Joe Zenga’s plans to put 40 housing units on roughly 4.5 acres of land abutting American Legion Post 15 were methodically vetted last week during a four-hour-long Planning Board meeting at Town Hall.
Testimony and public comment were halted at 11 p.m. May 23, with plans to take up the issue again – and vote – at a meeting on June 6. Zenga is looking for "master plan" approval to build 40 residential units, 10 of which would be deed-restricted as affordable. Also part of the plan is a commercial/retail building where the Sunnybrook Farms is now.
Because a court reporter did not show up, the proceedings were taped. Lawyers from both sides agreed to abide by a transcript of the tape, which they could review.
Engineers for the developer took Planning Board members through changes in the plan . Among the changes were the reduction of the number of total bedrooms from 84 to 76. Also, roadways were widened and a cul de sac was added for ease of movement through the development for emergency vehicles.
In addition, 47 zoning relief requests were outlined, many having to do with setbacks and the number of residences per square foot.
That's because the Greenwich Boulevard development, designed by Union Studio, the same firm that designed , is a higher-density project than current regulations allow. Like Greene Street, Greenwich Boulevard would combine single-family and condominium units. Unlike Greene Street, it would also include rental apartment-style units.
By making 25 percent of the units affordable, Zenga was able to bypass the Zoning Board (of which he is a member) and go for a "comprehensive permit," which only needs approval from the Planning Board.
Affordable housing units are in short supply in East Greenwich, which is required by state law (as are all Rhode Island municipalities) to have at least 10 percent of its housing stock be “affordable” by 2015. East Greenwich has 4 percent. (An affordable housing unit is that for which the price is set so that it would be affordable for someone with an income between 80 and 120 percent of the median for Kent County.) The comprehensive permit process allows developers who provide some affordable units a fast-track for their development.
While many roadway and other concerns by the building officials were allayed in this latest plan, abutters – who had to wait more than two hours to have their say – spoke out against other aspects of the plan.
Bill Higgins, whose house on Greenwich Boulevard is closest to the proposed development, voiced a number of concerns, from possible traffic problems to questions about where snowplows would put snow to the possible dangers of having residences near to the high-speed railroad power lines.
He also spoke about the possibility of a future train station nearby and said this development was designed with a station in mind. That, he said, could damage his neighborhood.
“We as a neighborhood are concerned about losing our homes," he said.
A report from the Planning Department casts doubt on idea of a train station being located in East Greenwich, although it has not been ruled out. The MBTA has three sites it's considering: Pawtucket, Cranston and East Greenwich. A report is due out later this year that should clarify the MBTA's plans.
Members of the American Legion also aired their concerns, in particular, the desire to continue being able to access the back of their property by the road on Zenga's property, citing a standing gentleman's agreement with Zenga. According to them, emergency vehicles don't fit on the drive right next to the building and need to the wider access way to reach the back.
Planning Board Chairman Brad Bishop told the members they could not expect Zenga to change his plan to accommodate their emergency exit.
They also noted fears that future residents might complain about noise from the Legion hall, which regularly hosts live music.
Again, Bishop reminded the members that Zenga was allowed to develop his property.
By the time Affordable Housing board member Marie Hennedy got up to speak (after 10 p.m.), her fellow members had departed, but she said she spoke for all of them in thanking the Planning Board for considering Zenga's proposal.
With a few questions needing clarification (including snow removal) and the likelihood of additional discussion, the hearing was ended at 11 p.m. It will be taken up again on Wednesday, June 6, at 7 p.m.