Above: The Division Road Neighborhood is outlined in red.
Experts say area can handle more traffic; residents still disagree
The public hearing before the Planning Board over the 410-unit Division Road Neighborhood proposal continued for a fourth session Wednesday, June 21, with a more explicit argument over traffic and who gets to decide how much traffic is too much. The lawyer for the developer also expressed a desire to get the project to a vote.
The board is considering whether or not to grant master plan approval – the first of three approvals needed before any construction could begin – to developer Ned Capozzi’s project. The project – with its village-like layout including single family houses, duplexes, and small and larger apartment buildings – represents the largest single housing development the Town of East Greenwich has ever considered.
The project gets a density bonus (i.e. the developer is able to build more units than would normally be allowed) because 25 percent of the units would be “deed-restricted affordable.” (According to R.I. Housing, an affordable residence does not cost a family more than 30 percent of their income, including insurance and condo fees, if applicable.)
Nearby residents are opposed to the project as is but say they are not opposed to new housing or affordable housing. but they are frustrated that the developer has chosen this particular area, where most houses are on two acres. The proposed development sits on 80 acres so with 410 units that comes out to about 5 units per acre.
“We’re living in a rural area because we want to live in a rural area,” said Denise Shapiro, who lives in the Westwood Farms development directly across the street from the proposed development.
Shapiro and others Wednesday night said it was already difficult to turn left (west) out of Westwood Drive.
Division Road is two lanes with no shoulders, but it is considered a state highway and traffic experts for both the developer and the town have said the road can accommodate more traffic than it currently has.
Planning Board Chair Ben Lupowitz said he understood the residents’ complaints and said he hoped there would be some “give and take.”
“I personally have sat at the traffic light at that intersection [Rt. 2 and Division] heading toward downtown East Greenwich. I have to wait two red lights now at that intersection … how much worse is it going to get? It’s a problem now. It will absolutely get worse. I think right now, we’re talking about the eyeball test.”
Planning board member Matt Yoder said he was more inclined to go with what the experts have said.
“We have numerous [traffic] studies and the hangups that [residents have] seem to run counter to what the traffic studies indicate,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard for me to not go by what the science shows. They are living on a state highway and with that come some ramifications.”
Town Councilor Caryn Corenthal, who lives in Westwood Farms, said she thought now was the time for a new, larger, traffic study – one that would take the Route 2-Division Road intersection into account.
(The last major traffic study of that intersection was in 2006, but several of the projects then on the table never materialized or were changed substantially.)
Bill Landry, lawyer for the developer, pushed back against the idea of doing more studies now, saying Capozzi had already done far more than was technically required for master plan approval. Master plan is more conceptual – the hard engineering is done at the preliminary plan approval, which would come next.
“There’s plenty of time to get this right. It doesn’t all get done in the master plan stage,” Landry said. “At the next stage, the preliminary plan stage, you spend the money for the testing…. We’re not saying we won’t do it. We [didn’t] have to have a traffic study [at the master plan stage] – we agreed to do that. We [didn’t] have to have an archeological study – we agreed to do that…. You’re not dealing with a developer who’s doing the bare minimum to get by.”
But when Town Solicitor Andy Teitz suggested extending the application deadline to later in August, Landry said no.
As of now, the Planning Board has to vote on the plan by Aug. 16 or the plan is approved as submitted. Under state law, a municipality has 90 days to vote on a comprehensive permit application. Because of a variety of factors, the developer has approved extensions since the “clock” started ticking in March 2022.
In an interview Thursday, Town Manager Andy Nota said the Planning Board would probably get overruled at the state level (by the State Housing Appeal Board) if it does not approve the master plan. That’s because East Greenwich has not yet reached the state-mandated 10 percent affordable housing threshold (East Greenwich is currently at 5.67 percent).
“I’m not seeing, based on the technical requirements of the laws now, and the future laws to come in January, that there’s a significant amount to derail this project as it stands today,” Nota said. “I think it’s the opportune time right now to think creatively about how to mitigate some of these impacts.”
One such “mitigation,” he said, could be to make a part of the development age-restricted. The “village” example Landry has presented as comparable to this proposal is a development in Warwick, New York, that is a 55-and-older community.
That way the developer could keep the number of units but the number of people living in those units would probably decrease and the traffic patterns would be different (i.e. fewer families, fewer people leaving for work).
That idea did not come up at the meeting Wednesday but Landry did seem to suggest there was some openness to a different idea in response to a question from Planning Board member Tara Wood, who asked him if the developer would consider fewer units.
He said the developer might be willing to lower the number of units if the affordable units did not have to be integrated into the entire development. Right now, there are affordable units planned for every type of housing in the development. Affordable housing advocates prefer total integration of affordable units, to avoid clustering the affordable units and creating a “less-than” part of a development.
Nota also said the state Dept. of Transportation may have to look at improving some aspects of Division Road, including a persistent drainage issue in that area and improving site lines for people pulling out onto the road.
“Those are the sort of things that are not necessarily going to come before this project’s approved but they may be prompted afterwards,” said Nota.
The Planning Board will take up the project again at its July 19 meeting. Town Solicitor Andy Teitz said the next meeting would be to discuss new issues, including the archeological and wildlife reports (which were not ready in time to be presented at the June 21 meeting).