Planning Board Meeting - October 27, 2021
Planning Board Considers Plan Amendments, Wyoming District
By Cynthia Drummond for BVRCA
RICHMOND — Members of the Planning Board considered several amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan to resolve inconsistencies between the plan and the zoning map. The Tuesday meeting also included a discussion of the future of the much - maligned Wyoming district, along Route 138.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey told the board that the updated comprehensive plan, which has been approved by the Town Council, still awaits certification by the state, which has asked the town to make several changes.
“The expectation going forward would be that based upon the Planning Board’s input tonight, we would hope to try to get these changes back to Statewide Planning for a cursory review,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll give us the green light to go forward and say ‘yes.’”
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said she had found and resolved certain inconsistencies in the updated plan and had incorporated suggestions the state had made to the town in a Dec. 2020 letter.
“The substantive changes are sections that Statewide Planning said that we did not include, for instance, an expanded discussion of how the transfer station works and a separate section dealing with natural hazard mitigation, and the population figures,” she said. “The population figures that we used were inconsistent.”
To address the state’s concerns, Ellsworth explained that she used data from the 2020 census as well as Statewide Planning’s populations projections, to the year 2040.
When Board Chair Philip Damicis said he did not understand the state’s concern with one item, the transfer station, Ellsworth explained that the issue was whether the facility would have the capacity to handle more trash if the population increases.
Ellsworth said she had contacted Public Works Director Scott Barber to determine the transfer station’s capacity in the next 20 years, and he said he would simply open the facility for an additional day.
There are several inconsistencies between the zoning map and the updated plan, Ellsworth said, all of which were noted by Statewide Planning in a letter to the town received last June.
“Those inconsistencies were inconsistencies between the map that was approved in March and the zooming ordinance amendments that were made in July,” she said.
Board member Nancy Hess said, “We did the future land use map and it said one thing. To implement that map, we then worked on the zone and the zoning ordinance map. We made some decisions, recommended to the council and adopted, that were not in sync with the land use map.”
The board addressed the five inconsistencies listed in the letter from the state: a property on Buttonwoods Road, a lot on Richmond Townhouse Road, the water tower property, Clark Memorial Library, and open space in residential subdivisions.
The board agreed to ensure that the zones of the five properties would be consistent with the comprehensive plan.
Board member Dan Madnick also pointed out that renewable energy was missing from the new comprehensive plan.
“Agree with it or not, [it] is something that we do have to consider when we’re making decisions,” he said.
Ellsworth proposed adding renewable energy to the land use section of the plan.
Lacey was asked to make the changes, the board will hold a public hearing to review the updated plan and the plan, with updates, will be submitted to the Town Council.
The board spent about an hour mulling the future of the Wyoming commercial district on Route 138. Marred by vacant lots and storefronts and a jumble of building styles, the area near Interstate 95 has long been a concern for town officials.
In a memo to the board, Lacey quoted the vision for the district described in the comprehensive plan.
“The Town has identified this area as the target for economic development, housing, and circulation improvements because it is the existing commercial center for Richmond and developed at a higher density than other areas of town,” the comprehensive plan states. “It has existing infrastructure and amenities such as sidewalks and access to the Town’s water service. Using the state’s Urban Services Boundary as a starting point, the Town has delineated this area for future infill and growth in the form of higher density commercial, multi-family and mixeduse [sic] development based on local preferences and needs.”
The Wyoming business district also lies entirely within the Aquifer Protection Overlay District, which would prohibit many current uses, such as gas stations, if they were to be proposed today. Planning staff and board members have discussed taking another look at the regulations with a view to encouraging economic growth without threatening the health of the sole source aquifer, which serves several towns.
“We do need to go through the table and look at what should not be there,” Nancy Hess said.
The board will also revisit a study conducted in 2007 by landscape architecture students at the University of Rhode Island. Member Andrea Baranyk said some of the students’ ideas might be worth exploring.
“Some of it may be not where we want to go, but I think there’s a lot of good ideas,” she said. “I would just need a little more time to get into it.”
Ellsworth responded, “I think the hardest part of it is trying to figure out how we would work around what’s there already, and I would really like to hear your suggestions on that.”
Several members said they favored a mixed use plan, which would include affordable housing.
“I think, after reading the URI study that the students did, the town pretty much squandered 14 years of potential,” Madnick said. “From what I’ve seen being on this board and being in this town for the last five years, there’s a lot of good ideas, a lot of things that we want to see done, but they’re always at the tip of this town’s fingertips, and nothing ever happens.”
Damicis closed the discussion by asking board members to continue to think about possibilities for the Wyoming district which will be considered at a future meeting.