Planning Board hopes to end contentious table H-25

Planning Board hopes to end contentious table H-25

SMITHFIELD – The majority of the Smithfield Planning Board is in support of throwing out the contentious table H-25, which identifies properties in town that could support higher-density development.

Members Steven Tillinghast and Michael Pinelli said they were in favor of keeping H-25 last week, while members Al Gizzarelli, Richard Colavecchio, Jennifer Hawkins, John Steere, and John Yoakum were against. Members Michael Moan and Curtis Ruotolo were not on the virtual call to register their opinions during a May 21 meeting. No vote was taken at the meeting.

Smithfield added table H-25 to the town’s Comprehensive Plan in 2004, long before many members of the current Planning Board were in place. Its goal is to help the town in reaching the state-mandated 10 percent affordable housing stock.

“That table is a lightning rod. If there is a way to get there without the table, I would support that,” Hawkins said.

Table H-25 was re-written in 2012 to lower the units-per-acre rate and locate more possible development sites. Still, abutters and neighbors to designated H-25 sites expressed anger that the process was not transparent, emphasizing that high-density sites are not consistent with the surrounding neighborhoods.

Steere agreed, and said people near the H-25 properties said they “inadvertently didn’t have a voice on what properties” got on the table.

Solicitor Scott Levesque said the process was done following open meetings laws, and the table was created to prevent the town from being inundated with high-density housing projects. He said properties with access to sewer and water were targeted, though the table did not guarantee development.

“The thought was back in the day that it was a good idea to do,” Levesque said, adding that statewide planning encouraged communities to create such tables.

Town Planner Michael Phillips suggested the board not dwell on the past, and instead look to consultation firm Horsley Witten Group for possible alternatives.

Phillips suggested listing mill sites as areas for possible higher-density development. He said mills have high rehabilitation costs, but fewer environmental concerns such as wetland disturbance.

Phillips said the best bet to moving forward is to reinvigorate the Affordable Housing Board, which he said is not very active.

Board Chairman Gizzarelli said most mills are in Esmond, and putting more higher-density low-income and moderate-income units will cause push-back from residents.

“There’s a stigma in that area where everyone thinks every bad thing that happens happens over there. I think that’s going to go over really bad,” Gizzarelli said.

Levesque told the board not to let the fear of objectors come before doing what is best for the town.

The Planning Board requested that Horsley Witten look into other strategies to reach the 10 percent mandate for LMI housing, including tax relief, inclusionary zoning, fee-in-lieu for LMI units, and a shared equity model to incentivize greater density.