Map discrepancy sparks concerns on protecting water

Map discrepancy sparks concerns on protecting water

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A proposed development on Route 146 has led to concerns among some town officials about protecting the town’s water supply, but a clear answer to their questions is proving difficult to find.

Last fall, Thomas Whalen, owner of North Smithfield Auto Body, approached the town with plans to expand his business at 784 Eddie Dowling Highway. Whalen plans to build a new, 14,300-square-foot office shop with an office, waiting room and 12 service bays. The project involves a new entry and exit from Route 146, an addition that will likely increase safety at a tricky portion of the state highway.

The project quickly gained the support of the Planning Board, which voted unanimously to recommend it last October. However, the following month, the plans hit a snag when they came before the Zoning Board. At the time, Vincent Marcantonio, a board member, raised concerns that the project could affect the water supply for the nearby Woonsocket Reservoir.

Since then, members Scott Martin and Gail Denomme have also raised concerns, asking questions about wetlands and whether the building lies in a protected area known as a water supply overlay district. At a meeting on Jan. 26, Martin said his own research has led him to believe it does, despite assurances from an engineering consultant hired by the company that it does not.

“If we let this application go through and the water gets contaminated from this application, then it would be on the Zoning Board’s shoulders,” he said.

At issue are two conflicting maps showing the town’s water resources. The first, the town geographic information system map, shows the project outside an area marked “water supply district.” Using this map, several town officials determined the project did not pose a threat to the town’s water supply when they initially reviewed the project.

However, since then, Martin and Marcantonio have brought forward a second map that marks the project clearly within a water supply basin boundary as well as a surface water protection area. This map, last revised in 2013, was included as part of the town’s comprehensive plan approved last year.

The town’s zoning ordinance does not allow auto repair shops within a water supply overlay district.

Despite several months of review, board members have not been able to come to an agreement on whether the project is allowed at its current location. On. Jan. 26, they voted to send the application back to the Planning Board for further review.

At the same time, the owner’s legal representation is raising questions over how the information is coming to the Zoning Board. Per town ordinance, members are expected to make decisions based on information presented before the board rather than conversations held outside the public forum. Last Tuesday, Richard Nadeau, the former assistant town solicitor and an attorney for the applicant, raised the issue with the board.

“It appalls me that I’m hearing about ex parte communications about an application pending before this board,” he said after several board members said they’d done private research on the issue.

The current assistant solicitor, Stephen Archambault, also cautioned the board against bringing in too many outside conversations.

The project will now return to the Planning Board for consideration before the Zoning Board votes on it.

Comments

An auto body shop is not a good idea if we are protecting water and terrible traffic location.