WESTERLY — The Planning Board voted 6-1 Tuesday not to support a proposed prohibition on locating asphalt plants in the town.
The board’s advisory opinion will now move to the Town Council, which opened a public hearing on the proposed ban Monday night but agreed to resume the hearing during its Sept. 9 meeting to give the Planning Board time to render an opinion. The council is not bound by the Planning Board’s opinion.
The proposed ban, in the form of an amendment to the town’s zoning regulations, stems from opposition that residents and town officials have voiced since Cherenzia Companies filed for and received air quality permits from the state to develop a 300-ton-per-day asphalt plant adjacent to its quarry operation on White Rock Road. Faced with organized opposition, the company has said it would no longer pursue plans for the plant. The company pointed out however, that the plant it had proposed would have been outside a public drinking water well protection zone established by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Planning Board members Alan Scribner, Kenneth Sorensen, Jack Felber, Robert Clark and Hollis McKee, and alternate member Dan Joubert, voted against the ban. Vice-chairman Carl Blume voted in favor of it. Board Chairman David Panciera was absent.
Felber noted his other role as chairman of the Economic Development Commission, and said the proposed zoning amendment was overly broad. “I don’t think we should be acting on any ordinance that says something is going to be prohibited in any zone in perpetuity, because we don’t know what the zoning code is going to be 20 years from now and we also don’t know what the technology is going to be for manufacturing asphalt 20 years from now,” Felber said.
Sorensen said that while he had heard the criticisms leveled against asphalt plants by residents during Monday’s Town Council meeting, the board had not been able to follow its typical protocol of hearing from experts.
Opponents of Cherenzia’s plans have said asphalt plants emit harmful chemicals. They also argued that the plant’s proximity to an aquifer and public water wells, farther down White Rock Road, would put the town’s water supply in jeopardy. Clark said that while he did not condone exposing property owners to bad odors, noise, or other nuisances, he did not support a permanent ban on asphalt plants. An asphalt plant run by Wescon Corporation, just across the Pawcatuck River from the Cherenzia site, has operated for decades and done no harm to the aquifer, Clark said.
Blume said he supported the prohibition because asphalt plants pose too great of a risk to the town’s water supply and because property owners would have to endure odors and noise.
Resident Fred Sculco, who attended both the Planning Board and Town Council meetings, said Tuesday that asphalt plants would cause an immediate steep drop in surrounding property values. He also said that truck traffic would be a constant nuisance on White Rock Road. He disputed claims that asphalt plants are closely monitored by state and federal agencies and also asserted that asphalt plants emit dozens of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.
During the Town Council’s public hearing on Monday, Micheal DeNoia, of 10 White Rock Road, submitted a petition with the signatures of 41 residents in favor of the move to prohibit asphalt plants and noted that a petition with 240 signatures opposing Cherenzia’s plans had previously been submitted to the council. Asphalt plants should be considered to be petroleum-related businesses, a type of enterprise not allowed under current zoning regulations, DeNoia said.
Conservation Commission Chairman Joseph MacAndrew asked the council to take steps toward purchasing the Cherenzia property using funds from state agencies dedicated to water resource protection.
Richard Anthony, a former town councilor and current member of the Finance Board, asked the council to consider scheduling a referendum to ask voters to approve a bond to finance the purchase of land to preserve as open space and to protect the aquifer.
As a stopgap measure, in June, the Town Council enacted a moratorium, which expires in March, on asphalt plant applications.
Town Councilor Jack Carson, an outspoken critic of the Cherenzia plant plan, said that he and others were hypocrites because of the important role asphalt plays in modern society. “We want it but just not in our backyard,” Carson said.
Council President Diana Serra assured residents who attended the public hearing Monday “that the buck stops with” the council and that “nothing is going to happen” by waiting to hear from the Planning Board.
Cherenzia Companies is The Westerly Sun’s landlord.