270-acre Rankin Estates proposal draws concerns from residents

270-acre Rankin Estates proposal draws concerns from residents

Neesu Wushuwunoag, chief of the Providence-based Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe, told Planning Board members during a Sept. 6 meeting his tribe still believes ancestral burial mounds may be present on the site of a proposed 270-acre housing development known as Rankin Estates. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A proposed 270-acre housing development with a controversial history drew nearly 75 residents to last Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, as board members and concerned parties weighed in on the latest version of the plan.

Concerns ranged from the required blasting to the historical nature of the land to the impact on schools, and most of those present agreed they needed more information on the proposed development, known as Rankin Estates, currently in its master plan application stage.

Michael Kelly, an attorney representing Providence-based developer Narragansett Improvement, emphasized the plan is in the first of three approval stages before the Planning Board and said more details on the company’s plans for blasting and leveling will be shared in the coming months.

“A lot of those answers will come at the preliminary stage when the planning is done fully,” he told Planning Board members.

That answer wasn’t sufficient for several members of the public who expressed concerns that construction of the 126-lot development, scheduled to proceed in 10 phases over more than a decade, would impact quality of life in the surrounding areas. Michael Meo, a resident of nearby Christina Way, pointed out the proposed location is a hilly area full of ledge that would likely require extensive blasting over an extended period of time.

“That is a huge nuisance to subject the residents of this town and this area to, and I think that’s something this board, my fellow residents and the developers need to keep clear as this process moves forward,” he said.

Members of the North Smithfield Parks and Recreation Commission shared concerns with the company’s plans to construct four soccer fields, three baseball fields and a playground on the property as part of its proposal for a conservation development including 157 acres of open space. Anthony Guertin, a member of the commission, said that while the town is in need of more non-specific recreational fields, it does not need additional soccer or baseball fields and the Parks and Recreation budget can’t support them.

Kelly responded to those concerns, saying the fields would likely be reduced in size during the next phase of planning and reserved for use by residents of the development with maintenance provided by a homeowners’ association. Still, other groups present, including members of the North Smithfield Conservation Commission and the North Smithfield Land Trust, said they would rather not see any fields at all, stating that preserving the development’s open space in its natural state for activities such as hiking would be more in keeping with the intent of a conservation development.

The development’s impact on the land was also a source of concern for Neesu Wushuwunoag, chief of the Providence-based Mashapaug Nahaganset, a tribe with ancestral ties to Nipsachuck Hill. Though previous claims of Native American burial mounds on the property were dismissed after an archaeologist was found to have falsified credentials, Wushuwunoag said his tribe still believes burial sites may be present and plans to tour the proposed site. His comments drew a response from Kelly, who pointed out the site is private property and any visit would need to be coordinated with the developer.

Wushuwunoag was joined at the meeting by members of the Wabbaquasset Nipmuc and Pokanoket Nation, a group that made headlines last year for occupying a Brown University-owned property in Bristol after claiming it was part of their ancestral lands. All three tribes are members of the Federation of Aboriginal Nations of America, a group formed in 2011 by several tribes that have not received federal recognition.

“We understand that we all share these lands, but our question is when is our history, when is our ties to the land acknowledged,” he told those present.

During the course of the discussion, Planning Board members Lucien Benoit, who owns property abutting the site, and Michael Fournier, who lives on nearby Mattity Road, recused themselves from the conversation. That decision drew criticism from resident Bill Nangle.

Nangle serves as treasurer of the North Smithfield Neighborhood Coalition, an organization that has hired attorney Marisa Desautel of Desautel Law to represent it in proceedings related to the proposed development. Nangle said the organization is not opposed to a housing development, but is wary of what he describes as a potential “mining operation” on the gravel-rich site.

Other residents who spoke during the meeting included School Committee Vice Chairwoman Jean Meo, who said that 126 new single-family homes, if occupied by families, would require the building of a new school.

Planning Board members asked the company to provide additional information on traffic, impact to local wells, grading and field location during the next phase of planning. No vote was taken on the company’s master plan application. Instead, the public information session will be continued during a special meeting on Oct. 25.

Comments

This is to close to the treasure of the North Smithfield Neighborhood Associations neighborhood and will never be built. There are burial sites all over our town,during construction they mark them off like they did along power lines. Blasting occurs all the time in town even in populated neighborhoods. Our schools have empty classrooms and declining enrollment due to charter schools. Smoke and Mirrors

We as a community don't vote for open space bonds and then we try to stop those who own the land from developing it. Can't have it both ways people. You've lost this battle already. If you want those woods next door to stay wooded, buy them or okay the purchase through bond issues. Obstructing the lawful use of land by the owner is not the answer. It becomes a regulatory taking and that is an abrogation of the owners civil rights. It isn't going to fly no matter how loudly you scream. How many times do you want to lose this battle? Attorney Kelly is not one to trifle with in land use issues.
There are plenty of examples to learn from....
Put up or shut up.