NORTH KINGSTOWN—The North Kingstown Planning Commission continued its discussion on the proposed Commons development on Frenchtown Road, debating potential zoning and Comprehensive Plan changes necessary for the mixed-use retail project to move forward. Developer Frenchtown Road Partners, LLC, has been working over the past two years with the towns of North Kingstown and East Greenwich to agree upon an acceptable site layout and makeup for the construction which aims to bring in large retail businesses such as CVS and McDonald’s to Frenchtown Road.
The property on the North Kingstown side is 33.84 acres large, adjacent to Route 403, while the land in East Greenwich accounts for approximately 10 acres. Planning commission members expressed their concerns regarding first the impact of the Commons on surrounding businesses, in particular Post Road.
“Unlike the Rolling Greens project, I think this has much greater potential to have a negative impact on the Post Road corridor where we have dedicated a lot of time and money on the sewer project,” said Planning Commission Chair Gardner H. Palmer, Jr.
Palmer further suggested that an impact analysis of the Frenchtown Commons project be produced by the applicant in fear of business being drawn away from Post Road.
“I think a market study will be helpful for us to determine the impacts on Post Road,” said Palmer. “I don’t know what the results of that will be, but my strong opinion is that it would be naïve to say this project would have no impact on Post Road.”
The suggestion sparked debate between commission members and the applicant’s legal representative, John C. Revins.
“This is a good proposal and there is no significant opposition to this in town,” said Revins. “We think we’ve made a great presentation and application.”
“We will do whatever is reasonable to get your support, but we want to build something,” he continued. “If tenants wanted to go [to Post Road], they would tell us. Look at the traffic counts on Post Road during the day; there is nobody there. You have a lot of issues on Post Road, but you can’t control that.”
Developer Paul Mihailides of Frenchtown Partners, LLC also disagreed with the premise of an impact study, stating that the businesses with which he has had discussions about moving into Frenchtown Commons have no desire to move to Post Road and that his project accommodates larger retail businesses, not the small business found on Post Road.
“I have had now six tenants who have all turned down Post Road because of the requirements, so my question is why do we have the Post Road corridor?” said Mihailides. “We are bringing more than $350,000 in taxes into the town with no associated additional burden.”
“The tenant base isn’t going to just continue to wait, and that is the slippery slope as a developer I am facing,” he continued. “I am in a race.”
Commission member Paul Dion agreed with the applicant’s position, stating that Post Road has had its business drained over the past years since the development of Quonset and commercial build-out away from the corridor.
“I am inclined to agree with the applicant, and we should start rethinking Post Road to the point of buying open space on it,” said Dion. “Mr. Revins is right; someone running a flower shop can’t afford [Frenchtown Commons].”
“We have already seen the drain down on Post Road, and the reality is that business is moving like a horseshoe around it,” he continued. “I feel like this is another loop they have to jump through and I am not convinced that [the project] will gobble up industrial space.”
The specific amendment recommendations to the Comprehensive Plan and town zoning ordinance encompass merging the site’s zoning designations, which is zoned in areas as commercial, light industrial and high density residential, into commercial retail for the entire property.
Frenchtown Partners, LLC, also requested that a number of changes to the zoning district descriptions, such as one building having a drive-through window, be done by right, thus bypassing the zoning board from making recommendations on the changes. The request drew the commission and the applicant’s attorney into another considerable debate about whether the applicant should given such power over changes at the Frenchtown Commons site.
A number of local residents concerned about the impact of the zoning and Comprehensive Plan changes to the Frenchtown Commons site also spoke on Tuesday evening.
“We had disruption during the building of Route 403, our house shook, and the promise was that Frenchtown Road would become a residential area,” said Richard Einig of 335 Frenchtown Road in East Greenwich. “Route 403 did reduce the traffic running up and down Frenchtown Road, but now with this proposal all of the sudden, we will be right back into a very heavy traffic situation, and I don’t want this to be turned into a place where there is a lot of noise and signs.”
“Light industrial development is to me such a premium type of use for any town to have,” said Diane Williamson, director of Community Development in Bristol and a North Kingstown resident. “The developer says no one has come up to me [about developing on the light industrial zone], but that doesn’t mean there won’t be.”
“I think it is short sighted when there might be a better opportunity if you just wait,” she added.
Ultimately, the planning commission voted five to zero, with Palmer abstaining, to give a positive recommendation to the town council for the Comprehensive Plan amendment without requiring the applicant to provide an impact study. The commission also voted five to zero, with commission member Jeffrey S. Michaelson abstaining, to give a positive recommendation to the requested zoning changes minus the allowance for the construction of two free standing signs on the site.
The recommendation was also approved subject to modifications to design plans submitted in January, including the stipulation that Frenchtown Partners, LLC incorporate New England style architecture elements into the site’s building make-up. The modifications will be discussed and voted on at the planning commission’s June 4 meeting.
The planning commission also deferred holding its Master Plan informational hearing on the Frenchtown Commons project, as well as making a recommendation to the town council on the issuance of special use permits and variances at the site, until the June 4 meeting.