Potter Hill Mill Historic Green Mixed Use Village in Rhode Island

About Us

Mission statement

We have a vision of rehabilitating the existing Potter Hill Mill historic structures and re-establishing the hydro-electric power generation capability at this site to create a unique and state-of-the art “Green Mixed Use Community.” We envision that professional and commercial tenants and residents will have their energy needs provided through renewable energy resources and that this village will be a positive contribution to the community.

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Potter Hill Mill Mixed-Use Development Narrative

Renewable Resources Inc, the owner, has a vision of rehabilitating the existing Potter Hill Mill historic structures and re-establishing the hydro-electric power generation capability at this site to create a unique and state of the art “Green Mixed Use Development.” We envision that professional and commercial tenants and residents will have their energy needs provided through renewable energy resources available at this site. Several types of renewable energy resources, including hydro-electric, geothermal, solar, and fuel cell power generation, are feasible at this site. To facilitate this development, Renewable Resources has retained the services of two key engineering and architectural firms, H.L.Turner Inc and Newport Collaborative Architects.

H.L.Turner is a firm experienced with the development of environmentally sensitive and environmentally synergistic buildings and in renovating hydro-electric facilities. Renewable Resources has been granted a Preliminary Permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to re-establish a hydro-electric power generation capability at this site and is currently conducting engineering and environmental assessments to identify significant constraints and to finalize the hydro-electric system design. This effort is also consistent with the RI Governor’s recently announced Hydro-Electric Energy Initiative to promote the development and renovation of hydro-electric power generation sites on RI rivers.

Newport Collaborative Architects is a firm experienced with the renovation of historic buildings and large historic mill complexes in Rhode Island, such as the Ashton and Slatersville Mills. Newport Collaborative is currently completing the architectural schematic drawing package for the mixed-use re-development of the building complex at the Potter Hill Mill site. They are also finalizing the architectural content for the Historic Tax Credit Application package for submission to the RI Historic Preservation Commission.

The Potter Hill Mill is an excellent example of an Industrial Revolution Era wool mill that evolved into a modern textile manufacturing complex. Commercial activity began on the site prior to the Revolutionary War, as far back as 1762, and continued as a series of cotton and woolen mills until the last woolen mill, the Westerly Woolen Company, finally closed in 1958. At its peak, the site was comprised of 16 structures organized in two long rows and employed approximately 300 people in around the clock operations. The larger water-powered manufacturing structures were constructed along the banks of the river and the smaller store houses, stables, and storage building were located along a road behind these shoreline buildings. The most substantial construction took place around the 1847 when the two large mill buildings, a 2 1⁄2 story wood structure and a 3 story stone structure, were erected.

The proposed mixed-use re-development effort will combine a mix of commercial and residential space with some space reserved for use by non-profit organizations. We expect that the majority of the space will be allocated for commercial uses. The commercial space will include a mix of office and lab space for high tech and professional companies, a small (less than 10 room) historic inn with associated small restaurant, a coffee shop/bakery with a small newspaper/food store and a fishing/outdoor equipment store with boat/canoe/kayak rentals. Space will also be allocated for non-profit organizations, including an historic textile mill and river life museum to educate students, residents and tourists on relevant topics and a Technology Innovation Institute to study and promote science and technology innovation and collaboration. We envision participation by a large range of people and groups, including individual inventors and innovators, small and large companies, schools, universities and other non-profit institutions, and government organizations. Depending on space availability, small mix of 1 and 2 bedroom residential rental apartments may be included, with appropriate allocations for affordable housing units.

The Owner realizes that the current zoning of RR-60 must be re-visited to permit this type of re-development for the site. When this property was purchased in 1992, it was zoned commercial/industrial. The town changed the zoning category for this property sometime subsequent to this date. This property has been operated as a commercial mill complex for hundreds of years, initially as a grist mill, saw mill, and fulling mill and then as a series of cotton, shipbuilding and woolen mills in later years. Individual buildings have been used for diverse purposes over the years, including textile manufacturing, power generation, offices, stores, storage, horse stables, carpenter, blacksmith, and boat building shops, and boarding houses for mill workers. The size and scale of these historic building are appropriate for commercial uses. These size and scale of these buildings do not seem very appropriate for single family residential use. We will address these issues with the town zoning coordinator and the zoning board.
Today the mill buildings exist in various states of deterioration but certain waterfront buildings have retained much of their original architectural integrity and structure. While these structures have experienced significant water damage, they are important buildings, representative of Westerly’s rich history and worthy of restoration. The site contains vast archaeological resources such as masonry raceways and industrial machinery that are all worth preserving, along with the original historic structures

Potter Hill Mill contributes visually, historically and culturally to the town of Westerly. The renovation of the stone, brick and wood buildings would re-create the impressive and attractive waterfront complex of years past, representative of the former rich commercial life and culture along the Pawcatuck River. This site is unique to Westerly because it illustrates the continuous evolution of industrial architecture, in terms of style, material, and construction techniques, from the early 19th century to the mid 20th century. At one time, this property was generally regarded “as one of the finest manufacturing sites in all of Rhode Island”.

Due to the historic significance of this property, Renewable Resources has submitted an application to have the Potter Hill Mill added to the “National Register of Historic Places”. This application is under review by the RI Historic Preservation Commission. This designation will ensure that re-development is designed in a manner that preserves the original historic configuration of the site. Construction will be limited to the restoration of existing structures and the reconstruction of new structures only on historic footprints. All designs for new construction will be historically appropriate and modeled on photographic evidence.

Ultimately, The National Parks Service will be responsible for determining the extent to which individual buildings can be reconstructed on the site. For this reason, it is anticipated that the design of buildings and structures on this site evolve in response to comments from the National Park Service, Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, RIDEM, and the Westerly Planning Board. It is the intention of the developer to restore all existing structures and to restore some of the other original buildings on historic footprints. It is also the goal of the developer to fabricate two additional historically realistic structures, a water tower and a trolley bridge, and to install these structures on the property on the foundations where they were originally located. The historic documentation depicts a water tower with 3 legs near the southwest property boundary and a trolley bridge crossing over the Pawcatuck River near the north end of the property. The re-installation of the water tower will provide additional functional capability for the site. The re-installation of the bridge will enable improved traffic flow through the property.

Other site parameters which will constrain this development (such as parking and septic design) are being assessed to ensure that the final planned medium density mixed- use development design properly allocate resources in balance with the intended commercial, non-profit organization, and residential uses. Parking for the proposed uses is schematic at this time, showing only general locations for vehicles. An Advanced ISDS system is being proposed for this development as well, and is depicted in its proposed location. This location is subject to change with further soil testing, percolation rates, water table and final square footages for the uses programmed within the buildings.

In summary, Renewable Resources Inc is committed to creating a “green” and historically appropriate development at the Potter Hill Mill site. This project is an ambitious preservation effort that has the potential to resurrect a lapsed historical era in Westerly. This development will enable the continuation of an important commercial tradition that began at the Potter Hill Mill complex almost three hundred years ago. This project will revive an area of the town that once thrived, and will also enable the environmentally sensitive use of renewable resources for current commercial and housing uses.

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Significant Benefits for The Town of Westerly, Rhode Island

Historical and Cultural Resource Benefits:

  • Preserve an important historic landmark. & leverage historic tax credit monies to improve community
  • Establish an historic textile and river life museum for students, residents & tourists
  • Establish a technology & learning institute for students, residents, & tourists
  • Promote recreational activities on river (river life monitoring, canoe rental, fishing gear shop, …)
  • Provide small historic inn & event center for community, corporate, and non-profit activities.
  • Consistent with Historical & Cultural Resource Element of Town’s Comprehensive Plan

Economic Benefits:

  • High-end professional office spaces will attract new companies and jobs.
  • High-end professional office space will enable local companies to expand & remain in area
  • Valuable tourist attraction to bring visitors and money to area
  • Improve town’s image “Town that Preserves America’s Villages & Supports Green, Renewable Energy
  • Increased number of affordable housing units in town
  • Facilitate jobs for students (summer, intern, and part-time)
  • Increased property taxes for town (from increased village and nearby property values).
  • Increased sales and income taxes for state with local town benefits (from new & higher paying jobs)
  • Growth without increased demand on town infrastructures (such as sewer and water)
  • Consistent with Economic Element of Town’s Comprehensive Plan & SMART GROWTH RI 2005/07 reports

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Mission statement

Development Narrative

Significant Benefits for The Town of Westerly, Rhode Island


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