Board denies Smithfield Village

Board denies Smithfield Village

Attorney Kelly says lawsuit is next

SMITHFIELD – Citing traffic and safety issues, the Planning Board last week denied the preliminary plan for the Smithfield Village, despite attempts by developer Churchill & Banks making attempts at traffic improvements.

Representatives for Churchill & Banks are promising to respond to the decision with legal action.

The developer completed multiple traffic studies and there was a peer review of those studies by the town, but Planning Board members said they felt there was not enough traffic data available on the proposed site entrance west of Esmond Street at 150 George Washington Highway.

Board members voted 5-2 to deny the application at the meeting last Thursday, Nov. 29. Chairman John Yoakum, as well as members Richard Colavecchio, Jennifer Hawkins, Catherine Lynn and Michael Moan, voted against the plan, with members Curtis Ruotolo and John Steere voting to approve.

Though Steere made a motion to accept the plans with conditions, the motion failed.

Planning Board member Albert Gizzarelli abstained from voting, since he felt an additional meeting was needed before making a decision.

Yoakum said the board needed to decide by the end of the Nov. 29 meeting, or ask for an extension.

Though Moan asked Michael Kelly, the attorney representing Churchill & Banks, for an extension, Kelly refused the request.

“Absolutely not. This process started in 2015, to delay this again is not fair,” Kelly said.

Asked what next steps will be for the Smithfield Village, Kelly replied with one word: “Litigation.”

The additional traffic study conducted by John Shevlin of Pare Corporation, which increases estimated population growth to 1 percent from a previous projection of 0.5 percent, did not sway the board or the town’s peer reviewer, William Scully.

Scully said the proposed painted “thick white line” on Route 44 meant to deter motorist traveling east from weaving into the left turning lane into the site driveway is not sufficient.

“That weave needs to be avoided,” Scully said. “The strip doesn’t prevent anything.”

Yoakum agreed, and said a left into the proposed site entrance “looked hairy.” Instead, Scully proposed adding “Qwick Kurb,” a low-cost highway lane separator serving as an alternative to Jersey barriers.

He said adding the barriers, along with clear signage for motorists, would make him more comfortable with the idea of Smithfield Village.

Attorney John Mancini, representing abutters to the village, said the site driveway should feature a traffic signal to assist his clients’ business customers to enter and exit the lots.

“Now is the time for the town to adequately address issues they know exist,” Mancini said.

It would be premature for the board to decide without more traffic studies, Mancini added.

Kelly said Churchill & Banks was willing to pay 50 percent of costs for a traffic light if the area need one in the future, but the lane striping was the RIDOT-approved plan. As it is, RIDOT found the area is “not warranted for a traffic light,” Kelly said.

DiPrete Engineering professional engineer Leonard Bradley presented the board the changes to the plan to comply with comments from the public and town engineer, including:

• A sidewalk added along Esmond Street;

• A bus stop along Esmond Street;

• And widening the entrances and exits to the development.

Proposed at a busy section of Route 44, the 27-acre development would have 27 buildings for commercial and residential use, including 124 residential units, 25 of which will be low-income housing.

In other business, the Planning Board approved a zoning change from residential to planned corporate within the Economic Growth Overlay District for the mixed-use residential and commercial Mowry Hill Commons, 355 Putnam Pike.

Abutters disapproved of the zone change, saying the amendment does not fit with the comprehensive plan.

Tom Hodgkins, 200 Farnum Pike, said the move was “bad planning practice,” and set a “bad precedent.”

“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that promotes sprawl through the neighborhood,” Hodgkins said.