NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Narragansett Town Council is hitting the brakes on efforts to re-zone a plot of land occupied by the Twin Willows restaurant, after some residents raised concerns that it would open the door too wide for different types of businesses to locate there in the future.
The request to re-zone the parcel came not from Twin Willows, but from the town itself. Community Development Director Michael DeLuca said the move was proposed to bring the parcel in line with the town’s re-written 2017 comprehensive plan. One of the key elements of the plan is to ensure that properties are zoned appropriately for the uses designated in the plan’s Future Land Use Map.
In November, 2018 town staff identified nine properties for proposed zoning changes. The changes had the support of the property owners and the council approved them in 2019.
However the Twin Willows site on Boston Neck Road was overlooked at the time. DeLuca characterized the move as one of correcting an error, a “housekeeping item.”
“It got onto the map, but somehow did not find its way to the table on page 31 of the plan,” DeLuca said. “My fault. Can’t blame anyone else, but several people had looked at this draft of the comprehensive plan and we never caught it. It was unfortunate that it happened.”
Last month, the Planning Board unanimously recommended approving of the re-zoning of the parcel from R-40 Residential to BA – Limited Business to make it conform with the plan.
DeLuca said the change would allow for 81 different commercial uses by right, 35 by special use permit.
“What the uses could be is what would be concerning to me,” Council President Pro Tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno said.
DeLuca said there was no discussion to date about what uses would or would not be appropriate for the site, as the work was about correcting an error.
“That could be carried out if the council so chose, if it seems appropriate to have a limited list,” he said, noting that some re-zones in the past had produced lists of limits on what could exist on a parcel.
Attorney Edward Pare, representing abutters to the Twin Willows, asked the council to deny the zoning ordinance amendment. He argued it isn’t consistent with the comprehensive plan.
“I’m not sure how a hotel, car wash, drive through bank, taxi stand, other uses, how that comports with walk-ability, issues of mitigating traffic,” he said.
Pare also argued Monday was the first time abutters had heard of the proposed change and showed up to speak about it.
“This change is going to affect over 100 property owners in the surrounding community,” he said. “If we bypass the standard rezone process here, the Twin Willows site is immediately available for those uses. Once this goes forward, you cannot un-ring that bell.”
After some additional testimony by abutters in opposition to the move, the council voted to continue the hearing to the next meeting, with an eye toward town staff drawing up a list of restricted uses for the parcel.
“This housekeeping looks like it’s creating a bigger mess here,” Councilor Patrick Murray said.