On a 4-1 vote, the Johnston Town Council on May 13 approved a zone change necessary for a planned 13-unit condominium development off Simmonsville Avenue.
The council heard debate from both sides, with residents of the area voicing concerns about potential traffic, noise and lighting at the currently undeveloped parcel. K. Joseph Shekarchi – the attorney representing developer and local boxing legend Gary Balletto – opened up about those worries during a Monday interview with the Sun Rise.
He said that, since the development would be restricted to buyers 55 years or older, residents would likely only live there during warm weather months and they could only be sold to someone else in the same age bracket. He also tried to allay local fears of sitting on one’s porch and being able to see the development instead of greenery.
“They are going to be heavily landscaped,” Shekarchi said. “It’s going to be almost impossible to see each other through the landscaping. The adequate buffering should address the noise issue. It’s one way in, one way out. We’re not putting traffic or cut-through through the neighborhoods at all. It’s a very desirable area, and these are all going to be owner-occupied.”
Shekarchi said Balletto retained him about a year ago to begin preliminary work. The original plans called for upwards of 30 condominiums, but Shekarchi said Mayor Joseph Polisena did not find that number palatable.
He confirmed as much to the Sun Rise during an interview on Tuesday. Polisena added that he thinks the project will benefit the town and surrounding community.
“The zone change they want is minor,” Polisena said. “It fits into our comprehensive plan, which is important, and as I said 55 and older, I would take them all day long. Every time you build a house, it’s [at least two] children.”
Shekarchi said he also spoke to District 1 Councilwoman Linda. L. Folcarelli, who told him that she could only support a 55-and-older stipulation and not market-rate condos. Folcarelli ended up as the sole vote against the zone change after hearing several constituent complaints during the meeting.
Each speaker had a unique concern. Henry Przybylowicz was worried about possible “encroachment” onto his property, according to meeting minutes. Kristen Davidson said more information about the plan would be necessary, while Dorota Latuszynski was nervous about an influx of traffic and noise.
There was also discussion of the possibility that a 60-year-old tenant could have a 20-year-old significant other, which Shekarchi and Polisena both acknowledged could happen but is unlikely.
Shekarchi said he and local residents had a caucus of sorts for roughly 20 minutes after the zone change was approved.
“It went very well, and a lot of people said, ‘Gee, I may be interested in moving there. I have a friend that wanted to move there,’” Shekarchi said. “I think you’ll see a lot of people who had some skeptical, legitimate concerns be alleviated once they get to know Gary and get to know the project and what’s going to happen. He’s going to build these very nice.”
Shekarchi said the next steps won’t happen for another three to four months, when he will go before the Planning Board for preliminary approval. If that meeting goes well, he said, construction could start about 30 days later. He noted that the project received unanimous approval from the Planning Board at the master plan stage two months ago.
He added that, depending on the weather, the development would be finished in six to nine months. The units will sell for more than $300,000.
“I’m hopeful that some time in the fall, before Thanksgiving, we’ll be back before the Planning Board,” Shekarchi said. “It’s a great kind of product to have. It’s 55 and older. People don’t have to worry about the snow plowing, they don’t have to worry about the landscaping. They pay a condominium fee. It’s maintenance-free living. It’s headache-free living. And they go away and you just lock the door and you walk away.”
Shekarchi said there is even a chance Balletto, whom he noted is a paraplegic, could end up living in the accessible condos.
“He’s going to do a really good job,” Shekarchi said. “So this is a unit that he may end up with one, I don’t know, that’s yet to be determined. But people that have difficulty with their mobility would be very comfortable living here.”
He encouraged curious residents to reach out to him and contact the Planning Department to review the blueprints.
“Stay in contact with me, that I’d be willing to share information [and] get information,” Shekarchi said. “Information’s a very powerful thing.”