2015-09-10 / Front Page

Zoning Change Debated

By Olga Enger

Middletown residents say a proposed zoning change will impact their quality of life and diminish their property values.

Two undeveloped lots, directly behind the Polo Center on Aquidneck Avenue, are currently zoned as medium density residential, but longtime owner David Bazarsky said residential housing is an “inappropriate use” of the land and wants it changed.

As part of the revisions made to the town’s comprehensive community plan, Bazarsky, through his attorney Robert Silva, petitioned the Planning Board to designate the nearly eight-acre site as limited business, traffic sensitive, which is the same classification as the Polo Center. Bazarsky told Newport This Week he requested the change be- cause the town was going through the planning process and he does not have current plans to develop the empty lots.

The Polo Center has a variety of commercial rentals such as medical offices, a small restaurant and a salon.

The Planning Board approved the request, which was incorporated into the new comprehensive plan. In a memo dated June 15, the board advised the council to change the zoning to match the plan. As with any proposed zoning change, a public hearing was held Tuesday, Sept. 8, at the regular Town Council meeting.

Although abutters were notified that they could speak at the hearing, Silva suggested the council is “under the duty” by state law to bring the zoning into conformity with the plan.

“Anywhere there is a zoning classification which doesn’t match up, you have to change that,” said Silva.

About 10 residents turned up to oppose the proposal.

“What is proposed tonight is spot zoning in its worst capacity,” said Frank Freitas of Newman Road.

“You say ‘spot zoning.’ Au contraire!” Silva responded later in the meeting. “This is the extension of an existing limited business zone. That term is misstated and misapplied.”

Roslein Pascoe said she suffered through two years of topography changes to the lots, which she assumed was to prepare for residential development. Bazarsky later told Newport This Week he completed work because he obtained free fill. It was not to prepare for future development.

“Traffic is bad now and it will only get worse,” said Pascoe. “The Polo Center is limited business and traffic is in and out of it all day long. Traffic on Aquidneck Avenue is bad."

Silva said the time for raising concerns has passed.

“This is not something he just thought up or suggested to the town just now,” Silva said, during a 20-minute appeal to council. “The zoning change that we are asking you to approve was the subject of prolonged public hearings. Public comments were invited. Nobody showed up or said anything.”

Residents disagreed that they had been invited into the conversation before Tuesday's hearing.

“I received two notices. One in October, but that was pushed off. And the one for tonight.” said Lorraine Morse who owns two houses next to the lots.

“I am a little bit confused, we received notice that there was a hearing and that this public comment would be weighed as part of the decision,” said Bill Pascoe of Aquidneck Avenue. Casey Ackerman and his wife just bought a house next to the property last month.

“We get this letter that says, ‘Hey, there may be a Verizion store next door.’ Had we known about this, we probably wouldn’t have purchased this property,” said Ackerman. “This will dramatically reduce the value of my home.”

Silva added the subject was difficult because the residents, many of whom are personal friends of the attorney, were making an emotional argument about their quality of life and property values.

“We need to take the emotion out of it,” said Silva. “Things change. Vacant property gets developed one way or another.”

Middletown Planning Director Ronald Wolanski confirmed the correct process was to modify the comprehensive plan, and then realign zoning to conform.

“The request was brought to the Planning Board,” said Wolanski. He added the Planning Board held public meetings and the abutters were notified about the proposed change.

Council members had different opinions on the proposal.

“What did you want to put there? Did the town think it was a good idea? I really, really think this is putting the cart before the horse,” said Councilor Antone Viveiros.

Town Administrator Shawn Brown said the council was provided zoning maps with the proposed changes. “We did take the time to make sure the council was informed,” said Brown.

Councilor Paul Rodrigues reassured residents the change was “not a done deal.” He requested information about impacts to traffic, sewer, water and town finances.

Paul Bannon, Senior Project Manager for BETA, an engineering consulting firm based in Lincoln, said their assessment demonstrates Aquidneck Avenue would be able to handle the additional traffic if the site was developed.

“The existing Polo Center there has to create at least 50 jobs. It could be something good for the town,” Vice Chair Robert Kempenaar offered.

Councilor Theresa Santos said she likes it the way it is.

“Has there been any thought for just leaving it as open space? It’s a beautiful piece of land,” she suggested.

After more than an hour of discussion, Councilor Barbara A. Von- Villas suggested they table the conversation.

“It’s 9:30. We have a lot of other business. We have spent a lot of time on this,” said VonVillas.

Council President Robert Sylvia agreed.

“We have heard loud and clear from the residents. We are chasing our tails here.”

Council unanimously agreed to continue the public hearing until the Oct. 5 meeting. The public will have an opportunity to speak, but notices will not be re-sent.

Return to top