Above: The developer’s lawyer, Bill Landry, makes the case for a 410-unit residential Division Road development at the April 19, 2023, Planning Board meeting.
While it was a public hearing, the public will wait until May 3 to speak
Some 60 people attended the first night of the Planning Board’s public hearing on the 410-unit Division Road Neighborhood project Wednesday (4/19) at Town Hall. At the meeting’s start, board chair Ben Lupovitz said the hearing would end at 10 p.m. to be continued another night, if needed. It will be needed.
William Landry, lawyer for developer Ned Capozzi, took nearly the entire three hours to present the project, introducing a civil engineer, traffic engineer, an architect, and a planning consultant.
At the end of the presentation, Landry addressed a number of questions posed at earlier meetings and two Planning Board members asked questions, by which time it was 10 p.m. So, the hearing will continue at the next Planning Board meeting, May 3.
The vision behind this project, according to Landry, is to create a variety of housing units that could mainly appeal to young professionals and older adults looking to downsize, housing that was in high demand, he said.
“The idea here is to [build] a very high-quality neo-traditional development,” Landry told the Planning Board. Most of the residences, for instance, would not have front-facing garages, and there would be a mix of single family, multi-family and apartment-style complexes, with some open spaces, including a park near the center of the “neighborhood” that would be similar in size to Roger Williams National Memorial, which runs along North Main Street in Providence.
He noted the town’s own comprehensive plan – a document drafted every 10 years that envisions the future of the town – identified this parcel, at the very northwest corner of East Greenwich, as one that would be good for higher density housing. It’s currently zoned F2, like much of the surrounding East Greenwich area, requiring a 2-acre minimum per residence. The Division Road Neighborhood proposal, alternatively, would equal out to five units per acre (or 410 units in total).
Landry got that partially correct. The town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for higher-density mixed-use development here, with commercial and residential components akin to South County Commons. According to Landry, in talks with the town Planning Department a few years ago when the plan was first being discussed, then Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais suggested keeping any plans all residential.
At the meeting Wednesday, Landry also argued the developer was actually doing the town a favor. Capozzi is taking advantage of the state’s comprehensive permit process to promote affordable housing. If a developer agrees to make at least 25 percent of their units deed-restricted “affordable,” they get a density bonus. Landry said a developer could max out on this particular property at as much as 20 units per acre, rather than the 5 per acre Capozzi is proposed.
“My client is a design person by career,” Landry said. “He was not looking to max this property out, not even near that.”
Jeremy Lake, architect with Union Studio Architecture and Community Design, told the board the neighborhood was “designed to match the DNA of the Hill & Harbor neighborhood” in downtown East Greenwich. “Basically the kind of neighborhood everybody loves trick-or-treating in,” he added.
Lake mentioned an example of a similar-type community built 15 years ago in Warwick, New York (Warwick Grove is a 55+ community, unlike the one being proposed here).
The Division Road Neighborhood proposal calls for 202 detached units with garages, 136 units in four 4-story buildings, and 72 units in twelve 2-story buildings for a total of 410 units. There would be two roads in and out of the development, both from Division Road. The neighborhood would be private, with no town trash pickup or snow plowing; roads that would have to be privately maintained. Road widths as designed are wide enough to accommodate fire trucks on the main roads (for any fires on one of the smaller streets, hoses could be brought in). In addition, the main roads would be able to accommodate school buses.
Landry did not bring up any impact the development might have on schools. The Planning Board is not able to consider impacts on town services when reviewing a comprehensive permit application. Instead, they can only consider health and safety concerns. But the TRC report encouraged discussion of this issue at this juncture.
Nicole Reilly, a civil engineer with DiPrete Engineering, said they would be following new, more stringent wetlands requirements. One of the delays with this development, which was first brought to the town in 2019, was in securing a sewer tie-in, since that is the only way a development with this level of density is possible (septic systems require more land per unit). The developer got permission earlier this year to tie into the Coventry sewer system, which feeds into the West Warwick wastewater treatment plant.
Traffic has been a major concern for residents in the area. Robert Clifton, the engineer who conducted the traffic studies, said the length of the lead time in getting to this point meant they had a lot of data, starting in 2019.
“We look at the absolute worst-case scenario,” he said. “We wanted to be very conservative in our analysis.”
His traffic studies were peer-reviewed by Anna Novo, a long-time traffic consultant for the town, and they did not show a significant problem with the addition of, potentially, as many as 800 cars.
“There’s still a lot of capacity left in the roadway for future development,” said Clifton.
As with earlier developments (for instance, High Hawk and Signal Ridge), it will be years before the project would be fully built out.
The TRC report noted:
The Town’s traffic consultant is satisfied with [the] approach taken by the Traffic Engineer within the revised traffic study. However, at build-out of this project, traffic on Division Road will double in volume. Staff strongly recommends that this element be sufficiently vetted prior to Master Plan approval.
During Landry’s final remarks, he took up several questions that had been asked at various points in recent months, including these:
- Would Westfield Drive become a cut-through after the development was built? Landry said that seemed unlikely since the drive meanders and ends up at Moosehorn Road.
- Were there any assurances the development will not grow in the future? “We’re not seeking anymore.… That’s certainly not our intention,” said Landry.
- Will there be a light at the intersection of Division Road and New London Turnpike? Probably not because DOT needs a certain traffic density, Landry said.
- Will other people be able to walk in the community? Sidewalks will be open to all, said Landry.
Planning Board member Tara Wood asked what would happen if the developer ran out of money before completion.
“It’s really not different from other projects,” said Landry, referring to the developer’s building plans. “There will be phasing. The first phase would include both entrances, the back of the development and fire suppression … then you build the infrastructure one phase at a time. There is a possibility. Not likely, but there is a possibility that we don’t build as many units as planned. And there’s always the ability to bond public infrastructure. But there is no way to make a developer build all the units they say now they want to build.”
Landry added, “If there were fewer units, a quarter of them would be affordable.”
Regarding existing trees, Landry said the developer shared the same interest as nearby residents – to not have the area look like “a lunar landscape.”
People looking to make a public comment on the project will have an opportunity to do so at the May 3 Planning Board meeting.
Find all our stories about the Division Road Neighborhood project HERE.