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Planning Board Update for June 28th 2022

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Housing-Vineyard Proposal Gets Cool Reception from Planning Board


By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 28th 2022

RICHMOND – A pre-application for a conservation development and vineyard was met with questions, and a degree of skepticism, at the June 28 Planning Board meeting.

The developer, Punchbowl Development Corporation of Westerly, is proposing to subdivide a 19.6-acre property on Punchbowl Trail into eight residential lots. The wooded parcel abuts the 100-acre Crawley Preserve, which is owned by the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust.

Any project consisting of more than five lots is considered to be a major subdivision and therefore must go through four stages of Planning Board review: pre-application, master plan, preliminary plan and final plan. The developer will also be required to include at least two affordable dwelling units.

Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained that the conservation development, which the preliminary plan indicates would be accessed by a single, privately-owned cul - de - sac, would include open space, part of which would be cleared for a vineyard.

Conservation development requires that at least 60 percent of the property be preserved as open space. In this case, part of the open space would be cleared to create the vineyard.

“The remaining land would be privately-owned open space,” Lacey told the board. “Conceptually, the applicant’s proposing to use a portion of that open space for a vineyard. That vineyard would supply grapes for a local winery that’s located on Beaver River Road.”

Planning Board members voiced concerns about a letter from Department of Public Works Director and Fire Chief, Scott Barber, opposing the cul-de-sac, which is not currently permitted in major subdivisions. Barber also questioned whether the private road would conform to the state fire code.

Board member Nancy Hess said she needed to know more about who uses Punchbowl Trail. She also asked for a more detailed description of a small wetland located in the center of the property, near the street.

“I have noticed that there are not a lot of cars coming off Punchbowl Trail currently,” she said. “… I didn’t see anything in the submission about what kind of wetland it is that lies in the corner, and my concern is that your street … basically abuts that tiny wetland.”

Steven Surdut, the attorney representing the developer, told the board that agriculture was permitted, by right, in conservation development open space.

Board Chair Philip Damicis replied that as one of the authors of the town’s land use regulations, he had a deeper understanding of the purpose of the open space provision, which was to protect valuable soil.

“… the only reason agricultural use was in as an open space use was that we had prime agricultural soil that needed to be protected,” he said. “In this case, we don’t have agricultural soils, it’s not existing farmland, the benefit to the town as far as I can see, is to maintain the green space and contiguous open space, so I would argue that right now – I’m home wine-maker, I love wine - but I do not think the vineyard is an appropriate use for this development.”

Board members agreed that they would need to visit the property to fully appreciate its attributes and asked Lacey to arrange a site visit.

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