WESTERLY — Neighbors of a proposed condominium project off East Avenue say the development would alter the character of their neighborhood and present traffic problems on a heavily traveled road.
Opponents of the project proposed by Douglas Enterprises Limited of Narragansett, including two members of the Town Council, raised their concerns Tuesday during a Planning Board public hearing on the project's master plan. The developer is promising luxury condominium units and a commitment to preserving existing conditions of the site as much as possible. An expert hired by the developer said the project would have a minimal effect on traffic.
The developer, board members, the board's lawyer, and Alyse Yeager Oziolor, the town's principal planner, disagreed over whether the project requires submission of a yield plan depicting a conventional subdivision with a public road to determine the base number of units permitted and a proposed density bonus Douglas Enterprises Limited is seeking under the town's inclusionary zoning ordinance. The ordinance allows a 20 percent density bonus provided that the additional units allowed are designated as low-moderate income qualified housing.
The current plans, including the density bonus plus one extra unit that would require a zoning variance, call for 26 two-bedroom units in 13 duplex-style buildings on a 7.6-acre site at 165 East Ave. The development would be served by a private road.
Yield plans show the maximum number of units allowed under zoning and account for lot size, road width, and whether a property includes wetlands or other areas that cannot be built upon.
William Nardone, the lawyer for Douglas Enterprises Limited, and Douglas Desimone, a principal of the company, said a yield plan is not required under the inclusionary zoning ordinance. Nardone said the town's zoning regulations require yield plans for subdivision projects, not major land development projects such as the one proposed by Douglas Enterprises Limited.
The project, as currently proposed, was developed after several meetings between town staff, Nardone and Desimone, who said he originally proposed a 32-unit project under the state's comprehensive permit law, which allows developers to forgo density requirements in return for a certain number of low- and moderate-priced units. Over time, based on the input of town officials, Nardone said the current plans were developed.
Developers will simply apply for comprehensive permit projects in the town if they are required to submit yield plans for inclusionary zoning projects, Desimone said.
"The intent of inclusionary zoning is to give the developer relief in recognition of having to sell some units at a loss. What you're doing is penalizing for inclusionary zoning," Desimone said.
Desimone also called the confusion over a yield plan a misunderstanding and said town staff had not requested one until about one week ago. A survey of the property will soon be submitted, Desimone said.
Town Council President Sharon Ahern, who lives on East Avenue, said the project conflicts with the town's new Comprehensive Plan and its emphasis on trying to maintain neighborhood character.
"I don't understand how this project has got as far as it has," Ahern said.
Town Councilor Karen Cioffi, who also lives on East Avenue, said residents who opposed the project planned to file a petition. She focused on traffic congestion and safety concerns while speaking against the project.
Roxanne Illiano questioned whether a proposed buffer between the project and her house and others on Pickering Drive was adequate to shield the project from view.
One East Avenue resident, George Markham, said an existing house on the property was once identified as being historically significant by state preservation officials. Plans call for the house to be razed.
"The character of the neighborhood will be eroded significantly. Primarily because the density is so inconsistent with the the neighborhood," Markham said.
At the request of board members, Desimone said he would pay for a peer review of his consultant's work on the traffic study and engineering reports. Should the project gain approval, he said he would also pay for a consultant to monitor the project to ensure compliance with erosion-control measures.
Board members and town officials have raised concern about erosion and sediment control because the property slopes downward toward Beach Street and because a different project on East Avenue was beset with stormwater runoff problems.
The public hearing will resume in March. Board members hope to conduct a site walk of the property before the hearing resumes.