Council opens Victory Highway property for commercial development

Council opens Victory Highway property for commercial development

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A months-long debate over a proposed zone change on a Victory Highway property ended Monday with a Town Council vote that met some, but not all, of the requests of the business owner hoping to open the property up for commercial development.

John Russo, owner of Home Towne Auto Body and Sales and Maxx Tanning, petitioned the council last November to change the zoning on a property next to the existing businesses from residential to business highway. The request drew intense opposition from neighbors who argued the change would decrease property values, worsen traffic at an already busy intersection and endanger water resources in the area.

On Monday, town councilors voted 3-2 to award the zone change, but set a number of stipulations restricting future use of the property. Those include:

• Strict compliance with the town ordinance governing Water Supply Protection Overlay Districts, which restricts uses in the area to protect wells.

• Compliance with the use restrictions of business neighborhood zoning.

• No vehicles or construction equipment can be stored overnight.

• The property owner must plant an evergreen privacy buffer five to eight feet from the property line with abutting residential properties.

• An abutting parcel owned by Russo along Victory Highway will remain residential and not revert to business highway at a later date.

• Well testing on neighboring properties must be conducted every three years and submitted to the town.

The stipulations put in place an unusual situation where the property changed to business highway but must comply with the regulations governing business neighborhood parcels, a more restrictive zoning designation. Councilor Douglas Osier Jr. recommended the stipulation, noting he would be more comfortable granting the zone change if further restrictions were placed on the site.

Councilors Paul Zwolenski and Claire O’Hara both voted against the zone change. Zwolenski said he voted based on what he believed to be the negative effects on surrounding property owners and the lack of a clear plan for what business would go into the property.

Council President Paul Vadenais, who voted in favor of the zone change, noted the Planning Board and Zoning Board would have oversight of any future business proposed for the site.

“We don’t know what’s going on that lot, so as we know, it’s a little bit of a leap of faith,” he said, adding that he thought the area was an appropriate location for a business highway designation.

“I would say if I were a resident there, I would have no faith. We’ve all seen things happen in this town,” responded Zwolenski.

Attorney Timothy Dodd, representing Russo, told The Breeze his client has no particular plans for the property at this time.

“What the council voted to grant is different from what we were originally seeking, but we appreciate the council’s consideration,” he said. “We can live with the restrictions they’ve placed on future development.”

Roark Maynard, one of the neighboring property owners who spoke out against the zone change, said he was disappointed with the vote but grateful the council took into account residents’ concerns in their stipulations.

“We’re disappointed, but we understand the council is in a tough position,” he said. “At least they took into account limitations up front. The only thing, and I think it came out, is enforcement on some of this is hard sometimes.”

“It will be up to the planning and zoning to make sure that everything is done properly,” he added.