Nonprofit corporation explores takeover of Rockville Mill housing project

Nonprofit corporation explores takeover of Rockville Mill housing project

The Westerly Sun
reporter photo

HOPKINTON —The Rockville Mill affordable housing project has been on the brink of foreclosure almost since the groundbreaking in 2011, a ceremony attended by Rhode Island’s U.S. senators and other dignitaries. Now, in addition to the financial issues, problems with the drinking water will require extensive well repairs. 

Efforts are underway to turn over the administration of the building to the Women’s Development Corporation, one of the state’s largest nonprofit developers in Rhode Island. It specializes in the rehabilitation and transformation of historic buildings into affordable housing.

The 172-year-old stone structure, a former rope factory in the village of Rockville, occupies 3.5 acres at 332 Canonchet Road and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2009, Marek Zamojski, a jewelry and animation prototype designer, proposed renovating the mill to create an eight-unit affordable apartment complex, one that would receive $1.5 million in historic tax credits and a $1.1 million mortgage guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The Hopkinton Planning Board approved the project, which had grown by then to 14 units and was estimated to cost $4.18 million.

The problems began the first winter with skyrocketing heating costs. Because the building is classified as historic, the developer was not permitted to alter the structure to add insulation and had to rely on expensive propane heating.

As his financial problems mounted, Zamojski fled the country, leaving the property in the hands of the original and current mortgage-holder, Bonneville Bank of Provo, Utah. The apartments are part of the federal government’s Section 8 program, funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered here by Rhode Island Housing.

Christine Hunsinger, Rhose Island Housing’s assistant deputy director of policy, research and data, said it was aware of the water problems and supported the initiative to turn over the building to Women’s Development. The corporation, she said, was evaluating the property “At this point, there’s been no agreement or deal, so I can’t speak to what would happen if they take it over,” she said.

She noted that the problems with the well water involve sediment, not bacteria. “It’s silt. There’s a problem with the well, so it’s sand and dirt,” Hunsinger said. “Bonneville has commissioned an engineering report and the report has made a series of recommendations. They intend to carry those out. In the meantime, Bonneville has given all of the residents water filtration systems so they can drink the water, they can use the shower.”

Dean Harrison, director of real estate for Women’s Development Corp., confirmed that it was interested in taking over the building, but he added that the acquisition was in the exploratory stage. “There’s a few things that need to be worked out prior for us to take it over, and we’re trying to get those done. Some of it is with Rhode Island Housing and some of it is with Bonneville.

“They’re working on what they need to work on, and we’re obviously working on what we need to work on, which is to look at the property — if there’s any painting that needs to be done, some minor work that we want to get done before we take it over. We’ve been going on with this for about a year, so we are very interested in getting involved and taking it over, but it is premature.”

Geoffrey Marchant, the affordable housing consultant who put together the financing for the project, said the ongoing financial problems at Rockville Mill were unfortunate, but he still believes the historic building is worth saving.

“We got it on the National Register so we could get the money,” he said. “It was falling down, and the only way to get the money was the historic tax credits. So rather than waste a part of our history, we decided to do the deal.”

Marchant, who is no longer involved in the project, said he hoped a deal could be reached with Women’s Development. “Everybody’s trying to make it work. It’s just complicated stuff, legally and procedurally,” he said.



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