SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The South Kingstown Town Council on Monday unanimously approved to extend a public hearing centered around proposed text amendments to a zoning ordinance associated with the sale, cultivation, and manufacturing of recreational cannabis — which would call for the inclusion of overlay districts to reserve certain areas in town for certain business to be practiced.
The districts would be comprised within existing commercial highway and Industrial One areas on the town zoning map, according to information slides presented by Planning Director James Rabbitt.
This would involve three overlay districts for industrial areas (IND-1), which would allow cultivation, manufacturing, and testing. One overlay would be close to Wakefield and downtown which would only allow testing and manufacturing, and two proposed retail areas would be associated with Old Tower Hill and South County Commons, Rabbitt said.
The retail sale of cannabis is not proposed to be permitted in any of the industrial overlay zones, Rabbitt said, adding that the overlay districts associated with the IND-1s are only for cultivation, manufacturing, and testing. The only areas that were proposed for retail sale were the Old Tower Hill Road area and the South County Commons.
The first of the IND-1 districts is located on Fairgrounds Road, Waites Corner Road, and the Liberty Lane area.
The second overlay district associated with cultivation, manufacturing and testing is connected to Dam Street, across from the pump house, on Kingstown Road.
The third IND-1 area, which would allow cultivation, manufacturing, and testing, is in contact with Railroad Street and Church Street – or the historic mill site in Peacedale.
The last industrial area as an overlay would prohibit cultivation but allow manufacturing and testing. This is located on High Street, just north of Main Street, Rabbitt said.
Cannabis overlay retail districts are associated with Route 108 and Old Tower Hill Road. The second area is to the north, and the existing special management district is associated with South County Commons.
The first primary area is Old Tower Hill Road — associated with Holley Street, Cherry Lane, Kingstown Road, Patton Avenue, Pershing Avenue, Charles Street, and Narragansett Avenue.
“The difference between the highway commercial zone and proposed overlay district was the Planning Board thought it would be important, based on past experience, to only allow adult recreation sales if it had direct access to Route 108 or Old Tower Hill Road or the eastern portion of Main Street,” Rabbitt said.
“All of the commercial highway and commercial highway retails or overlay districts for retail have to be by special-use permit,” Rabbitt added.
The Planning Board must review the permit, before referring to the zoning board for final action.
State cannabis laws restrict a setback of 500 feet from existing private or public schools.
What followed Rabbitt’s presentation was over an hour of public comment emphatically opposing the implementation of districts in certain areas.
Residents decried the potential implementations, either near or within their neighborhood, citing concerns about an increase in traffic, underage smoking, the implementation of a “passive recreational area,” public safety issues and potent smells of marijuana.
Catherine Taggart, of Preservation Way in South County Commons, said she is “vehemently opposed” to her area being involved with the zoning proposals, citing that it would endanger the “quality of life” and property values.
Taggart added, that the Commons have a traffic issue that would worsen.
“You add to it, the influx – the high impact influx of new traffic this kind of proposal would bring to our community and we’re fearful,” Taggart said. “We’re fearful of security, we’re fearful of what it might do to our property value. Is it going to impact the desirability of anyone who wants to live there? These are not inexpensive homes or inexpensive rental units.”
Most of the animosity toward the districts was centered around a “neighborhood” feel in town being disrupted in the selected areas — whether that would be due to commercial vehicles traveling down otherwise quiet streets or the strong odor of cannabis.
Some residents argued that the zoning changes were “putting the cart before the horse,” without a “sensible plan.”
Officials said the size of the zones can “shrink” or be regulated through lot coverage and setbacks.
Residents during the public hearing requested officials to remove the south side of Tower Hill Road from the overlay district.
Councilor Jessica Rose also expressed some discomfort with some of the proposed zoning, specifically addressing the universal Pre-K space that is yet to be determined in town.
“I wouldn’t want it near my child’s daycare, I don’t think,” Rose said.
The school rule would only apply if the school or Pre-K predated the cannabis facility, officials said.
“If a retail facility was approved – that is not within 500 feet of a Pre-K facility and the town chose to pick a site that located Pre-K within those 500 feet, the town would be doing that knowing they would be within 500 feet of an existing retail outlet,” Rabbitt said. “You would not — under my knowledge of zoning law – be able to go to that retailer and say you need to stop operating your facility.”
Councilor Deborah Bergner asked for perspective of what would be 500 feet within range of Columbia Street — the road where the high school is currently located.
“Along Kingstown Road, there is a small maybe 500-1,000 square foot area on the northern side. It just clips that area, it is very minuscule with regard to the potential conflict,” Rabbitt said.
Rabbitt added, the town could retract the zone to be outside of 500 feet.
After residents spoke about their hesitations to back the proposals, Rose called for the public hearing to be extended, adding that there is “more work to do.”
She also reiterated the importance of formulating a decision.
“If we don’t choose somewhere, it will be allowed everywhere,” Rose said of the zoning ordinance. “That’s just how it was passed by South Kingstown voters. Our only regulation now is to limit where it is.”
Officials could consider referring to the planning department and planning board, if necessary, to “further refine the boundaries of the overlay district.”
“I hope the community has some understanding that not all of us like this, we’re just trying to solve a puzzle that’s yucky, because it doesn’t feel good for anybody,” Bergner said. “But we have to figure out something.”
Council President Rory McEntee, prior to the extension of the public hearing, implied that although changes will be considered, his council’s goal is to remain faithful to what voters decided back in November.
“Because there was overwhelming support of allowing for recreational sale, cultivation, manufacturing and testing, it’s up to the council to give effect to the voters’ will,” McEntee said. “I don’t want to see us shrink this to the point where we’ve regulated it to the extent that it can’t happen. That does not give effect to the will of the voters, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
In addition to his disclosure, McEntee said that he recognized all the concerns from the public as valid and he is open to “further amendments.”
“I do just warn the public that the longer we wait on this — in the event that DBR issues a license to an applicant who comes down to South Kingstown — and regulations aren’t in place yet, we may not be able to control where that facility goes.”
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