Members of the Warren Planning Board want direction from the state before they vote on a three-lot subdivision planned for one of the last remaining undeveloped and unprotected waterfront properties in Touisset.
The plan, by Fall River developer Jeffrey Karan, is to develop a 21.7-acre parcel of land fronting the Kickemuit River into three large home lots. The land, currently owned by Long Lane Development LLC in Bristol but under contract by Mr. Karan, lies just south of the intersection of Long Lane and Barton Avenue and is roughly sandwiched between two protected farms, the Kee farm at 60 acres and the Manchester farm at 43 acres. The lots would have no public road frontage but would be fed by a private gravel drive over an existing easement, with each lot potentially having a dock and a “view corridor” necessitating the clearing of acres of wooded land between the homes and the river. The easement cuts across two additional lots totaling 27.68 acres that are also part of the prospective sale; however, Mr. Karan said he has no plans to develop them.
Neighbors, members of the Warren Conservation Commission and Warren Land Conservation Trust have come out in opposition to the plan, and planning board members said they wanted to be deliberate and careful Monday night when Mr. Karan appeared before them for a public information and master plan review.
“It’s a very environmentally sensitive area, one of the only undeveloped places left on the Kickemuit,” board chairman Fred Massie said. “There’s a significant amount of wetlands there so there’s a concern.”
Board members want to get opinions on issues — setbacks, wetlands, waivers and other issues among them — from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and Department of Environmental Management (DEM) before their next meeting on the matter, set for late September.
“This is right on the Kickemuit and it is in an area that has not been developed. To me this falls right in the wheelhouse of the CRMC; without their comments it makes it very difficult for us to pass judgement,” Mr. Massie said.
This is not the first time a developer has proposed building on the land. In 2010, the planning board approved a 12-lot subdivision there that was never built. Instead, the owner, Long Lane Development LLC (controlled by the Brito family of Bristol) put the land on the market with an asking price of $1.8 million.
Several parties, including the Town of Warren, DEM and neighbors Scott and Daniela Roop, partnered in an effort to purchase the property’s development rights, but were unsuccessful.
Though they were not involved in the failed negotiations, members of the land conservation trust had an appraisal done on the property which determined its value as $790,000. On Monday night, the Roops’ attorney, Seth Handy, said his clients would be harmed by the development and added that they would have loved to have secured its development rights in partnership with the town and state. Unfortunately, he said, the deal’s failure earlier this year came down to money:
“There were a number of reasons (the negotiations fell apart), but mostly it was about the value; what the owner would sell it for,” Mr. Handy said, noting that the owner had “unrealistic expectations” of the property’s value.
“If they were willing to sell it for something less (they) could certainly get a reasonable value for the property. There are people who are willing to pay very good money to obtain this land for conservation.”
The Roops purchased their 13.8-acre property at 1 Barton Road five and a half years ago for $1.4 million, though they had had their eyes on it since before the original 12-lot subdivision was approved. When it appeared that the subdivision would ultimately not be built, they went ahead with the purchase, hoping that talk of development there was finished.
They said they are concerned that Mr. Karan’s plan will spoil the rural quality of the area, harm them as abutting property owners, impact the easement and could also threaten a historic cemetery adjacent to their property that is currently only accessible by the easement that connects their home to the public street.
On Monday night, Mr. Handy presented a long list of reasons why the Karan plan is not in keeping with the rural quality of Touisset, nor with the intent of Warren’s Comprehensive Community Plan.
Summing up passages within that deal with the need to protect agricultural and farming land in Warren, he said, “the plan speaks very loudly and clearly as to its intent to protect properties like this from development. Both adjoining parcels are in conservation in perpetuity. We submit that this one should remain in … perpetuity as well.”
For his part, Mr. Karan said he is open to working with the town and said he would consider compromises, including setting aside the other adjacent lots for conservation, possibly reducing the number of docks, and taking other steps to keep the development’s impact to a minimum. He said one of the lots will be for his residence and he wants to be a good neighbor. And he acknowledged that he still needs several rounds of state and town review before a vote — “I’m willing” to work with the town, he said.
As for the Roops’ contention that the landowner sought an unrealistic amount of money for the property, he said: “This was for sale publicly. Anyone could have bought it. I took a risk on the property on the value, the perceived value.”