The recent neighborhood dismay over the condo development on East Avenue is understandable. A single-family, medium-density neighborhood is now confronted with a high-density development and increased traffic.
In response, two Town Councilors living in the area were shocked by the density of housing in the project. If that was their response, can you imagine what’s in store for the rest of us?
The new Comprehensive Plan removes zoning security for all of our neighborhoods. In fact, you no longer live in the same “neighborhood” you thought you did. Why? Because this Comp Plan has reconfigured every neighborhood in Westerly!
The Comp Plan contains a map (above) showing all the new 29 neighborhood configurations. This map can also be found on the town website (www.westerlyri.gov) on page MF39 at the end of the Comp Plan document.
You may not recognize your old neighborhood in this new Neighborhood Plan map. You may find you are now incorporated into a Commercial or Industrial zone or joined to areas you would never envision as part of your neighborhood. A few questions might be: Who reconfigured these 29 neighborhoods? What was the rationale used? What impact will these new Neighborhood Plan associations have on zoning in these reconfigured neighborhoods? It is clear that this map and these connections define your neighborhood’s possible exposure to development plans. Developers use the stated “Goals, Policies and Actions” in a Comp Plan as “mandates” for their projects.
There are beneficial aspects of the plan relating to downtown and revitalization of specific areas of town. However, there are also many unforeseen consequences to our neighborhoods contained within the broad application of Goals, Policies and Actions stated in the Land Use Section 3.7 of the plan (see pages 64-104 of the 2020-40 Comp Plan for details).
In the new plan, East Avenue faced added zoning directives because it is in the Urban Services (sewer and water district) boundary. If you are within the Urban Services boundary, the Comp Plan Land Use Section enables cluster development, multifamily, mixed-use development, infill development, rezoning of “accessory structures” or spaces as apartments or rental units. This increased housing density is now possible wherever existing sewers and water are provided.
The Comp Plan also proposes a significant extension to the existing sewer line. It continues all the way to Dunn’s Corners. Check to see if you are in that new extension (Urban Services Boundary) on page MF19 of the plan. If you are, you are looking at the same list of potential development options cited above in your neighborhood.
New neighborhood development incentives leading to “bigger and denser” will not enhance the quality of life in Westerly. Unchecked, these objectives will lead to more traffic congestion, densely packed “urban landscapes,” increased pressure on police, fire and emergency services, environmental pressures such as water runoff to the river, greater demands on water supply and sewage treatment, increased road maintenance, and increased tax burden on our community to provide these services. Is it worth that price to enable more tourism and development?
Westerly is not an “urban environment.” We are a town of 32 square miles of land and 22,500 people. Let’s not lose sight of that. Westerly’s attraction comes from the fact that we have resisted increased density and urban development for all these years. We are neither Warwick nor Newport, and we are better for that fact.
Here is another disagreeable zoning action statement contained in the Comp Plan. The plan encourages a trash-to-energy facility. See Comp Plan, page 97 for Action NRG 1.1.B. “Support Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation in any undertaking of a waste-to-energy program.” The word “any” in that action directive in our Comp Plan portends an open invitation to develop a trash-to-energy facility in Westerly.
The adverse environmental emissions from these facilities are well known, not to mention the dramatic increase in refuse trucks traveling through our streets to and from the facility. Picture a hot day in August with these 18-wheel trucks stuck in bumper-to-bumper beach traffic.
The majority of the Neighborhood Plan zoning directives evolved during the tragic and dark period of the pandemic. Little educational information was provided to the community; few residents understood the potential impact of the plan on our neighborhoods. Instead of securing the future of our neighborhoods and our quality of life, the new Comp Plan has increased the threat to many of them.
The events on East Avenue and the Winnapaug Golf Course are just the beginning. This fight to preserve the quality of life in our community has already begun. We must continue to join together to preserve our neighborhoods and community against the pressures of overdevelopment contained within the Comprehensive Plan if we are to keep Westerly the gem that it is.
The writer is a resident of Westerly and a member of Westerly Residents for Thoughtful Development.