Wednesday night, Ray D’Abate, the developer behind the proposed hotel on Station Street in Apponaug, hosted a second community meeting to address the concerns of community members regarding the project.
D’Abate began by recapping his plan for a six-story, 127-room “boutique” Wyndham hotel featuring a banquet facility, 300-person restaurant, a lounge and a spa. The hotel would employ 120 full-time and 30 to 35 part-time workers, in addition to the jobs created for the build.
As for clientele, D’Abate said the hotel would cater to business travelers, leisure travelers and those coming to the area for conventions or competitions, using the niche of being a waterfront property to their advantage.
Around 30 people came out to the meeting where D’Abate planned to provide “a clear understanding of issues brought up at the last meeting and answer those questions.”
“We wanted to be good neighbors,” said D’Abate.
The two largest concerns brought up by Apponaug residents were the disruption of the view of Apponaug Cove and traffic.
D’Abate provided both a rendering of the hotel building with relation to the tree line and an aerial view of the West Shore Road-Station Street intersection displaying where the hotel would be located on the property. The purpose was to show residents the size and scope of the building on the five-acre property.
“It fits right into the landscape of the property,” said D’Abate. According to D’Abate, the hotel structure and parking garage would take up less than 35 percent of the parcel.
As for the picturesque view of Apponaug Cove, D’Abate said residents on Dory Street will only see four to 10 feet of a steeple on the hotel building through the current tree line. D’Abate also pointed out that since the current tree line is between 55 and 68 feet, the visibility of the 70-foot tall hotel would be very low from other viewpoints. He also said the property dips 22 feet below West Shore Road.
He pointed out that the only visible portion will be the two steeples on either side of the hotel, but the Planning Board can make a decision as to how high those steeples go.
“Anything above that [70 feet] is perspective of the planning department,” said D’Abate.
The developer also explained that foliage will be added to the property so color is seen all year long and even the two-story parking garage will be cloaked in trees.
“The garage will also be wrapped in foliage, disguising it,” said D’Abate. He added that the garage will also be less of an eye-sore for the area because the grade level is the same height as West Shore Road and the property dips lower from there.
D’Abate said that one of the reasons Wyndam Hotels was chosen for this project is because they allow more creativity in the design of their hotels. Other companies have a uniform stone and glass look to their hotel.
“Wyndham is giving us that opportunity to design a really unique property,” said D’Abate
Traffic caused by cars entering and exiting the hotel lot was another major concern and D’Abate said a revised traffic study was conducted to look at those concerns. The original study was conducted in January and revised at the end of July.
“We just wanted to clarify for the neighbors because of that meeting,” said D’Abate.
For starters, D’Abate said there are about 24,000 cars that drive past City Hall now traveling toward the hotel, but that will decrease to roughly 5,000 after construction of the Apponaug Circulator.
“The amount of traffic entering there is going to change,” said D’Abate.
Also, the study looked at Department of Transportation regulations that require a view line of at least 250 feet when the speed limit is 35 mph. D’Abate explained that the entrance in the egress of the property has been changed, increasing the view line to double the required amount.
“If you are standing at the easterly most exit on West Shore Road and look towards City Hall, you will see in excess of 415 feet unobstructed,” said D’Abate, adding that distance will increase when the circular is complete. The view is over 515 feet in the other direction.
It appears that most audience members were accepting of the information and willing to consider the hotel. Some admitted during public comments that a hotel is better than a factory and even more said a hotel will help bring conferences and tournaments to the area, improving economic development.
“There is a consistent need for hotels in this area,” said D’Abate. “We lose small conventions every day.”
D’Abate said Monday the current occupancy rate for hotels in Warwick is between 66 and 68 percent, higher than the national average of 62 percent. He also said that number is steadily increasing and will increase 5.9 percent next year.
“The trend now is saying this is going to be going until 2017,” said D’Abate.
Derek Anderson, president of the Apponaug Improvement Association, reiterated his support of the project at the meeting. He even recalled hearing of visitors to a URI sports competition looking for hotel rooms in Connecticut.
“There weren’t enough hotel rooms in Rhode Island,” said Anderson, adding that he sees this hotel as a positive addition to the area. “I’m all for this deal.”
Also in attendance was Mayor Scott Avedisian. Although he did not speak during the meeting, he spoke of his support in an e-mail to the Beacon Monday.
“The hotel developers have worked with our planning department for months on a proposal that will reclaim the waterfront in Apponaug. This development can be the catalyst for a resurgent Apponaug Village,” said Avedisian. “With the new Apponaug road system, a renovated and restored City Hall, a new boutique, a thriving museum, library and exciting business base, we are reclaiming the village.”
Bill Russo, a resident of Apponaug who ran for City Council three times, raised his concerns about traffic.
“I think the circular is a longtime coming,” said Russo. “But I think it’s going to make a difference.”
Russo seemed pleased with the explanation provided by D’Abate about the traffic study.
“It looks like they’ve covered their ground there,” Russo said about the exit to the hotel on West Shore Road. He still had concerns, however, about the entrance on Station Street.
“That railroad is not going anywhere,” said Russo, who was a police officer for 34 years. “I think how they handle that will be key to public safety.”
Jan Kovan is not a resident of Apponaug but lives 2,000 feet from Chelo’s on the Waterfront and understands the concerns residents have about a noisy hotel coming into their community. Kovan had recently tested the noise level during an outside event at the popular restaurant and it measured 57 decibels at her home.
“I’m thinking they won’t do things to decrease the noise, I think they will increase it,” said Kovan.
She brought up her concerns to D’Abate and he assured the audience that any and all entertainment events for the hotel would be enclosed in the building. There is no deck area for the purpose of live music or entertainment in the plans.
D’Abate explained that area, where a green deck (meaning grass-covered) for guests to sit outside is between the two turrets of the hotel and set slightly inside the building.
“That’s where all of the functions are taking place, but they are tucked into the building. That noise won’t radiate out,” said D’Abate. “Everything will be tucked into the building.”
“If that’s the case, none of this matters to anyone and that’s great,” said Kovan, but she urged neighbors to make sure there were no outside events because noise can be a big problem.
There was also a great deal of concern regarding hotel flooding, should another Hurricane Sandy-situation occur. As with any waterfront business, D’Abate said they would have a plan should flooding occur, however he pointed out that the highest level water ever reached was 14 feet above sea level and they are building the hotel 18 feet beyond that mark. There will also be a grade level below the first floor of the hotel used for parking, raising the structure even higher above the water line.
D’Abate also said developers plan to improve the waterfront by opening up a stream that now flows through a culvert and creating a storm water retention pond with that water being used to water the grounds. That stream currently deposits large amounts of silt, filling in the Cove.
“I like that idea of the draining system,” said Russo, adding that it was a great idea and an improvement for the area.
One audience member who remains opposed to the new hotel is Lynn Potter-Vosselman. She has previously spoken about her concerns about traffic and if emergency rescue vehicles could get through the area fast enough. At Wednesday’s meeting she brought up concerns about hiring local contractors for the project, the smell at high tide and a supposed “rat infestation” at the property.
“There are websites that experienced travelers go to. When those websites know about the smell at low tide, the rats, the planes, the trains, do you expect to get return visitors?” asked Potter-Vosselman.
She also demanded to know the earliest possible date of the start of construction, something D’Abate and Trish Reynolds of the Planning Department said they could not possibly predict because of the multiple steps in the approval process.
“We all know this is a done deal. I’m just asking for time,” said Potter-Vosselman. “When do I put my For Sale sign on my property next to his rat-ridden property?”
D’Abate tried to assure Potter-Vosselman that even if the contractor were not from Rhode Island, because that is chosen by the best rate, the workers would be from the area.
“Our intention here is to use as much community workers [as possible]; we’re going to have that built right into the contract,” said D’Abate.
He also said in the seven years he has been working on the property, he has never smelled anything during low tide or seen any rats of any kind at the property, pointing out that Wyndham believes the site is appropriate for a hotel, something they would not do if those problems existed.
Ward 7 Councilman Charles “CJ” Donovan said any kind of investment in the community is a good thing, but he hopes the communication between the developers and the neighbors remains constant.
“I have no problem entertaining the idea of what the developers wants to do,” said Donovan in a phone interview yesterday. “But I also want to make sure they entertain and consider any neighborhood concerns. I want to make sure if they can address those concerns early on, that’s good.”
He said that type of open dialogue will ensure that the voices of his constituents are heard, especially the small number that will be directly affected by the hotel. Donovan added that as long as a “middle ground” is found between the developer’s plans and what the neighborhood wants, he would be ready and willing to listen to the plan.
He added that anyone willing to invest in economic development, even in these difficult economic times, is good, and he sees a lot of potential for the village.
“I’d like to see a strive to make Apponaug like a Wickford,” he said.
Moving forward, D’Abate explained that if no problems are found in the master plan when it is reviewed by Reynolds this week, it will move forward through the normal protocol for master plan submission to the City Planning Board. D’Abate said the next step would be to have it put on the agenda for the nearest planning board meeting, most likely the October one. It will also require a zone change from the City Council.