Planning Board Seeks to Thwart Developer’s Town Council End Run

by | Aug 16, 2018

Paul Mihailides is asking the Town Council to triple the sewer capacity for his ‘Frenchtown Commons’ project.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Planning Board Wednesday decided to notify both the Town Council and the developer of the proposed Frenchtown Commons that any vote to increase the development’s sewer capacity would first need to be vetted by the Planning Board.

The action follows the developer’s request to the Town Council at its May 30 meeting to increase the project’s sewer capacity from 25,000 gallons a day to 90,000 gallons a day. The council is vested with the power to grant sewer capacity.

The Planning Board unanimously opposed the idea.

“East Greenwich will be giving away very limited sewer capacity for additional development that will only pay taxes to North Kingstown,” said Planning Board Chair Mike Donegan. “This will limit our ability to develop the rest of East Greenwich consistent with the plans set out in the Comprehensive Community Plan.”

The developer, Paul Mihailides, got “master plan” approval from the Planning Board for the dual East Greenwich-North Kingstown project in 2013. That application called for a mixed-use development similar to South County Commons, which would be split between East Greenwich and North Kingstown – 25 percent of the development in East Greenwich, 75 percent in North Kingstown.

There were a couple of issues for East Greenwich: First, all the traffic would come through East Greenwich, via Frenchtown Road between Route 4 and Post Road, because the North Kingstown portion was landlocked. Second, the sewer capacity would have to be borne completely by East Greenwich. But the Planning Board granted the project “master plan” approval, a conceptual review that leaves much of the nuts-and-bolts engineering and fine-tuning to later phases.

The Town Council then gave the developer 25,000 gallons of sewer capacity a day for the project. The developer, in turn, would build a sewer line along Frenchtown Road to Post Road and upgrade a pump station there. The expanded sewer line would allow residents on that part of Frenchtown Road to tie in to the EG sewer.

The project went dark after that, as the developer worked to pull together a deal. When it resurfaced in May, the project had morphed – on the North Kingstown side anyway – calling for less commercial, more residential, and the requisite need for increased sewer capacity.

The normal path would be for the developer to return to the Planning Board. A provision of the master plan approval calls for such a review even if the proposed changes were only on the North Kingstown side of the project.

Instead, developer Paul Mihailides went back to the Town Council to ask for the additional 65,000-gallon-a-day sewer capacity. His lawyer, John Revens, argued it would be best to know whether or not the Town Council supported the increase before Mihailides spent money re-engineering the project.

At the May 30 meeting, Public Works director Joe Duarte spoke out against granting the 65,000-gallon increase, citing the town’s limited sewer capacity. The entire East Greenwich sewer system is built to accommodate 1.7 million gallons a day. Duarte said the town had 293,000 gallons of excess capacity.

It turns out the town’s excess capacity is vastly less than that. A new review of the system’s capacity – which was requested by the Town Council at that meeting – has found the town’s actual excess capacity is only 112,000 gallons.

How could that be?

Mainly, it’s due to vast tracts of farmland on South County Trail the town had thought were deed-restricted to remain open space. They aren’t. In other words, it’s possible that land will one day be developed, so under the methodology used by the town, a certain amount of sewer capacity must be set aside to accommodate that potential development.

Another correction to the excess capacity total had to do with actual developments versus how the town is zoned. For instance, a developer of a property zoned for 4 units might get a zoning exemption and build 8 or 12 more units.

The Town Council has not weighed in on the new sewer capacity figure and it’s unclear when it might again take up the Frenchtown Commons request. But the Planning Board was clear Wednesday night that it would not accept a decision by the council to give the developer excess capacity without getting Planning Board approval first.

“Even if the Town Council grants the developer that capacity, we could still weigh it against our Comp Plan and in fact deny it?” Planning Board Chair Mike Donegan asked Town Solicitor David D’Agostino.

“I don’t think the Town Council could take an end run around the Planning Board,” said D’Agostino, saying such an action would be improper procedure.

“I think the applicant can and should come before this board … with a modified master plan,” he said. “It gives you the ability to vet this.”

D’Agostino and Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais will work with Donegan on a resolution to the Town Council and a notice to applicant Mihailides.

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