Above: Those who were planning to speak during public comment on the Division Road Neighborhood application raised their hands at the Planning Board May 3.
Residents had their say at the second night of the Planning Board public hearing on the 410-unit “Division Road Neighborhood” development. None of it was favorable. The main complaint was an expectation of worsening traffic on Division Road and surrounding roads once units are built but residents also spoke of possible environmental damage to the ground water, as well as loss of wildlife habitat and more noise from Route 95 after trees are removed from the site.
The Planning Board is weighing an application for “master plan” approval, the first of three approvals developer Ned Capozzi will need before he can start building what would be the largest single housing development in East Greenwich history. Bill Landry, lawyer for Capozzi, spent most of the first night of the public hearing, on April 19, outlining the project, which he described as a “high-quality neo-traditional development,” with 202 single-family houses, 4 larger apartment buildings containing 136 units in total, and 12 smaller apartment buildings with a total of 72 units.
There would be two roads in and out of the 80-acre 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.
At the May 3 continuation of the public hearing, Planning Board members were the first to bring up traffic as a major concern.
Member Tara Wood said she would like the traffic study to be expanded to include the intersection of Division Road and Route 2. The town’s traffic consultant, Anna Novo via Zoom, conceded that the intersection was congested but said, “I don’t think extending the traffic analysis … is going to make that much of a difference from what we hear today.”
Member Andrew Shartenberg asked why the traffic study did not include Westfield Drive, Miss Fry Drive, and Moosehorn Road. “It just makes sense the traffic coming out of the development will use Miss Fry Drive to get to Moosehorn,” he said.
Traffic engineer for the developer, Robert Clinton, said the more direct route was to take Division Road to Moosehorn.
Once the Planning Board members had exhausted their questions, Chair Ben Lupovitz asked Town Solicitor Andy Teitz to outline what the Planning Board was able to consider in rendering its decision.
Teitz noted the rules on a project like this one, filed as a “comprehensive permit” project (meaning it plans to include at least 25 percent affordable units), are different than a project not utilizing the comp permit application. The comp permit state law was put into place to encourage developers to add more affordable housing by granting them a density bonus for making more of their units deed-restricted affordable. That’s a big change for this particular parcel, currently zoned for 2-acre lots, which would allow a builder a maximum 40 units (and that’s only if all the land was buildable). Add to the comp permit density bonus the fact that this parcel is identified in the town’s 10-year Comprehensive Plan as a good spot for higher density residential, and the Planning Board is left with only a couple of major considerations: health and safety.
Teitz outlined the things the Planning Board could not consider: impact on schools, general fiscal impact, and a general increase in traffic.
“The question is, does it weigh on health and safety? That would be grounds,” said Teitz. “One of the key things is to realize, at least as I see it, you’re here to balance the needs of the community. The General Assembly has already established the need for affordable housing. It is your job to balance that with the other aspects.”
He added, “The developer has a right to submit this application to the town and the board. It’s difficult to deny it [just] because people in the town don’t like it.”
East Greenwich, like every community in the state, is mandated to reach 10 percent affordable housing stock; it is at around 6.5 percent now.
Renu Englehart, a member of the Town Council, was one of the first commenters, prefacing her words with a note that she had gotten permission to speak as a resident from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. Englehart lives on Division Road.
She said she wanted the developer to conduct a comprehensive traffic study for the whole town. In addition, she brought with her a blowup of a photo of the house at 1727 Division Road, a property owned by Capozzi since 1989. It showed a dilapidated structure with the roof caving in. Englehart said Capozzi had applied several times in recent years to be allowed to demolish the house, which is historic, but been denied. She said what he was doing was demolition by neglect in order that he could build an access road from Division, through that property to an abutting West Warwick parcel.
At a break in the meeting, Capozzi agreed he’d been trying to get permission to demolish the house starting in 2014. He did not comment on why he hadn’t fixed up the house when he first bought it in 1989 and conceded he’d purchased the property thinking of access to his West Warwick property.
Paul Liu of Miss Fry Drive said flooding on Division Road was a problem “every time it rains.” And he said the curve on Division Road that sits between the two proposed entrances creates a major blind spot.
Denise Shapiro of Westfield Drive commented on the narrowness of Division Road, especially for walkers and cyclists.
Sabrina Weiss, also of Westfield Drive, said Division Road was even more dangerous after peak hours – at night. “People fly down that road,” she said. She added, “I don’t think most of us are opposed to this parcel being developed in a responsible way.”
Elizabeth Rodgers of Division Road was one of a few commenters who voiced environmental concerns and about the ponds planned for water retention on the site, expressing a worry about mosquitos.
Cheri Walton of an abutting property on Division Road, said she’d like to see a wildlife study done now, before any real work begins, noting a wide variety of animals she’s seen in the area, including bobcats, moles, bats, and, in one instance, a bear. She said her grandmother, Becky Ann Carpenter Thompson, grew up on the proposed development land and asked if the developer was prepared to find unmarked graves and other historical artifacts beyond the one historic cemetery located on the property.
Others said the development was just too big and argued it would strain the school system. In total, 20 people commented during the meeting, including several via Zoom.
After the final commenter, Chair Lupowitz suggested the developer clarify a few things for the next meeting, including the traffic situation, drainage plans, the impact on wildlife, the size of the project, noise, the environment and the archeological study. Member Matt Renninger said he wanted to hear more about Capozzi’s other Division Road property, the house he wants to tear down. He also asked for the developer to address flooding concerns on Division Road. Tara Wood asked for population and student population projections.
After the hearing, Capozzi said it was unlikely he would consider reducing the size of the development. “I think fewer make it not feasible,” he said, adding, “Aesthetically, I feel it’s going to be quite attractive, quite beautiful.”
The public hearing was continued to the Planning Board’s next meeting, May 17.
Find all our stories about the Division Road Neighborhood project HERE.