UPDATE - Special Town Council Meeting for March 23rd 2022
Council Approves Aqua Science Application
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
March 23rd 2022
RICHMOND — The March 23, 2022 special Town Council meeting was expected to last just a few minutes, but the discussion continued for nearly an hour, when two council members said they opposed the Planning Board’s recommendation regarding zoning and comprehensive plan amendments for the Aqua Science water treatment property. The board had recommended that the council approve 11 of the 29 proposed uses, but council President Nell Carpenter, supported by councilor Lauren Cacciola, disagreed with the board’s recommendation and proposed adding back nine of the uses that the board had rejected.
The evolution of an application, from a single new use, to 29
At its March 15 meeting, the council approved the zoning and comprehensive plan amendments to allow Aqua Science owner Lawrence Casey to build a new warehouse at 301 Nooseneck Hill Road.
However, Casey who had also previously requested a single zoning amendment for his second property at 310 Nooseneck Hill Road to allow warehousing, arrived at the council meeting with a list of 29 new uses.
The council remanded the long list to the Planning Board and agreed to hold a special meeting the next day to consider the board’s recommendation.
At the March 22 Planning Board meeting, at which Casey’s use list had been quickly added to the agenda, board members spent more than an hour discussing each of the 29 proposed new uses for Casey’s second property. Central to the discussion was Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth’s admonition that the zoning changes would remain with the 11.6 acre parcel, even if it were to be sold, because the existing zoning conveys with the land.
Citing increased traffic, water use and effluent concerns, the board denied use codes for retail outlets, a self storage facility, towing and storage and indoor horticulture. Members also denied a proposed trade school, voicing concerns about competition with nearby Chariho Tech which continues to struggle to maintain its share of the technical school market.
Members finally settled on 11 uses that they felt comfortable recommending the council approve. Casey was reminded that he would still be welcome to present plans and apply for zoning changes to accommodate any or all of the uses denied at the board meeting.
Questioning the Planning Board
The next evening at the special council meeting, a continuation of a hearing convened for the sole purpose of hearing the Aqua Science application, Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained to the council how the board had arrived at its recommendation.
“If we’re going to be introducing new business to this corridor… we kind of begin with in more of a thought-out and controlled manner,” he said. “You’ll notice that a lot of these uses, the use code categories being suggested tonight, are related to contracting, trades, business incubators, types of businesses that do not rely on a large part of vehicular traffic, with the caveat being that if some day, if either Mr. Casey or some other developers in the area have a really complimentary use for either that site or adjacent sites, they can reconsider the use code categories.”
Resident Laura Rieger said she had watched the Planning Board meeting and wondered why board members had opposed the self storage use.
“One of the issues that came up last night, or one of the objections, was to self storage, and I’m not exactly sure what the real reason was to object to it, because they were very clear in that they knew that would be very low traffic, and people come in here and there,” she said. “It just seemed to me that someone was opposed to what it would look like, but I would think that with all the other measures that we take around town with buffers the same thing could be done with a self storage area.”
Council Vice President James Palmisciano said he understood that the board had concerns about the potential size of a self storage facility.
“I think the concern was that, and this is not Mr. Casey’s plan, but if the property were sold and someone was to come in tomorrow and say ‘look we’re going to clear all the 11 and a half acres and make it a storage facility,’ that was what the Planning Board just wanted to make sure they had oversight on, which I think is smart development,” he said.
But Carpenter said she objected to the board’s recommendation to restrict the new uses to 11, noting that Casey would incur additional fees to apply for the other uses that had been denied.
Councilor Ronald Newman said he had not watched the Planning board meeting, but he was having difficulty understanding why 18 of the proposed uses, such as millwork and textile manufacturing, would not be allowed.
“That’s a lot to be turned down,” he said. “We’ve got someone - we always want to promote safe businesses in Richmond. We want to see businesses come. We want to see them be environmentally sound, and that’s what Mr. Casey seems to be doing.”
Cacciola said she didn’t believe that a new trade school would be a threat to Chariho Tech.
“The one thing that I did notice, I know it’s the trade school one… They had said they were afraid of competition with Chariho, and of the traffic and everything,” she said. “I think we’d see that as an asset, because we’d have Chariho technical school down the road. They could, you know, work together. I mean, it’s not going to take business.”
Newman read the list of 11 uses recommended by the Planning Board to be approved in a motion, but before members could vote, Carpenter said she intended to add back nine of the uses that the board had not recommended. Those included the self storage facility, retail, the technical school, personal services, a farmer’s market and landscaping supplies.
Council member Richard Nassaney, who had remained silent during the meeting, said he was concerned that overriding the Planning Board’s recommendation would be seen as a “slap in the face.”
“This, right here, what we’ve been given, is a vetted, very thought-through piece of information that we should utilize,” he said. “…Why are we circumventing it and wasting time? Because I’m not going to approve all these extra things,” he said.
Newman said he had reconsidered his position and had a better understanding of the Planning Board’s recommendation, but Cacciola said she believed the town was discouraging businesses.
Palmisciano said that while he respected Casey’s vision, he also understood the board’s concerns regarding the potential scale of the uses it had declined to recommend.
“The Planning Board made a point that I thought was extremely important, especially as we try to build consensus on how the team works together,” he said. “They greatly appreciated us sending that app [application] and I’d like to pay them the same respect. Take their recommendation.”
The council voted on the original motion, to approve amendments to allow 11 new uses on Casey’s property. The vote was four in favor, with Carpenter opposing.
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