After hours of testimony over three separate Planning Board meetings, members finally voted Wednesday night, granting master plan approval to Joe Zenga’s 40-unit Greenwich Boulevard development by a vote of 6-0.
“I didn’t think you guys would be so thorough,” said Zenga after the vote. The longtime East Greenwich resident had remained largely silent over the course of the meetings, letting his team - led by lawyer David Igliozzi – do the talking.
The original plan, unveiled in April 2011, called for 62 housing units. By the time it came before the Planning Board in March, the number had been reduced to 40, with one commercial building where the Sunnybrook Farms now stands. The development would extend from Main Street (Sunnybrook Farms) east toward the train tracks and south, behind American Legion Post 15.
Part of the land is zoned commercial highway, part is zoned light industry/office, and yet another part of the property is zoned mixed use planned development. Because of that and because of the density of the project – a combination of single-family and condominium units – the proposal required dozens of zoning variances.
By making 25 percent of the units affordable, Zenga was able to bypass the Zoning Board (of which he happens to be a member) and go for a comprehensive permit, which only needs approval from the Planning Board. The comprehensive permit process allows developers who provide affordable units a fast-track for their development.
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.)
Since March, the plan has been modified in a few ways. First, the number of bedrooms decreased from 84 to 76. In addition, roadways were modified to better accommodate emergency vehicles and an area was identified for large trash receptacles and snow removal.
Certain questions remain, in particular the issue of access for the American Legion, which has been using a driveway that lies primarily on Zenga’s land. Those questions will need to be answered when the plan comes back for preliminary approval.
For project architect Don Powers – – Wednesday night’s ruling was only the first in a series of steps that must take place before the project is built.
“The approval that they just gave us gives us a ticket to the dance,” said Powers, with Union Studio. “We can’t go build tomorrow. We’ve got to prove out all the areas they had questions about, particularly the retaining walls, the easements, the drainage.... There are a lot of other people who have to approve this but now the town is saying, ‘If you can prove all that, then we like the project.’”
Some residents of Greenwich Boulevard continued to oppose the project, citing traffic and density issues.
One of those residents, Bill Higgins, said after, “Expect this to be appealed.”
He said it seemed the motion as read by Planning Board member Stephen Brusini looked prefabricated – crafted before any of the evening’s testimony. “Whatever came up tonight didn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s just disappointing.”
Any appeal, according to Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais, would have to go before the State Housing Appeal Board (SHAB), because it was reviewed under the comprehensive permit process.
“I don’t know an appeal yet that’s been overturned by SHAB,” she said.