2017-03-09 / Around Town

Polo Center Request Requires Zoning Change

By Olga Enger

The owner of the Polo Center on Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown is seeking permission to expand to the empty parcel of land bordering the existing development.

For a group of about 80 abutters who have signed a petition against the plans, the request came as a painful déjà vu.

In November 2015, after a four-hour hearing that lasted until 1 a.m., in a 4-3 vote Middletown Town Council rejected a request by owner David Bazarsky to rezone the empty lot from medium density residential traffic sensitive (R- 20A) to limited business traffic sensitive (LBA).

On Monday, March 6, councilors listened to the same arguments during a two-hour hearing, with only one exception.

“The request back then was to make a generic change, with no conditions to the zoning,” said Attorney Robert Silva. At that time, the developer did not disclose plans for the lot. Now, Bazarsky is back in front of the council asking for permission to rezone with the specified use of Polo Center expansion.

The Polo Center, which Bazarsky has owned the since the early 1980s, provides office space to medical professionals and light retail such as hair stylists, a dry cleaning business, a yoga studio and a bank. A growing demand for office space by doctors is the driving force behind his request, said Bazarsky.

About 25 residents attended the hearing and six spoke out against the requested zoning change.

“Should this zoning change pass, the landscape of this area will change. It will no longer be a neighborhood. It will be a business district,” said abutter Lorraine Morse. “Zoning laws exist to protect the residents of our town. Our future is in our hands and I’m hoping you help us.”

Silva argued that the Comprehensive Plan specifies the land should be zoned limited business and therefore the zoning ordinance is out of compliance.

Under Rhode Island general law § 45-24-50, a “city or town must bring the zoning ordinance or amendment into conformance with its comprehensive plan.”

Council Vice President Paul Rodrigues took a passionate stance against that argument and challenged the attorney’s approach as excessively aggressive.

“I don’t want to just focus what the comp plan says,” said Rodrigues, arguing abutters were not included in that process. He pointed out the Planning Board may modify the Comprehensive Plan up to four times a year.

Councilor Theresa Santos asked if Bazarsky would consider senior housing on the property.

“We are an aging community. Many of us don’t have children to live with. We don’t want to go into nursing homes,” said Santos.

Bazarsky responded he would not rule out the idea of a senior living facility, but he did not want to mislead the council.

“There may be some way to incorporate it within. I don’t want to make misrepresentations which I can’t live up to,” said Bazarsky.

Supporting the idea to rezone the land, Councilor Henry Lombardi argued residential properties come with the cost of education.

“I’m not against kids. There is a place for it. There is a time for it. Right now, we need to bring in mixed-use development. To take some of the burden off our taxpayers,” said Lombardi.

Councilor Barbara VonVillas said she was concerned about “junky” retail establishments.

“I don’t think I have a single junky tenant,” Bazarsky responded.

Only one seat has changed since the narrow 2015 vote, with first-term Councilor Dennis Turano as the newest member. At that time, VonVillas, Lombardi and former Vice President Rocky Kempenaar voted in favor of the zoning change.

Accordingly, to get approval this time around, Bazarsky will need two new votes in favor of the zoning proposal.

At the hearing, Turano said he does not have enough information to make an informed decision. Councilors will vote after a second hearing.

The next Middletown Town Council meeting is scheduled for March 20 at Middletown Town Hall.

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