Simonelli defends housing development

Simonelli defends housing development

SMITHFIELD – For the first time since public hearings on the Sand Trace development began last October, owner and Smithfield developer Frank Simonelli spoke during a Planning Board meeting, requesting that the public direct questions and concerns on the development to him.

And not to be overlooked, says Simonelli, this development could have been a whole lot larger than the one he’s proposing.

Simonelli made his remarks at the Planning Board last Thursday, March 7, speaking at a public hearing for the master plan of the 180-unit major development, Sand Trace, located off Log Road. The board postponed action on the matter.

Simonelli said he’s listened to the community over the past four hearings, and wanted to set the record straight after he some abutters spread “wild accusations” concerning the development.

Professionals offering expertise in a variety of fields have presented the plan, said Simonelli, but nearby neighbors and abutters to the proposed development continue to spread “erroneous statements” through pamphlets and advertisements.

“I’m not sure how they come up with this stuff,” he said, adding that he is not accusing anyone of spreading lies, but said the opposition’s depiction of the project is both “maddening” and “sad.”

“In my opinion, I think I’ve brought some great families to this town and helped raise property values,” Simonelli said.

Instead of speculating, Simonelli encouraged abutters to contact him with questions and concerns about the Sand Trace development at his office at 401-231-4700.

Simonelli, known for his high-end developments in Smithfield and elsewhere, said he plans to develop the property responsibly while considering the town’s comprehensive plan.

The 55-acre site is identified in table H-25 of the comprehensive plan as suitable for denser development than its surrounding low-density residential zoned neighbors. Simonelli pointed out the plan allows for a maximum of up to eight units per buildable acre, or up to 280 units for 35 acres.

Proposing only five units per acre at 25 percent housing for low and moderate incomes, Simonelli said his plan is conservative. He said “profit-minded” out-of-state developers hoping to purchase the Sand Trace lot could maximize building potential and propose building on a larger scale.

During last Thursday’s hearing, many comments included positive sentiments toward Simonelli and his work in Smithfield, some even from residents who don’t approve of this project.

Smithfield resident Matt Domenico said the Sand Trace issue draws emotional reactions from abutters, but the project will build Smithfield’s tax base.

“There’s a responsibility to make a decision that is in the best interest of the entire community,” Domenico said.

Allen Pacheco of Balsam Lane also supports the project. He said the tactics used by neighbors to fight the developers have shocked him. Pacheco said he does not believe the opinions of some neighbors are the opinions of all abutters.

“As a matter of fact, most people would like Frank Simonelli to build their house,” he said.

Simonelli said only one abutter, Kenneth Sousa, reached out to speak with him directly about the project. Sousa brought several concerns to the Planning Board’s attention at last week’s meeting.

Sousa said the that there are inconsistencies in the number of children the project would bring in. The strain on the school system is not worth the gain in taxes to the town, he said. Sousa said according to Smithfield population data, an average two-bedroom unit houses 2.82 people, higher than Sand Trace’s estimate of 2.07. The difference could mean 148 children, he said, rather than the developer’s assessment of 13 children.

“You want my opinion, this was a poor analysis,” Sousa said.

All nine Planning Board members were present during the meeting, which had been scheduled as the date for a decision to be made on the plan. But the board decided to delay a vote on the master plan until a decision deadline on March 21. The board will vote on the first of three stages of the project.

In total, the plan proposes to construct 78 duplex and triplex buildings with 45 units of housing for those with low and moderate incomes.

“We do want to take everything in. It’s a lot,” said Planning Board Chairman John Yoakum. Yoakum said the board plans to hold the March 21 meeting at Town Hall, starting at 7 p.m.