543 Thames Street
Newport, RI 02840



Irongate Makeover In the Works
January 25, 2021

CONTACT:Matt Sheley at (401)712-2221 or msheley@middletownri.com

IRONGATE MAKEOVER IN THE WORKS MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JANUARY25, 2021) – Recently, developer Christopher Bicho briefed the Town Council about his plans for the two-acre site at 438 East Main Road at the corner of Forest Avenue.

Under the name Aquidneck Crossing, Bicho said he will restore part of the existing multilevel building with a dozen two-bedroom apartments, which were in place before the space was converted into offices years ago. Existing tenant Looking Upwards would remain for 10 years under its current lease, he said.

Bicho said he'd also like to construct a new building on the southern portion of the property for a dozen two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments, something that requires a zone change to move forward. Even if the town doesn't sign off on the new building, Bicho said he intended to do the project with the zone change because it made sense.

The council took no action on the item and kept a public hearing open until its next regular meeting on Feb. 1 so people could comment on the zone change.

'This was already residential 20 years ago and it was changed to business,' Bicho said. 'We're really just putting the building back exactly what it was intended and built for.'

'It would be a big benefit to the town and it will include some affordable housing units, which the town sorely needs,' project attorney Patrick O'N. Hayes Jr. said.

In today's COVID-19 economy, it's not uncommon to see new development and redevelopment grind to a halt in many communities. Not in Middletown, however. In addition to the Irongate proposal, the town is host to several retail redevelopment projects on its major roads, highlighted by a multimillion-dollar J.P. Morgan Chase bank branch at Two Mile Corner at 7 East Main Road.

Bicho has a long history of development in town through his Landings Real Estate Group. In addition to the Landings Apartment Community on Coddington Highway, Bicho operates the East Island Reserve hotel at 985 East Main Road in town. Other noteworthy developments he's part of include the Prescott Point condo complex along the Middletown- Portsmouth town line, The Firehouse and The Newport Lofts in downtown Newport and close to a dozen others on the East Coast.

After a presentation from Hayes, the council asked a number of questions of Bicho from how the property would be accessed to the number of affordable housing units and beyond. No new curb cut on East Main Road would be required. Instead, the existing driveway on Forest Avenue would be used to access the property.

Bicho and Hayes said they wanted to work with the town and neighbors to have a project that makes sense for everyone. Bicho said the development would be the first time the Planning Board has considered a similar project under the town's new mixed-use ordinance that encourages residential and business operations on the same property.

Throughout, Bicho was encouraged to beef up the number of affordable housing units included in the development. Currently, two below market rate apartments were part of the 24-unit plan. Bicho said rents were projected between $1,275 to $1,500 a month.

Neighbor Neil Belden said he had concerns, particularly adding a more intense use right next door. The council encouraged Bicho to speak with neighbors and others to make sure any issues were ironed out. 'I'm just concerned with the addition of another 12 units back there that would be another probably 40 people living in my backyard, so to speak,' Belden said. 'It isn't zoned for that right now.'

Hayes said the town could also place caveats on the zone change from office business traffic sensitive to limited business traffic sensitive. That way, he said only the residential and office space components would be allowed, not any of the other uses permitted in a limited business zone.

In recent days, there's been quite a bit of exterior work to the building. Bicho said among those include the removal of a portico that was causing interior water damage as well as repointing the exterior brickwork.

'Commercial real estate is going to be taking on a new look and feel,' Councilman Dennis Turano said. 'We know that there's not as many people that are going to be going back to work and we have available commercial real estate and there are areas where it does make sense to make mixed use.'


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