The fight over the proposed development of a self-storage unit at Pond Plaza came no closer to being resolved after nearly four hours of testimony before the Zoning Board of Review Monday night.
The board heard the argument to grant PRW Holdings, LLC a special use permit and a waiver of parking regulations for a three-story, 630-unit structure that would extend the plaza, but at the request of Marisa Desautel, attorney for the neighbors, the hearing was continued. She sought the continuance on the basis that she did not have access to the developer’s presentation until a half hour before the meeting. A continuance had not been scheduled as of yesterday afternoon.
In round three of this bout that opened in September 2017, when the Planning Board found the project was not consistent with the comprehensive master plan, which was then overturned by the zoning board, attorneys for Charles Anderson, principal of PRW, introduced a battery of experts who addressed the impact of the development on traffic, real estate values, the character of the area, appearance and Sand Pond.
In an opening statement Daniel Geagan of city planning outlined the department’s findings and recommendations to the zoning board.
“The department is supportive of business and development within the city,” Geagan read. “However, such successful commerce must be designed and built at a size and scale that is appropriate for the surrounding area and environment.” He went on to say the department found relief from the 134 required parking spaces would alter the character of the area and “impair the intent or purpose of this ordinance.” Further, the department found PRW did not meet the requirements of the special use permit.
One of two attorneys for PRW, Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, who has represented many petitioners to come before the planning and zoning boards and the City Council, objected to the department’s position.
“It wasn’t a recommendation, it was a conclusion,” he said.
He pointed out that the proposal already has master plan approval and that the property is zoned for business and, “we’re not asking for one inch of relief.”
Further, he said, the development would improve pond conditions; that about $100,000 would be spent on landscaping; that it would contribute an additional $135,000 in tax revenues; it would not operate 24 hours a day and that, architecturally, “it would be very pleasing.”
Realtor Peter Scotti of Peter Scotti Associates said the development wouldn’t create traffic, noise, odors or light.
“It’s a homerun for the neighborhood,” he said.
In addition, he reasoned the development would revitalize a rundown plaza (retail would remain on the Post Road side of the building with the storage unit in the back and alongside the pond) and serve to enhance the neighborhood.
“I don’t have to be an appraiser to say it’s an eyesore,” he said of the existing plaza.
As for the impact on Sand Pond, Audie Osgood of DiPrete Engineering outlined a plan to eliminate about three quarters of an acre of impervious parking area that would be landscaped as well as provide for a means of treating storm water runoff that now flows directly into the pond.
John Mancini, attorney for PRW, kept the experts coming. Edward Pimental of Pimental Consulting said the development would be a “less intensive” use of the plaza with a reduction in traffic and improvements to drainage.
“Were trying to improve the property,” he said.
Addressing flammables in storage units, Wade Palazini at Jensen Hughes said the building has been designed for more sprinklers and more heavy duty sprinklers than required in anticipation that plastic items would be in storage to “provide an extra level of protection.”
As for traffic, expert Paul Bannon of RAB Professional Engineers said the storage unit would generate 10 to 13 trips during peak hours and a less intensive use than if the building was being used for retail. He also reasoned parking requirements could be reduced and that no more than 10 spaces would be needed at any one time.
In apparent response to neighborhood concerns over the height of the storage unit and it being an overbearing edifice on the pond, yet another expert, architect Christopher Mazzier, said at 34 feet, eight inches, the bulk of the structure would not be significantly taller than other area buildings and under the city height requirement. Using a Google Earth feature, Mazzier incorporated a model of the proposed building to the neighborhood that with surrounding trees virtually obscured the building. Following the hearing area residents questioned if the trees were that tall and what the view would be like from the ground level.
And there was an environmental expert, Rick Mandile of SAGE Environmental, who said there is no evidence of the release of hazardous materials on the site and that the storm water management provisions being proposed would “improve [pond] water quality.” He believed the Department of Environmental Management would approve the PRW plan.
Phil D’Erocle of the Friends of Warwick Ponds was skeptical. Referring to Rhode Island Airport Corporation projects affecting Warwick Pond, he said the DEM sanctioned those projects, yet for 2015, 2016 and 2017 the pond was closed to swimming and people were urged not to have contact with the water because of a green algae bloom.
“Just say no,” he urged of the board. He repeated the phrase and soon Save the Pond neighbors were waving signs and picking up on the chant.
Sean Dunn of Puritan Drive told the board if the project is approved, “you’re going to take away my quality of life. It doesn’t belong next to residential property.”
Looking at the line of experts, Puritan Drive resident David Bouchard said it is “frustrating to have all these outsiders [telling us what’s right]. They won’t have a self-storage within two miles of their homes.”
Christopher Beneduce, who lives on Massasoit Drive and is an abutting neighbor, held up a board with photos of the parking lot and the storage unit he would be facing. He had made his statement.