standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — The Planning Board is expected to continue its next level of review of a proposed development at the corner of Wells and Franklin streets on Thursday. The project would result in construction of 16 two-story duplex units and a three-building professional services office complex.

On Wednesday the board agreed to continue a public hearing on Fifty One Franklin LLC’s application for master plan review to a special meeting to be scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. Board members expressed general support for the project plans but discussed setting some conditions of approval, including requiring a traffic study or plan for both the area outside of the proposed development and in the site itself.

The residential component — 32 dwelling units in the 16 buildings — would be built under the state’s comprehensive permit law. It allows developers planning to build low- or moderate-income housing to submit a single application for a comprehensive permit to build the housing, in lieu of separate applications to the applicable local boards.

To qualify for the comprehensive permit approach, a developer must be planning low- or moderate-income housing that is equal to at least 25 percent of the total residential project. The law also allows developers to exceed local density regulations.

In this case, eight units would be sold as low or moderate income housing. The overall project would consist of an equal number of one- and two-bedroom units.

Construction is planned in two phases beginning with the residential component, according to Chris Beailieu-Shea of Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions Inc. of Providence, the project engineer, and Paul Azzinaro of Azzinaro Larson Architects of Westerly, project architect.

The 9-acre, four-lot site currently stretches into the town’s HDR-6, HDR-15 and P-15 zoning districts and includes a fresh water wetland consisting of a swamp and a stream. The property currently has several structures at 109 and 111 Wells St. and 51 Franklin St. Some of the existing structures would be demolished and some will remain, according to plans submitted on behalf of Fifty One Franklin LLC. The company hopes to eventually merge the four lots into two lots as part of the development process.

The three office buildings would each be 6,000 square feet in size. A portion of the property where the office buildings will be constructed is in the town’s airport overlay district, but Beailieu-Shea said the buildings will not pose a hazard to aircraft.

Planning Board member Christopher Lawlor said he was concerned about the project’s effect on traffic in the area and said Wells Street is heavily traveled by motorists heading to Westerly Hospital and other office buildings. During the summer, the street is commonly used as a cut-through for beach traffic, he said.

Board members Catherine DeNoia and Justin Hopkins also asked questions about traffic and a resident submitted a letter with similar concerns. “Wells Street is an already heavily burdened secondary road” that could be made “much worse” by the proposed development, Kathleen Giroux, a Wells Street resident, said in her letter to the board.

In addition to requesting a traffic study, board members asked the property owners to pursue creation of a new right turning lane for traffic heading from Wells Street to Franklin Street. Lawlor said he was also concerned about whether motorists coming from the proposed development would be able to safely make a left turn onto Wells Street.

The developers plan to limit initial access and egress from Wells Street. When the developers are ready to begin work on the second-phase office complex, state Department of Transportation approval for a right in and right out on Franklin Street will be sought,  Beailieu-Shea said.

In 2012, the Kenna family, which own the property, Azzinaro said, sought a zone change  when it was being eyed as a potential location for an Aldi grocery store. The zone change was denied by the Town Council.

“So we took a step back and said we’re going to do whatever the zone allows us to do. The family wants nothing more than this to be developed the proper way,” Azzinaro said. Aldi eventually opened in the nearby Franklin Shopping Plaza on Franklin Street.

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