Town Council: No new houses on Curran Road open space

Town Council: No new houses on Curran Road open space

CUMBERLAND - Town Council members last week unanimously refused a developer's request to create three houselots on two and one-half acres of land currently zoned for open space.

John C. Lynch of East Providence told the council that the late Mary Carty, a close family friend, had lived all of her 75 years in the 200-year-old farmhouse at 121 Curran Road.

Since acquiring the house after her death, Lynch has been renovating the vacant structure and making plans to divide the land to build two more houses facing Curran Road.

But for reasons that no one at last week's meeting could fully explain, the land has that rare "open space" zoning designation that's generally reserved for recreational use or environmental protection.

And no amount of argument by attorney Scott Partington, nor analysis by a land use expert about surrounding houses in the Curran Road area, could persuade the council to allow one or two more houses on the land.

Just five Town Council members heard the petition. Councilor Scott Schmitt is routinely recusing himself from all hearings that involve his personal attorney, Partington. Councilor Art Lambi was attending the North Cumberland Fire District annual meeting.

The Curran Road land here backs up to the Abbott Run, the source of drinking water for Pawtucket and southern Cumberland, and abuts two cemeteries.

Across the street is the Bradley Farm.

But nearby are countless small houselots all zoned for residential use, consultant Edward Pimentel told the council.

"I would contend from the outset that the current zoning designation is inconsistent with the town's comprehensive plan. All the surrounding blocks are high density, albeit classified as R-1 (residential, single family).

Also piping up with an argument in favor was the town's solicitor, Thomas Hefner.

"Having this land zoned counter to the comprehensive plan makes no sense to me," he said. He reminded the councilors they could impose restrictions on whatever they approved.

Sewer and water connections were said to be 300 feet up the road. According to Cumberland's regulations, lots with town sewer and water may be as small as 25,000 square feet, prompting speculation that Lynch would build a short road and install five or six lots.

Partington promised a total of just the three that would meet the 100-foot frontage along Curran Road.

Still, the petition drew objection from nearby resident Robert Hemond, who questioned whether Lynch would truly be restricted to just three houselots.

He's lived across the street for 45 years, he said.

"I can't stop you. And I know there's going to be a road in there," he said.

Replied Higgins, "Not if we say there won't be a road."

Councilor Jeff Kearns commented, "The landowner knew it was open space and the restrictions when it was purchased."

And from Chris Collins, superintendent of the Pawtucket Water Supply Board, came objection, too.

He noted testing shows the quality of the water, which begins in the Diamond Hill and Arnold Mills reservoirs in northern Cumberland, is slowly "degraded" as it travels south in the Abbott Run to the water treatment plant near Valley Falls. Adding two more houselots and the related runoff would further harm the quality, he said.

Collins told the council that the PWSB had looked at the property after a family contacted him, but he felt there was no need for action because of the open space designation.

As it became apparent that at least several of the five members present wouldn't be supporting the zone change, Higgins offered to table the petition until the August meeting presumably to give Partington time to present a new argument. But the motion to table, from Councilor Bill Murray, didn't receive a second.

Counselors went ahead with the vote and denied the request, which cannot be appealed to Superior Court, Partington had acknowledged earlier in the evening.

In other zoning action, President Higgins referred two proposed zone changes to the Planning Board for a recommendation before the council hears them:

* At 65 Pine Swamp Road, Rueben and Linda Hancock are seeking to rezone from Agricultural 2 to Commercial 1 to accommodate a garden center with a 5,500-square-foot retail building and attached greenhouse.

* At 3595 Mendon Road, Eneida and Fredrick Vann are requesting a change from Residential 1 to Commercial 1. Eneida operates a salon here and wants to expand the square footage of the building.