2018-12-06 / Around Town

Final Ruling on Salve Dorms Delayed

By James Merolla

The revised smaller Watts dormitory plan also features less parking. (Rendering by Paul Weber Architect) The revised smaller Watts dormitory plan also features less parking. (Rendering by Paul Weber Architect) The Planning Board gave a favorable recommendation on Dec. 3 to the Zoning Board on a special permit application requested by Salve Regina University to construct two dormitories on campus, but expressed concerns raised by the new Technical Review Committee process. Therefore, the issue was continued until the Jan. 7 meeting, when a formal recommendation is expected.

After a more than two-hour hearing, the recommendation was met with confusion by opposing attorneys, who argued that the project did not conform with the city’s Comprehensive Plan and new zoning review standards.

“We’re happy to come back in January,” said attorney William Landry, representing Salve Regina. “I’m not sure a rejection helps anyone. We would prefer to return to complete the job, if it’s all about establishment of conditions.”

Planning Board Chair Melissa Pattavina said the project needs to satisfy the conditions of the Technical Review Committee. Those conditions were not specified.

Salve’s previous plan, which included larger dorms in a different configuration, failed to pass the review process six months ago.

Landry said the new proposal will not increase the student population of approximately 2,000 fulltime undergraduates, but would require juniors to reside on campus. Currently, only freshmen and sophomores must live on campus.

The plan, he said, featured smaller buildings, less parking and delineated spots on campus that would reduce traffic and increase security.

“On-campus residency will result in a better university,” he said. “Students who came to campus from all parts of the city will stay on campus all day. We know there are folks who are concerned about the speed of traffic in the general area. This will result in a dramatic reduction in incidents of speeding.”

Landry said the plan’s issues must be resolved by the Historic District Commission, City Council, Zoning Board and Planning Board.

“What is highly relevant is consistency with the Comprehensive Plan and the standards that the Zoning Board will have to apply,” he said.

Paul Weber, the architect who presented the new plans to the board, said the size of the dorms had been reduced, and the buildings inverted to offer better site lines and to present smaller facades to Ruggles and Victoria avenues. The height of the buildings was also scaled back by nine feet. In addition, parking has been reduced by about 70 spaces, with more plantings and landscaping added around the sites.

“It’s a fairly significant reduction in the overall size of the buildings,” said board member Brian Rochelle.

Landry presented testimony by state engineers backing the plan regarding water runoff and quality, and traffic reduction with improved pedestrian and auto safety.

Attorney Karen Benson, representing opposing abutters, said Salve Regina had not offered enough studies on any of these concerns. She offered findings that showed consistent speeding by student drivers.

“Some of the streets in this part of the city just cannot accommodate sidewalks,” she said. “I’m not sure, by any planning, you are going to be able to solve this. Right now, it’s dangerous. They haven’t shown us enough information. Did they study the water table? The applicant can’t merely recite those aspects of the Comprehensive Plan that they suggest they are complying with. They have to show us.”

J. Patrick Dougherty, representing direct abutters in opposition, said Salve Regina’s plan was unacceptable because the university claimed deed ownership of Wetmore Avenue, which cuts through the site of the proposed dorms. Dougherty said the school had no ownership of the street.

“Clearly, I am contesting that,” he said. “They don’t have a right to wipe that out.”

He also argued that the dorms do not conform to the Comprehensive Plan and don’t comply with the Historic District zoning.

“You can’t recognize two massive dorms, with the R-60 zone. Salve has encroached itself upon this neighborhood,” he said.

Landry maintained that Salve Regina has deeds proving ownership of Wetmore Avenue. “We’ve shown it on our plan,” he said. “We are not obliterating it. It’s a private way, over which there may be some private rights. I am going to present deeds that show ownership.”

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