The zoning official for the town of Westerly, R.I., has determined that a recreational vehicle resort proposed for Bradford Road is not under the town’s zoning regulations.
In a letter to the lawyer representing the applicant, Zoning Official Elizabeth Burdick wrote that “recreational vehicle resorts where an owner places a parked trailer and where it remains a permanent structure is not a permitted use in any zone in the town,” the Westerly Sun reported Burdick’s letter goes on to say that the proposed development, “an RV resort with permanent structures is a ‘mobile home park.’”
Planning Board members wrestled, during their March 20 meeting, with how to proceed with their deliberations on the 225-unit facility proposed by Charlestown developer Larry LeBlanc’s Exco LLC in light of Burdick’s letter. Jack Payne, the town’s planning and zoning solicitor, recommended that the board proceed with its master plan review and a public hearing.
The board took Payne’s recommendation but postponed action on the proposal until its April 17 meeting. Board members said they needed more time to review material that was submitted to them. Many board members said they only learned of Burdick’s letter shortly before the meeting started.
Vincent J. Naccarato, the lawyer representing Exco and co-applicant Grassy Hill Development, said his clients planned to proceed despite Burdick’s letter.
About 30 residents filled Town Council Chambers at Town Hall for the meeting. Many of the residents are members of the McGowan’s Corners Neighborhood Association, which formed to organize opposition to the planned facility.
Paul Bannon, of RAB Engineering, said that a traffic study conducted by his firm determined the facility, planned for a 59-acre site at the intersection of Westerly Bradford Road, Bradford Road and Dunn’s Corners Bradford Road, would not negatively affect traffic in the area.
As part of his study, Bannon said vehicles passing through the area were counted on a weekday from 4 to 5 p.m. in January. Additionally, he said data collected from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation provided traffic data from other times of the year. The study also included information from a traffic study conducted in 2008, Bannon said.
Brian LaPlante, a lawyer representing the neighborhood association, peppered Bannon with questions. The questioning, which had the tone of a courtroom interrogation, revealed that Bannon is not licensed as a traffic engineer in Rhode Island. Bannon acknowledged not being licensed, but said that while his signature appeared on the study, it was formally submitted to the town by a licensed engineer in his firm.
LaPlante asked the planning board to recommend that the zoning board reject the plans for the facility. He said Burdick’s letter makes clear the facility would not conform to town zoning regulations. Furthermore, LaPlante said the plans were flawed because one of the lots envisioned for the facility is zoned for light density residential use.
Additionally, LaPlante claimed the proposed facility would be inconsistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which calls for low-density development in the area.
“Instead, what this proposal is doing is offering the highest possible density for this site, which is completely inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan,” LaPlante said.
Bannon said his conclusions on the proposed resort’s impact on traffic were based on an assumption that recreational vehicles would enter the site and remain for the May to October season. He said his conclusions would not change if the recreational vehicles moved in and out of the facility more frequently.
Residents said recreational vehicles leaving the facility would not be able to turn left to proceed south onto Bradford Road because of a limited turning radius, but Bannon denied their assertions.
The proposed facility would devalue 150 acres abutting the proposed site, said Joseph Priestley, the lawyer who represents abutting property owner Mary Lucey. Priestley said Lucey had hoped to develop her land for low-density residential use but would be forced to use it for additional “mobile homes” if the project is approved. As LaPlante did, Priestley also said the proposal did not conform with the town’s zoning regulations.
Ernest Vacca, president of the neighborhood association, said the facility would cause property values in the area to drop, thereby robbing residents of the equity they had built up in their homes.
“Some of us plan to profit from our hard work as property owners and some day sell our property for retirement and we should also be allowed to make a profit,” Vacca said.
Residents said they were also concerned about fire and environmental hazards posed by the proposed facility as well as increased demands it would place on the town beach.
Alan Scribner, a planning board member, said that while the planned development would help widen the town’s tax base, he was opposed to it because of safety concerns. He called Bannon’s traffic study “flawed.”
The property is subject to a receivership proceeding. Mark Russo, the court-appointed receiver, has said two liens on the property total more than $6 million. As a result, Russo said, the property must be sold at a price that the court determines would be fair to the creditors. As special master, Russo is also overseeing The Westerly Hospital’s receivership.
Naccarato did not return a message seeking comment for this story.