2018-10-04 / Around Town

Planning Board Rejects Peckham Lane Subdivision

By Christopher Allen

The Middletown Planning Board voted down an application for master plan approval for a proposed 24-lot subdivision on Peckham Lane at a Sept. 26 special meeting. Approximately 70 people attended the public hearing, which was at times contentious, to voice their opposition to the development. The final vote was split, 3-3.

Board member Liz Drayton was not convinced that the proposed subdivision was in keeping with the town comprehensive plan.

“We’ve got a very limited resource in this town... our large farmland,” she said. “If we begin to chip away at it with just residential use, are we upholding our long-range comprehensive plan objectives?”

The applicant, Sean Napolitano, was looking to combine three lots that sit less than one mile north of the intersection of Peckham Lane and Wapping Road. The proposal called for 24 single-family homes on the 27-acre property.

Napolitano, through his attorney, David Martland, applied for a so-called “conservation development,” a category of development in the town code that requires 40 percent of the land area be dedicated to open space.

Martland addressed the concerns of residents who felt that the proposal was too ambitious for the size of the property and included too many single-family homes.

“That number [of single-family homes] was reviewed by town staff. It was reviewed by the town’s consulting engineer. And I believe everyone has confirmed that number,” he said.

There is a three-tiered approval process for all major subdivisions in Middletown. Plans for engineering, such as drainage and septic systems, were not addressed at the meeting.

Lynn Small, the civil engineer for the project, addressed the applicant’s request for a waiver to install a 24-foot roadway leading into the development in an effort to reduce the impervious surface. Current regulations call for 26-foot roadways.

“Making roads a little bit narrower… reduces the impervious area that you have on a development, which is a green type of technology,” she said. “That’s the first thing you want to do when you are doing a stormwater design… [Secondly], when you have a narrower road, the traffic slows down.”

Joseph Lombardo, a town planner in several Rhode Island communities, including Richmond and Westerly, spoke in favor of the project.

“I think it’s a site that lends itself to this conservation subdivision design mandate. It’s a better way in designing a property than conventional subdivisions,” he said.

He also said that the property, identified in the Middletown comprehensive community plan as zoned for residential and agricultural use, falls in line with the town’s vision.

Board member Art Weber asked if the property would be better served if it was conserved through a land trust. Lombardo said that land trusts, such as the Aquidneck Island Land Trust, set certain properties as taking priority over others.

“I don’t know where this would rank. Middletown has a lot of open space,” he said.

Attorney Gerard Galvin, representing the Silveira Preschool located on Peckham Lane, told the board that the property’s history as an agricultural site has created issues for his client related to nitrate levels in the water.

“The idea that a 24-lot subdivision, with all of the impervious coverages that is going to bring, and the potential additional runoff issues... be layered on top of what has already deemed to be a contaminated area causes significant concern to my client, to other members of the community and, I believe, to the town as a whole,” he said.

Residents voiced concern over a lack of progress by the applicants regarding water-testing of the site and any possible contamination.

“The reality is once these guys get their foot in the door, they are going to be off and running. And it’s going to be all over but the crying,” resident Geordie Shaver said.

Middletown resident Myles Standish echoed previous concerns that relevant questions had not been answered. “Where are they going to get water? How are they going to deal with waste? How are they going to deal with traffic? How are they going to deal with emergency vehicles?” he asked.

Martland said that the hearing was for master plan approval, which is a more conceptual stage that does not require per town ordinance submission of more detailed analysis of things like engineering, drainage and development impact.

“There is nothing about fast-tracking any approval here,” he said. “This is the process that the town sets up.”

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