SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The intent of the town's comprehensive plan was as much up for debate during Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting as the conceptual plan in front of the board – that of Post Acute Partners of New York, the company that seeks to tear down the historic Larchwood Inn, 521 Main St., and build a 72-bed assisted living facility for clients with early-stage Alzheimer’s and other memory loss issues.
Since February 2014, the company has sought master plan approval on the project. On March 10, the Planning Board granted it for the proposed $12 to $15 million, 59,070-square-foot building to be built on the 3.34-acre lot – but that approval was nullified by the Zoning Board of Review, acting as the Planning Board of Appeals, May 27, on the grounds an abutter was never notified about the hearings.
Tuesday night, the master plan proposal was heard anew, though the prior hearings and documents were incorporated into the new record. During the meeting, Joseph Lombardo, Post Acute Partners planner, made the company’s case for why the plan fits the comprehensive plan, something objectors have argued it does not.
“When we talk about consistency with the comprehensive plan, my approach is to start with the land use element,” Lombardo said. “The downtown commercial district is a land use category in which the property is in ... The comprehensive plan gives you an idea that the downtown commercial district is a mixture of uses ... If you focus on the site [of the Larchwood Inn], you would see there is flexibility of design allowed. Putting a building of this size and scale on the outskirts [of Main Street] makes sense.”
Lombardo said the comprehensive plan says the commercial downtown area should be balanced between business and residential, have places that provide “essential services” to residents and seek to maintain a stable tax rate, things he said the assisted living facility would offer.
Opponents disagreed, citing, among other examples, that the comprehensive plan calls for historic preservation in downtown Wakefield.
“With all due respect to Planning Board staff, we continue to see inaccuracies even with the latest Planning Board report,” said Murray Gates of Kingston, a member of Preserve Wakefield, a group that opposes the Post Acute Partners plan. “The Planning Board makes some assumptions that this application meets all the requirements of the comprehensive plan. It’s an illogical deduction to say, ‘because this application meets the zoning requirements, it therefore meets the comprehensive plan.’ That is backward. The comprehensive plan drives the zoning ordinance. Not the reverse.”
“Maybe this is not the property for a building of this magnification,” said Stephanie Osborn, owner of Sugar Loaf Hill Bed & Breakfast, 607 Main St. Osborn is a member of the Zoning Board, but was speaking as a private citizen. She was not among the Zoning Board members who nullified the decision.
Residents and some Planning Board members continued to cite the size and scale of the project as a concern. Elise Torello, recently appointed board member who was not part of the previous hearings, commented the project “is so far out of scale with the buildings in the area.” Her comments were met with applause by approximately 40 people in the audience.
Also at the meeting, some residents spoke about potential traffic and environmental impacts to the area. Post Acute Partners presented several experts who testified about the landscaping, architecture and traffic impacts.
The hearing was continued to Tuesday.