Planning Board chair, citing Westerly Crossings situation, vows to make improvements

Planning Board chair, citing Westerly Crossings situation, vows to make improvements

Record-Journal
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WESTERLY — The Planning Board must work to ensure the town no longer becomes ensnared in the type of dilemma officials faced when they approved a zone change requested by a developer who is seeking to expand a popular shopping center, the board’s chairman said Monday.

Jack Armstrong, Planning Board chairman made his comments during a joint meeting between the board and the Town Council in Council Chambers at Town Hall. Although he did not initially make reference to the specific developer, he later confirmed that he was discussing the Town Council’s approval of a zone change in 2015 sought by Westerly Ventures LLC., an affiliate of the Carpionato Group, the developer that built the Westerly Crossings shopping center and is currently working on plans to expand the center with new shops and restaurants.

In July Town Planner Jason Parker said a series of “significant missteps” by town staff led to the Planning Board and the Town Council approving the zone change. Parker was not town planner when the zone change was approved. In Parker’s view the zone change was approved despite conditions that had been implemented in 2003 limiting future development of the property at the corner of Franklin Street and Airport Road.

Lawyers for Westerly Ventures and the Carpionato Group have disputed Parker’s interpretation of the conditions.

On Monday Armstrong said “the entire history” of the Westerly Crossings property had been lost when the zone change was discussed.

“It’s critical that those things not happen and that means us, the buck stops here,” Armstrong told the Town Council.

Councilor Jack Carson said he hoped to discuss the zone change with the Planning Board and repeated his previous statement of regret for voting to approve the zone change.

“I question my own judgment,” Carson said Monday. Previously Carson said he probably would have voted differently had he been informed of the history of the project and the conditions. “It was a major issue and might continue to be,” Carson said.

William Conley Jr., town attorney, advised the council and board not to continue discussing the Carpionato project saying it is the subject of litigation. It is not clear what case he was referring to as a review by The Sun of the state judiciary on-line data base revealed no open cases connected to the property.

Westerly Ventures and Carpionato are currently seeking positive recommendations from the Federal Aviation Administration and Rhode Island Airport Corporation for its plans to add two buildings to the shopping center.

Armstrong told the council that his board plans to take on the many tasks laid out for planning boards in state law and town ordinances, including offering input on capital spending and proposed land acquisition. He also said the board will conduct a detailed review of proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan as recommended by a citizens advisory commission.

“I’m not sure in the past the Planning Board was as engaged in doing the type of review of the Comprehensive Plan as we are planning to do... it’s very important to me as chair that when we pass something to you, the council, it has been completely vetted,” Armstrong said.

Councilor Mario Celico thanked Armstrong and the rest of the board for taking on tasks he said previous iterations of the board did not.

“For many years it wasn’t done,” Celico said.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com


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