carey. Keep the spirit of the Fifth Ward and you'll fit in."
With the Zoning Board's approval, the sale can be formalized and the city will be able to collect the agreed-upon revenue.