All the more united in their effort to limit access to their neighborhood from what will become the newest Dave’s Marketplace – the former Benny’s at Wildes Corner – Spring Grove Avenue homeowners turned out for Monday’s City Council meeting.
Holding “no access” signs, the residents – mostly wearing red – were peaceable as all eight members of the council who were present granted second passage to a zone change that would preserve much of the rear of the 20-acre lot as open space.
Carpionato Group President Kelly Coates who watched from the chamber balcony, explained that action was taken to allay concerns that the land might be developed for condos at some future time.
Ironically, it opened the door to the issue of the access road, which is not even a part of the land rezoned as open space.
Carpionato Group bought nearly all of the 31 Benny’s sites when the locally owned retail chain closed.
As was voiced at an informational meeting and when the council first heard the rezoning petition, the rezoning is not an issue and overall the relocation of the Dave’s on West Shore Road and an expanded store is viewed as a plus. The issue is a rear access to the site that predates Benny’s, when the store was operated by Star Market. Benny’s didn’t use the access, so it remained closed for more than 20 years.
Residents fear that with the opening to traffic between the Dollar General and O’Reilly’s Auto Parts and construction of a bank, restaurant and retail store as Carpionato plans, access to Spring Grove would become a cut-through to avoid Wildes Corner traffic. This would destroy the tranquility they enjoy being on a dead-end street and create safety hazards.
Coates says he’s sympathetic to neighborhood concerns, but that Dave’s insists on keeping the access as part of its lease. The variable is Carpionato’s proposal for another traffic sign on West Shore Road. If the Department of Transportation approves the light, Dave’s is agreeable to limiting the rear access so that vehicles no larger than a golf cart could use it.
Coates said Monday that DOT is favorably inclined to the proposal and he is hopeful of approval.
Nonetheless, residents are concerned that it could take the state up to two years to install a light, which would mean two years of neighborhood traffic.
Meanwhile, work is proceeding on the conversion of the former Benny’s. Carpionato has permits for the work and there is no need for zoning or council approvals, as the property is zoned for the planned use. A spokeswoman for Dave’s said Wednesday the company is looking to open the store in the spring.
In voting for second passage, City Council President Steve Merolla pointed out that residents will get “a second bite of the apple” when the development comes before the Planning Board for preliminary plan approval. Furthermore, he noted in an interview Wednesday that Carpionato owns a number of properties in the city and has lived up to its promises.
“At some point in time, you have to rely on people,” he said.
In approving the open space zoning, the City Council added the stipulation that should the state approve the traffic signal, Carpionato would close the rear access.
“In the end, I think everyone is going to be happy with this project,” Merolla said.
Mayor Joseph Solomon likewise sees the development as benefiting the community.
“It serves all residents,” he said, “and it expands our tax base.”
As for the issue of introducing traffic to a residential neighborhood, Solomon said the city would need to address that should it become a problem.
The Planning Board hasn’t set a date for preliminary plan review.
GETTING ACROSS THEIR POINT:
Concerned that a rear access to the former Benny’s site at Wildes Corner could be reopened when it reopens as a Dave’s Marketplace, Spring Grove Avenue residents attended Monday’s Council meeting. The council granted second passage to rezone a portion of the site as open space. (Warwick Beacon photo)