Zoning board delays decision on North Newport senior housing project

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-20-2024 5:28 PM

NEWPORT — The Zoning Board of Adjustment delayed decision on a request for two variances for a planned senior housing project in North Newport on Route 10 next to the town airport after a lengthy discussion last week.

North Newport Land Holdings and Avarnru Development of Walpole, N.H., received Planning Board site plan approval on March 19 to construct 96 units — 72 one bedroom, one bath and 24 two bedroom, two baths — on a 17 acre vacant parcel on Route 10 north of downtown that abuts the town airport, Parlin Field. The ell shaped, three-story complex, Runway Heights Senior Housing, would cover about four acres and include amenities such as a community room and laundry facilities. Avarnu President and CEO Jack Franks said the units will be age restricted, and rents, with utilities, would be between $1,000 and $1,300 a month.

At a meeting last Thursday, neighbors, including the manager of the airport, expressed concerns about the project’s effect on traffic light and noise.

The board, on Thursday, said the delay in its decision is necessary in order for it to hear from the developer’s consultant on the project and from a consultant for the airport.

The variances — one for a multi-unit housing project in a rural zone and the other, to exceed the maximum structure height of 30 feet — were approved once by the board two years ago but have since expired, Planning and Zoning Administrator Christine Donovan said. The developer was urged to seek an extension, she said.

One significant change to the project is an on-site septic system. Initially the developer planned to extend the town sewer to the parcel with help for the $1 million cost through a Community Development Block Grant, said Franks, the agent for developer. But Franks said he could not get the town to proceed with applying for the grant under the former town manager.

At the zoning board meeting, some residents in a small neighborhood of 17 homes across Route 10 from the proposed development, said an onsite septic system concerned them because they get their drinking water from a well.

A few residents who live in single family h omes across from the planned development said a three-story senior housing complex is  not in character with the rural area. They said traffic will increase on a road that they feel is already dangerous,and they envision a lot more lights and noise.

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Those and other concerns were voiced by Heath Marsden, co-manager of Parlin Field, at the zoning board meeting.

Overall the project would be detrimental to airport operations, Marsden said, and could affect how the master plan for the airport, now being developed, is written regarding plans for instrument landings. He also said it would impact the landing approaches for planes that use the airport all hours of the day. He noted many businesses land charter flights at Parlin Field and there are private charters also.

“We are concerned with light pollution for approaching aircraft, noise and people encroaching on the airport,” Marsden said.

In his presentation to the board on Thursday, Franks said the project fits in with the existing character of the area, which is a mix of commercial, residential and industrial uses. He also said it would not be detrimental to abutters in terms of health, safety and general welfare and is in line with the goals of Newport’s master plan with respect to providing more housing. 

“It would be an exceptional housing opportunity for people in the community,” Franks said. “This development would address a severe deficiency in affordable housing in the region. The variances would allow for productive use of the (17-acre) property.”

Franks also was asked about further development on the property and he was noncommittal, saying that possibility exists but there is “nothing signed” right now.

“We will see what the needs of the community are to develop the land in a positive way,” Franks said.

Franks told the board that he disagreed with the town’s interpretation that the variances had lapsed because they have been working on the project design and getting permits the last two years.

Nevertheless, Franks said resubmitting the requests is the most “productive path forward,” though the developer reserves the right to challenge the town’s interpretation.

The Planning Board approval for Runway Heights Senior Housing came two days after the variances reached the two-year mark. Franks said Friday they have filed an appeal regarding the expiration of the variances. 

If approved, the  senior housing would be the third major housing project in town in the last few years. Avanru's workforce housing complex of 42 units on Spring Street is now accepting tenant applications and rehabilitation of the former Ruger Mill on Sunapee Street will add 70 workforce housing units.

The zoning board will revisit the variances at its next meeting on May 16.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.