October 25, 2014
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New homes for 'boomerang' kids, gracefully aging
Cowesett development could be leader of homes offering rentals provided owner is tenant

:“You know the boomerang kids.”

Boomerang?

Homebuilder and developer Hugh Fisher explained.

The boomerang kids are the ones who leave home, go to college, maybe even get married and are living on their own, but because of a low paying job, or no job at all, come home again.

Now Fisher is planning to build homes for the boomerang kids, although they don’t necessarily have to be kids. They could also be the “aging in place gracefully” generation who will be able to stay in their homes.

What Fisher is proposing – and he says has received a positive reception from area residents –building six homes on a 21.9-acre Cowesett lot, between the Dawley Farm property, that the city has preserved as open space, and National Grid transmission lines that run parallel to Route 95. Access would be from Cowesett Road, almost directly opposite the Little Rhody Beagle Club. Much of the site is wetlands but, nonetheless, six houses on a property that size is a low-density development.

Fisher says, “You could be in New Hampshire” when at the property.

In 1995, a 14-lot subdivision of the property was approved and five years later it was sold to the First Baptist Church, who subsequently got approval for a 400-seat auditorium, school, outdoor amphitheater, recreational facilities and parking for 250 cars. But that never happened.

Now Fisher, a Warwick native who went from real estate sales to homebuilder of about 1,400 houses so far, is introducing a new concept in traditional single-family communities that is different from a duplex or strictly rental property. While the houses would be built so that a smaller portion of the building – about 600 square feet of an accessory dwelling unit – could be occupied separately. It would carry the requirement that it could only be rented if the homeowner occupies either the main building or the smaller “casita,” as they are called in other parts of the country.

Fisher sees no better way of ensuring good tenants and, as a result, a good neighborhood. In an informational meeting with area residents held at City Hall in March, he said people welcomed the prospect of owner-occupied rentals and the financial stability it could bring to families and homeowners.

City planners like the idea, too, and are thinking that there’s more to it than simply approving zoning variances. Planners think a zone change would set a course for similar developments by other developers while providing a mechanism to meet housing needs and improve the desirability of Warwick housing. The master plan met the unanimous approval of the Planning Board

“Kids are having a hard time funding [their housing] and many of them are taking care of their parents,” said Trish Reynolds of the Planning Department. She said what Fisher is proposing is “not traditional housing but it fits the needs.”

She said the plan that was before the Zoning Board of Review last night was better suited as a zone change requiring City Council approval.

“It’s an interesting and innovative idea that has been well received,” she said.

She noted that in other parts of the country similar developments were well accepted. It’s already happening as close as North Kingstown, where Fisher is developing Reynolds Farm. The farm will have 200 single-family houses and 42 condominiums.

Fisher has gotten approval to build two types of “casitas.” One would be a unit over a garage with a separate entrance, kitchen, bath, living area and single bedroom. He says this is ideal for boomerang kids. The second would be a ground-level unit designed to accommodate the elderly.

Depending what homeowners are looking to put into the casitas, he said the above-the-garage unit would mean an additional $50,000 in construction costs. The ground level unit would be about $100,000 more. He plans to have model homes in his North Kingstown development featuring both types of casitas.

“This just makes sense,” Fisher said, relating how such an accommodation would have been perfect when his parents reached the stage where they wanted to maintain their independence, yet be close to family in the event of an emergency. Fisher was able to find a single floor house for his parents, but something like what he is proposing would have been even better. The key is that the properties are owner-occupied and that the “people there [the tenants] are going to be well behaved,” said Reynolds.

As proposed, Fisher would save more than half the site as open space. Also, a historic cemetery on the property would be preserved, and the Planning Department is also asking that he save stonewalls on the property.


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