NORTH PROVIDENCE – Town officials are looking to change the local zoning ordinance and amend the town’s comprehensive plan to make them consistent and close loopholes that are allowing developers to build more units on their properties.

Town Planner Brent Wiegand told The Breeze this week that a discussion on the Nov. 10 Planning Board agenda will focus on those revisions.

Wiegand said there is a key discrepancy between the comprehensive plan, which is supposed to steer development in the town and what the community is supposed to be, and the zoning ordinance. The comprehensive plan calls for much lower density of development for multi-family developments, while the zoning ordinance allows higher density, or more units, and zoning trumps the comprehensive plan.

“They’re getting away with higher density as a result,” said Wiegand.

Asked for examples of where this has hurt the town, Wiegand said almost all the proposals on the agenda for Nov. 10 include higher density than the comprehensive plan allows, but all would be grandfathered in even if the town does move forward with changes. Projects include condos on Mainella Street, Langdon Street, and North Howard Avenue.

Wiegand said the Planning Department has requested a moratorium on multi-family housing for six months, but he doesn’t know whether the Town Council will back that plan. Moratoriums tend to invite legal issues, he said, so it may not move forward.

Mayor Charles Lombardi said this week that he supports implementing such a moratorium.

“I am in favor of it, until we get everything in order,” he said, adding that the town could be inundated with proposals as developers try to beat any changes.

“I think we need a moratorium on that,” he said.

Wiegand confirmed that he expects a “flurry” of proposals to come in as developers try to beat the changes toward uniform rules that would limit unit numbers, and that they’ll “apply as soon as possible.”

Town Council President Dino Autiello said the attorney for zoning needs to make a recommendation on exactly what they’re looking for, but yes, he would support a moratorium.

“What I don’t like is everything that’s being approved while there are questions about the zoning ordinance in place,” he said. “Why are they still approving things?”

Not to get personal, he said, but the home his neighborhood previously opposed at 61 High Service Ave., on an “absurd” 3,200 square feet of space, is nearly complete after being denied by the Zoning Board. The developer simply reduced the size so they didn’t need zoning approval, he said, and based it off an old zoning ordinance.

Autiello said he has many questions, and “absolutely would favor a moratorium,” but it needs to be town officials who bring forward their recommendations.

“I find it questionable that while they’re considering a moratorium, why are we still approving things then?” he said, pointing to the home on High Service Avenue and one previously approved and later denied on North Elmore Avenue. Special use variances are “constantly getting approved left and right,” he said.

Wiegand said he expects a lot of changes to be made during the upcoming revision process, some more important than others. The town previously received a $60,000 state grant to rewrite the zoning ordinance, and officials will be putting out both that revision and the comprehensive plan rewrite out to bid as one package this week, said Wiegand. There is only enough money in the grant to cover the zoning rewrite, he said, so the town will need to figure out how to fund the comprehensive plan rewrite through another grant or another account.

The comprehensive plan overall is in pretty good shape, he said, with not many revisions needed. It would be revised next year, a year ahead of a 2023 deadline to do it, and the zoning ordinance would be revised 18 months after that.

The zoning ordinance will need a lot of changes, said Wiegand, including to meet a goal to add definitions for various uses on lots in town. Certain uses can be interpreted all sorts of ways, he said, and, absent a definitive allowance, many developers are interpreting them more broadly and in their favor.

Asked for an example of how this situation is impacting the town negatively, Wiegand mentioned the use of cars being parked on a lot. There are commercial off-street lots, simple off-street parking facilities, and “numerous other things,” he said, and “various uses that kind of resemble that use.”

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