2015-10-29 / Front Page

Middletown Ponders its Future

By James Merolla

Middletown residents will soon get three chances to tell town officials how they feel about matters that could eventually shape the future of their town.

Two of those opportunities will occur on Monday, Nov. 2. On that evening, the Town Council will hold a public hearing at Town Hall on amendments to the updated Middletown Comprehensive Community Plan that was submitted to the state in March. The Rhode Island Division of Planning requested the revisions and will not approve the plan without the changes, which involve land use and housing issues that town officials say have now been addressed.

Also on Nov. 2, the council will conduct a hearing on a proposed moratorium on building so-called “big box” stores of 35,000 square feet or more through March 2, 2016. The council unanimously endorsed the idea on Oct. 5.

Finally, on Thursday, Nov. 5, the Middletown Planning Board will host a public workshop at 6 p.m. concerning proposed amendments to the zoning map. It is also at Town Hall, in the council chambers. The purpose is to bring zoning designations of certain properties into conformance with the future land use map of the Comprehensive Community Plan.

The Planning Board is interested in receiving comments from residents, property owners, and other interested parties on the proposed amendments before the board provides its recommendations to the council.

At issue on Nov. 5 are six zoning proposals that could lay the groundwork for returning a large farm parcel back to open space, or allowing 37 condominiums to be built off East Main Road. The other elements have not been clearly defined to the public, but may merit significant land use changes.

“The proposed amendments are focused on six specific locations where inconsistency between the zoning map and Comprehensive Plan future land use map have been identified. If adopted, they would provide consistency in these locations,” said Planning Director Ronald M. Wolanski. “State law requires [that] consistency.”

Wolanski said that if local officials decide against making any of the revisions, the town will have to revise its comprehensive plan to achieve consistency that way.

Wolanski outlined the six proposed changes at issue on Nov. 5:

1. Rezoning several lots along West Main Road in the Arruda Terrace/ Thelma Lane area from R-20 to R-10. Most of the lots are smaller lots that are currently nonconforming. The comp plan identifies this area for high-density residential use, which is R-10 or multifamily. This recently came to light on Oct. 19 when the council approved a proposal by landowner David Lawrence that may result in 37 1,500-square-foot condominiums being built there.

2. Rezoning the former Boulevard and Tibbets Farm parcels at East Main and Mitchell's Lane from residential to open space. In February, the council unanimously declined to develop this area into as many as a half dozen athletic fields with a field house and other amenities.

3. Rezoning seven residential lots on Forest Avenue that are currently zoned office business. Each is developed with dwellings and identified on the comp plan for residential use. The designation would go from office business (OB) to R-20, consistent with abutting residential zoning.

4. Rezoning the Bank Newport property at two-mile corner from office business to general business, consistent with the comp plan and surrounding zoning.

5. Rezoning a single lot owned by the owners of Middletown Self- Storage at Honeyman Avenue/ Aquidneck Avenue from residential to limited business.

6. Rezoning numerous properties on Paradise Avenue currently zoned R-30. The comp plan designates that area for low-density residential development, which is R-40 or R-60. As currently proposed, properties on the east side of Paradise would go from R-30 to R-60 and parcels on the west side would go from R-30 to R-40. The designations would be generally consistent with abutting zoning districts.

Town Council President Robert J. Sylvia said that the hearings and the workshop are not interrelated.

“As elected officials, we need to encourage continual public feedback, to ensure that we make the right decisions which will protect our town from development that will adversely affect our residents’ quality of life today and into the future,” said Sylvia.

He added that planners must zone for land uses and use “intensity that addresses valid planning visions. We also need to apply zoning requirements in ways that respect the rights of property owners, treat applicants fairly, and comply with state law. This is not impossible.”

Council member Theresa Santos has completed eight decades of life as a Middletown resident. She remembers when the plaza filled with the Christmas Tree Store and two dozen retails units was open farmland.

“People should care about our future zoning, because once the green is gone, it’s gone forever,” said Santos. “People have got to care. It’s not going to come back. We are not going to become another Newport.”

Santos does not want the 71 acres recently purchased by the Kyriakedes brothers along West Main Road turned into parking lots for another hotel or retail plaza. She concurred with the description of West Main from the Portsmouth line south to Newport as “one long strip mall.”

She wants any future developers to come in and refurbish strip malls which dot Route 114, rather than touch what’s left of open land, fill the existing storefronts that are empty and abandoned, and spruce up what exists.

“Look what we have become,” said Santos. “There has to be a point in time where enough is enough. I can’t even think about what the end of this town will be like. Why do we have to have so much commercial? We are a growing elderly community. Right on my street, there are five people who live alone in their homes. Why can’t they sell their homes and move into a nice apartment building that takes care of everything?”

“We encourage and welcome every resident to attend [these meetings] and voice their concerns and comments. The challenge for the future is to manage growth and development while not detracting from our small-town beauty,” said Sylvia.

The following people, and many more, contributed to the completion of the updated plan:

Planning Board
John Ciummo
Gladys Lavine
Joseph P. Marnane
Betty Jane Northup-Owen
Charlene Rose-Cirillo
Matthew Sullivan
Arthur Weber, Jr.

Comprehensive Plan Update Committee

In addition to members of the Planning Board, members of the CPUC included:

Richard Adams, John Bagwill, Richard Cambra, Nicholas Coogan, Robert Crump, Denise D’Amico, Jan Eckhart, Frank Forgue, Tom Kowalczyk, Lucy Levada, Bruce Long, Barbara Murphy, Julian Peckham III, Richard Price, Audrey Rearick, Thomas Silveira, Eileen Spilane, Peter Tarpgaard, Romeo Velasco, Antone Viveiros, Barbara VonVillas, Rian Wilkinson.

Planning Department
Ronald Wolanski, AICP
Director of Planning & Economic Development
Alison Ring, AICP
Principal Planner & GIS Manager Town Solicitor’s Office
Michael Miller, Esq.
Peter Regan, Esq.

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