Beaver River Road Development in Limbo - January 8, 2022
UPDATE: Beaver River Road Development in Limbo
By Cynthia Drummond for the BRVCA
January 8, 2022
With a court appeal on a solar development still in process and plans for a housing subdivision waiting in the wings, the fate of two properties on Beaver River Road remains unclear.
“There isn’t anything really taking place at the site,” Richmond Town Planner Shaun Lacey said. “Late last year, there were some advertising signs of future planned development for future subdivisions. We had asked the developer to take those down, because nothing had been formally filed and nothing had been acted upon, so the developer agreed to do that.” Other than demolition of a single house on the property, no work has taken place on either parcel, both of which were used, until a few years ago, for growing crops.
“The only physical activity that’s taken place was the removal of the original home that was sitting at 172 Beaver River Road,” Lacey said. “So, that was demolished and the site at 172 Beaver River Road is currently vacant and it’s not being farmed at the moment. The property on the other side of the street, that’s 159 Beaver River Road, that’s kind of siting in stasis and is not being actively farmed at the moment.”
Solar Application Denied
The parcel where the solar energy system would be built is bordered to the west by Beaver River Road and to the east by the Beaver River. The river is part of the Pawcatuck River watershed, which has received a Wild and Scenic designation from the federal government. In addition, the Beaver River Valley Agricultural District was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The district’s inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places does not restrict the rights of property owners or impose additional guidelines for development review. Nevertheless, property owner and Cranston resident, William Stamp, registered a written objection to the designation.
In 2018, G.D. Richmond Beaver River I, LLC, owned by Green Development of Cranston, applied to the Zoning Board for a special use permit to build a 5.3-megawatt solar energy system on about 18 acres of a 40-acre parcel owned by William Stamp. The property is in the R-3 zoning district, which limits residential density to one house per three acres.
In an advisory opinion dated December 30, 2019, the Planning Board recommended denial of the application, citing its incompatibility with the town's Comprehensive Community Plan and the negative effect it would have on the historical and scenic value of the site.
On February 22, 2021, the Zoning Board denied the application. The applicable zoning ordinance required the solar energy system to be within two miles of a utility substation. The Zoning Board found that the application did not comply with the zoning ordinance because only a small portion of the lot on which the system would be constructed was located within two miles of a substation, but most of the lot, including the site where the solar system would be built, was not within two miles of a substation. The Zoning Board also found that the project would have a negative impact on the area, which at the time was eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The Board said the proposed vegetative buffer around the system would not entirely hide it, and that people traveling on Beaver River Road would not be able to see the river or the nearby flora and fauna.
On March 10, 2021, G.D. Richmond Beaver River filed an appeal of the denial of the special use permit in Washington County Superior Court. The appeal was filed by attorney John Mancini. Lacey said the appeal is still pending.
Appeals from Zoning Board decisions are decided by a judge based on the application, exhibits introduced at the Zoning Board hearing, a transcript of the hearing, and briefs filed by the lawyers. Lacey said town staff are almost finished compiling a record of the documents in the case. The record will be filed in the Superior Court. It would then be up to Mancini's office to ask the judge to approve a briefing schedule.
Mancini did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
An Alternative Proposal: Housing
In May, 2021, while their appeal was pending, G.D. Richmond Beaver River and Stamp proposed residential subdivisions on the two lots. A 50-acre parcel on one side of Beaver River Road would be divided into six lots. On the other side of the road, five lots would be created.
On August 7, 2021, a group that included six Planning Board members, Town Planner Shaun Lacey, property owner William Stamp and Green Development engineer Kevin Morin, walked the two sites. The Planning Board subsequently informed the applicants that conservation developments, in which the houses would be closer together leaving more open space, would be more appropriate than conventional developments for both sites.
Solar or Houses?
The town has yet to receive a formal application for the housing project. “There hasn’t been any formal filing for any subdivisions at 159 Beaver River Road or 172 Beaver River Road,” Lacey said.
Lacey noted that the solar energy system could be built if the appeal is successful. “You could proceed with getting a special use permit and you could still go through the subdivision process and then decide how you choose to develop the site,” he explained. “I don’t think you necessarily lose the ability to do one, versus the other.
Beaver River Valley Community Association
P.O. Box 10, Shannock, RI 02875
Photos by Sherri Stearns