Harrisville to hold off on request, for now

HARRISVILLE – City council trustees voted unanimously on Monday to hold off on a request to vacate several unbuilt streets that a residential developer sought. In the same motion, they said they want to see a development agreement drawn up first between the city and Harbor Town, assuring certain conditions be met.

In a packed meeting room at the Harrisville fire station, residential developer Rick Pender and his wife, Carolyn, unveiled some hand-drawn schematics of their property where they want to eventually build 40 to 42 customized, modular homes. However, their property is separated by several undeveloped streets. The couple wanted the city to vacate those streets, and turn a portion of the land over to them so that their property could be divided into parcels between 82 to 95 feet wide and 132 feet deep.

The Penders said the starting price for a home could be in the low $120,000, but they hadn’t finalized all of their figures. They said they would target retirees wanting to move from rural homes to the city; young families seeking affordable housing and summer home buyers looking for a retreat. Their first goal would be to construct a model home, beginning in April, so they can target their marketing message at people visiting during the Memorial Day weekend.

It was not clear how much direct experience the couple had as residential developers. Rick Pender said he was a retired, third-generation mechanical contractor for commercial and industrial projects, and had 45 years of construction experience, including excavating. Carolyn Pender said she was in business 37 years, with a background in cyber security for the federal government.

The city also has little experience with development in the last 50 years, officials said. Although a master plan is in place, the city is just months away from approving a new zoning ordinance.

After their presentation, Mayor John Dobis allowed members of the audience to ask questions. Some said they thought the couple was planning to put in 200 homes. Others worried that an updated sewer system was inadequate. Property owner Craig Georgeff asked if the homes were intended for low-income residents. He also was concerned about the amount of water on some of the properties, which is especially apparent in the spring.

Rick Pender said the homes were not for low-income residents. As for water issues, he said, “We have to do borings, because of the high water table.”

The property also must be examined by professional civil engineers, who will determine where infrastructure and other improvements need to be made before houses are built, he said.

“We’re sticking our necks out if we’re giving our streets away,” Alderman Marian Tartaglia said, adding she wanted to see something concrete.

Alderman Mike Baird said he was worried about safety at the proposed development and wondered if considerations would be made for school buses and fire truck turn- arounds.

“I’m excited about what you are trying to do here,” he told the Penders. “You might bring more people here with the entrepreneurial drive to fill vacant store fronts.”

But he, too, urged caution and suggested both sides come up with a development agreement showing who would pay for what, before the streets are vacated.

He said that rumors in town about the development had been “rampant,” because several development firms elsewhere have similar names.

After the discussion ended, Baird’s idea was put forward as a motion and was passed unanimously.

“We’ll just have to work through it,” Rick Pender said. “We knew it would take a year, and we’re hoping for an agreement in the spring. We’ll have to interact at the table to come up with the right agreement.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.