Okonite wins rezoning needed to expand former R.I. Novelty plant

Okonite wins rezoning needed to expand former R.I. Novelty plant

Plaza business owners will get help with relocation expenses

CUMBERLAND - It's a go for the Okonite Company.

All the rezoning and variance sought by the New Jersey executives were granted last week by the Town Council.

Action will speed along construction of a 93,500-square-foot addition to the west side of the former R.I. Novelty plant on 5 Industrial Road where the Okonite cable maker is promising a first-class facility, in keeping, says its vice president, with the quality of other Okonite plants around the country.

The expanded new size building will total 341,000 square feet to accommodate new equipment that's described by company attorney and vice president Frank Giuliano as 350- to 400- feet long that was ordered months ago in anticipation of Cumberland's approval.

Now all that's left is a site plan review, including the town's approval of landscaping along Diamond Hill Road that was still under design last week.

Razed to make way for the expansion will be the 7,200-square foot strip mall that came to be generally called the Tedeschi plaza, retaining the name even after that convenience store moved out.

Currently, Saki's Pizzeria, Diamond Hill Convenience Store, Walker's Jewelers, Hair It Is hair salon, and Coffee Breaks are all located in this shopping center at 2275 Diamond Hill Road.

But the shop owners there aren't complaining.

Several at the June 5 Town Council meeting said Okonite is offering to pay their moving expenses and the cost of setting up.

"This company is A-No. 1," Mike Houle of Coffee Breaks told the council.

Agreeing was Barbara Enos of Hair it Is.

Neither has a new location yet, they said, but both anticipate Okonite will be covering their expenses.

The convenience store, meanwhile, was closed because of back rent owned, according to Guiliano.

Not complaining either are neighbors across the street in Broadview Acres.

Several turned up with questions at the Planning Board meeting on May 28 but seemed satisfied with assurances of less traffic than R.I. Novelty generated, as well as promises that glaring lights would be exchanged for ones focused only on the Okonite plant. Additionally, Okonite is promising landscaping along Diamond Hill Road that will shield the building from view.

This group of neighbors had banded together 10 years ago to successfully defeat a gas station on land that will contain the expanded factory, and several told the Planning Board members they are relieved to see the land's future use resolved for good.

From a square footage consideration, the new Cumberland site isn't anywhere near what the company wanted.

Giuliano, whose testimony to the Town Council on June 5 was his fourth appearance before a town board, told councilors Okonite had hoped for at least 25 to 30 acres and found the perfect site in West Greenwich with 100 acres.

But company executives decided they couldn't ask their employees to travel that far to work.

With this highly trained workforce in mind, he said, the company chose 5 Industrial Road, a decision that improved when purchasing the strip mall became a possibility.

Okonite closed on the Tedeschi plaza on May 28.

Okonite's plant on Martin Street, there since the 1970s, will be needed as a warehousing site for raw materials and finished goods, Guiliano said.

The rezoning was needed from Town Council members to allow industrial use on the commercially-zoned strip mall land and the adjacent vacant lot on the corner of Route 295.

Additionally, variances on the buffer zone and side yard were wrapped into the approval as well as permission to use barbed wire.

Guiliano noted that outdoor security, including the barbed wire, is needed because copper theft is a continuing problem at the Martin Street plant where just last week three individuals were arrested when an employee caught them with wire cutters and pieces of coated copper wire.

While town officials have been enthusiastic about Okonite's renewed commitment to the town - and no town boards have raised any negatives - there is a downside.

Currently, the inefficient Martin Street plant is using 46,000 gallons of water a day for cooling, or 17 million gallons a year.

At the new location, the amount will be reduced to 2,000 gallons a day because the water will be recycled in a closed system.

Quipped Council President Jim Higgins, "What we gain in taxes we'll lose in water bills."


Really Council President Higgins? That's your input. Glad the paper described it correctly..."Quipped" feel proud, sir, feel proud. geezzzee

PS: We will also have reduced expenses on the water dept and less waste water going into our system.