Anyone in Narragansett who’s attempted to build a house on vacant land, add an addition, swimming pool, or shed to their property understands that plans must meet stringent zoning guidelines before they can be completed. Citizens also need to be aware that the RI Comprehensive permit provision (RI-GL 45-53) provides a means for developers to bypass these zoning regulations, thus significantly increasing financial gains and resulting in negative impacts to neighborhoods, open spaces, and the environment.

The purpose of zoning regulation is to allow the town to control the development of the land and ensure its taxpaying residents are safe and satisfied within their community. Zoning regulations are carefully constructed to manage the proper use of the land, enable the community to develop infrastructure adequately, and protect existing property and environment from destruction or devaluation.

The RI-GL 45-53 provision allows developers to override zoning regulations if the development includes a minimum percentage of low-mid income units in their development: in this case 25%. One of the more impactful aspects of the zoning bypass is the density variance.  Areas that have been zoned for less dense neighborhoods, for example one or two acres, can be developed with significantly higher densities under this provision.  This allows the developer to effectively “sell more units” within the same acreage.

Green Hill Builders has submitted a formal application seeking approval from the Narragansett Town Planning Board to construct 20 condominium units in a low-density zone, amongst single-family homes on Old Boston Neck Road. When the owners of these homes purchased their properties, given the low-density zoning of the area and what was told to them by the prior owner and realtors, they would naturally expect that the land between them would be developed within those guidelines. In this case, zoning allowed for three houses. Now, where three homes were to be built, there may be twenty. This should be of concern to anyone living near open spaces, wetlands, woodlands, vacant lots, or potential tear-downs. These all become opportunities for developers who want to bypass existing zoning in order to dramatically increase their profits.

Old Boston Neck Road is a narrow, historic street in Saunderstown, surrounded by acres of wooded wetlands. Commercial trucks are prohibited and right of way is granted for horses and horse-drawn carriages. Our Zoning District is classified as R-80 (2 acre) Residential Low-Density.

The proposed cluster development is high density and non-conforming. The build will reduce pervious cover and add storm water runoff to a street with poor existing drainage infrastructure. Ordinary rains flood parts of Old Boston Neck Road, as no storm collection and conveyance infrastructure exist here. Even recent roadside trenching done by the town did nothing to alleviate flooding — some neighbors often have to wear boots just to collect their curbside mail. These plans also encroach on wetlands where the water table is extremely high, worsening the drainage situation. Since there are no town sewer connections on the road, the 20 dwellings must utilize an on-site wastewater treatment system (septic) that will include specialized septic tanks and a series of large bottomless sand filters to manage the waste. The impact of such a large septic system on adjacent, nearby, and downstream properties that rely on well-water is extremely concerning to us. The high-density build will also disrupt populations of deer, coyote, bobcat, and other native species, resulting in more frequent negative interactions with people, pets, and traffic. These 20 units could add to up to 80 residents and associated cars entering and exiting from Old Boston Neck Road — a challenge not only for traffic but for the many walkers, joggers, and cyclists who use our street each day. The traffic impact will be even greater during beach season, as many motorists (including workers from the DeWal/Rogers Corporation, Bay Campus, and EPA) use Old Boston Neck/Miner Rd. as a bypass around the long line of traffic at the stoplight on 1A at Bridgetown Road.

To be clear, there are no objections from the residents that the housing is designated as low/moderate income — rather it is the density of the development and the impact to the surrounding area that is unacceptable. We understand the legitimate need for affordable low-mid income housing in South County. But there has to be a way to subsidize this dream for families that doesn’t involve incentivizing this type of project for exploitative developers who will jam as many units as possible into an inappropriate space in order to dramatically inflate their profits.           

This proposal is coming before the Planning Board on Tuesday evening, March 28. If this is of concern to you, regardless of your neighborhood, please attend.

The author is writing on behalf of the The West Bay Preservation Alliance. This letter is co-signed by Matt Foley, Amanda Foley, Mike Natalizia, Julie Natalizia, Deborah Harig, Earl Jackman, Barbara Jackman, Gaetan Charbonneau, Susan Charbonneau, Donna Ross, Mark Ross, Carol Morrison, Kirsten Hunter, Thomas McGreen, Anna McGreen, Ed Walsh, Sharon Walsh, Jenny Tausek, Richard Santopietro, Lizbeta Chisholm, Lori Eldridge, Mark Eldridge, Penn S. Moulton, Bob Woodbine, Chris Woodbine, Robert Merluzzo, Cheryl Merluzzo, Anthony Tavolaro, Terri Stone, Nancy Moskwa, Thomas Lynch, Susan Hall and John Hall.

(2) comments


This development sounds like every other condo development that has been built in Narragansett over the last four decades. The only difference is the extreme wealth and privilege of the surrounding neighborhoods. Almost none of the surrounding homes are built on 2 acre lots so that can't possibly be the issue. On the other side of the "tracks" (1A) houses are built with a much greater density. Many on lots under .25 acres. Does the land use warrant tearing down seven of every eight houses to save the bobcats? There are many condos interspersed throughout residential neighborhoods in the town. If these residents were truly concerned about water and sewer they would petition the town to be added to the town water and sewer as almost every neighborhood to the South has done. Lets call this what it is- elitism and "Not in my neighborhood" syndrome.

Engaged Citizen

I don't think that there is anything wrong with a bit of elitism. Many of us have spent our entire adult lives working to get to a financial point where we can move out of low income housing. The idea that a bunch of politicians should be able to decree that they are going to build low income housing next to my house is a problem from my perspective. We already don't have enough water to support all of the people that live down here. Traffic, particularly in the summer time is a pain in the neck. Adding more housing just compounds the problem.

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