New Bedford Zoning Board Approves Special Permit for Cliftex Conversion

By Charis Anderson
The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday unanimously approved a special permit for a multimillion-dollar proposal to transform the Cliftex 1 mill building into rental apartments.
“This is going to be an overall improvement, and it’s also going to preserve a mill that was slated for demolition,” said Christopher Saunders, the lawyer representing the project before the board.
The project, which is located at 194 Riverside Ave., needed a special permit as it sits within the Riverside Avenue Mill Overlay District; it also needed a special permit to reduce the number of parking spaces required by the city zoning code.
John Keith, president of Keith Construction in Stoughton, and Boston-based Winn Development are collaborating on the project, which is a proposal to construct 150 rental apartments in two phases, Saunders said.
Keith and Winn previously worked together on Whaler’s Place, also located on Riverside Avenue.
Eighty percent of the units, which will be reserved for people aged 55 and older, will be affordable housing while the remaining 20 percent will be market rate, Saunders said.
The developers will build 150 parking spots, a number that falls short of the 300 spots required under the city zoning code for a development of this size, Saunders said.
However, Saunders argued that the zoning code requirements are invalid for this type of development, pointing to Whaler’s Place, which has less than one parking spot per unit and where parking has not been an issue.
Ward 2 City Councilor Steve Martins spoke in favor of the project, saying it would help to help to create a neighborhood feel in that area of the city — something current residents at Whaler’s Place and Whaler’s Cove say is missing, he said.
“I think it’s long overdue that we turn that (area) into a neighborhood,” Martins said.
Former zoning board chairman Barry Sylvia spoke in favor of the project but raised concerns about a letter board member James Mathes had previously written to board that stated it was not within the board’s purview to examine safety and environmental impacts.
Sylvia suggested Mathes might have predetermined opinions and wanted a commitment that Mathes would consider safety and environmental impacts in his decision.
“I don’t have any predetermined opinions,” said Mathes, who was not a member of the board when he wrote the letter. “I’m reviewing this tonight based on what’s being proposed.”
A representative of a building trades association spoke against the project, stating he thought the mill would be better used for an industrial purpose.
“If this project doesn’t go forward, nothing’s going to go there,” Saunders said. “This is a good project.”
The project must now go before the city Traffic Commission.
February 19, 2010
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