WESTERLY — Proposed modifications to previously approved plans to expand the Westerly Crossings Shopping Center were approved this week by the Planning Board but the board failed to provide a positive advisory opinion on an application for a drive-thru window for one of the proposed new tenants.
The board voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve amendments to the master plan submitted on behalf of Westerly Ventures LLC, the owner of the 25-acre shopping center and adjacent property. The master plan was approved in 2017. Westerly Ventures LLC is an affiliate of the Carpionato Group, the real estate development company based in Johnston.
The new plans would reduce the square footage of the two new buildings to about 29,540 from the previously approved 41,000, according to project engineer Sergio Cherenzia of Cherenzia & Associates. The drive-thru window is being sought for a proposed Starbucks coffee shop, which would occupy a third building.
The plans previously approved by the Planning Board were also approved by the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Management, and the Federal Aviation Administration, said William Nardone, the lawyer who represents Westerly Ventures LLC for the project. The shopping center is located at the northwest edge of the airport property, at the intersection of Routes 1 and 78. "We are fully confident that we'll receive those approvals again based upon a reduction in the scope of what was previously approved," Nardone said.
The three new buildings would all be in a runway protection zone associated with the airport. Two board members and two other residents raised questions about the safety of building in the runway protection zone and the nature of the FAA's approval of the earlier plans.
"There is to be no building whatsoever in a runway protection zone ... we are just asking for trouble by putting those buildings so close to the airport," said Hatsy Moore, one of the residents who spoke during the board's public information session on the proposal. Moore is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, which runs Westerly State Airport.
According to FAA guidelines, "Compatible land use within the runway protection zone is generally restricted to such land uses as agricultural, golf course, and similar uses that do not involve congregations of people or construction of buildings or other improvements that may be obstructions."
Town Planner Nancy Letendre acknowledged the concerns raised by Moore, resident Paula Ruisi and board members Richard Constantine and Christopher Lawlor. But she said the FAA considers mitigating factors. When FAA guidelines, she said, "merge with local land use regulations there's a process through which they go to get approval or make construction more conforming, so it's not a strict prohibition."
Letendre also noted that the board previously requested, as a condition of approval, that Westerly Ventures conduct a vertical survey to show the height of proposed new buildings and their relationship to airspace used by aircraft in the area.
Constantine said he had walked out of Stop & Shop, at the shopping center, and "been almost shocked by how low the planes come over there."
Nardone said the previously approved plans received a "determination of no hazard to avigation" regarding each of the proposed buildings in March.
Lawlor noted that the FAA and RIAC both opposed a zone change, which was ultimately approved by the Town Council, for part of the property when it was proposed in 2015.
The board, as a condition of the approval it granted on Tuesday, asked that Westerly Ventures provide it with copies of the material it submits to FAA for the new approval it will seek, as well as a copy of the approval letter it will need in order to move ahead with the new buildings.
Ruisi, in addition to questioning the nature of the FAA's approval, repeated an assertion she has made for years about the property — that the original project approval limited the amount of retail space in the shopping center to 161,000 square feet and that the cap has already been reached.
Former Town Planner Jason Parker, who is now a member of the Planning Board, had determined that the Town Council's move to approve the rezoning had the effect of wiping away the previous conditions that would have limited the type and location of additional development on the property. Lawyers for Westerly Ventures have vehemently denied Parker's opinion. Parker did not attend the board's meeting on Tuesday.
Nardone declined to address Ruisi's comments in detail but said, "What has been built is in compliance with the rules and regulations and conditions that were imposed upon it."
The request for a positive advisory opinion for a special use permit to allow the drive-thru window for Starbucks failed despite a 3-1 vote in favor of issuing the opinion to the Zoning Board of Review. Board members James Hall IV, Justin Hopkins and Constantine voted in favor. Lawlor voted in opposition.
The board's lawyer, Scott Levesque, said at least four votes in favor from the seven member board were required for approval. Board members Dylan A. Kosten and Catherine DeNoia were also absent.