RICHMOND — The town’s Planning Board will reopen a public hearing into the development of an 8-unit residential subdivision along Carolina Nooseneck Road after the State Housing Appeals Board remanded the proposal for further consideration of approval.
Members of the Planning Board, acting on the advice of Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, voted to reopen the hearing into Highlander Estates development on May 25. Board member Travis Putnam, who was not yet appointed when the application was presented and voted on by the board, abstained.
Ellsworth told members of the board Tuesday evening that based on concerns presented by the state’s appeals board, members of the Planning Board should consider approving the most recent application as a comprehensive master plan for the property or risk having the decision overturned.
“The State Housing Appeals Board could not find any grounds on which to uphold your denial of the application,” Ellsworth said in a memo to members of the Planning Board. “If you deny master plan approval of the revised application, I am certain that SHAB will reverse your decision and approve what will be submitted.”
Attorney Michael Resnick, an associate with Kelly, Souza & Parmenter in Providence, who represents applicant William McIntosh, told members of the Planning Board Tuesday that with the remand, and in accordance with its guidelines, the process should not be considered new but resume with a decision to be made quickly after the May public hearing.
Resnick said that, in accordance with the appeals board recommendation, his client is prepared to move forward on May 25 with a proposal as a comprehensive master plan that would call for development of 8 total units, with a unit in the existing log cabin and unit #3 in building B to be designated as a low to moderate income unit.
The proposal will also include more comprehensive work to show a conceptual landscape design, Resnick said, and would include appropriate barriers.
“It is very important that the remand order is followed, by both our team and by the Planning Board,” Resnick said. “This board needs to understand that SHAB does have jurisdiction in Rhode Island. If this were to go back before SHAB, I am very confident that they would agree with our position.”
The May 25 hearing comes after a March 22 decision issued by the State Housing Appeals Board, the state’s authority on housing development lawsuits and appeals, that questioned the process and motives of the board prior to rejecting the development proposal.
The opinion in the case, “William E. McIntosh IV v. Richmond Planning Board,” determined that the approval process was plagued by inconsistent or incomplete information, a lack of regular presence by members of the Planning Board and a failure to show legitimate legal grounds for denying the application.
The appeals board also questioned why member Sean Cutting, who was not an active member of the Richmond Planning Board during the first three of five hearings on Highlander Estates, abstained during the fourth meeting only to vote for denial of the application on March 24, 2020.
Ellsworth told the board Tuesday that, as a result of the optics and concerns regarding involvement and timing, both Putnam and Cutting should recuse themselves from voting on the matter. The suggestion drew criticism from Cutting, who questioned the recommendation and said he has a right to vote as a sitting member who has gotten himself up to speed.
“Between then and now, the ruling is that I haven’t been able to come to speed on this?” he asked. “It is within my rights to choose whether I have enough information to make an informed vote.”
Cutting did not say directly whether he would vote on the matter during the May hearing.
McIntosh filed his application for development of the Highlander Estates in late 2019, and the proposal caught the attention of members who expressed concerns including how the project might look from Route 138, specific locations of buildings and more. The board rejected his application on March 24, 2020, and McIntosh filed the lawsuit with the State Housing Appeals Board on Sept. 1.
“This isn’t a project I’m seeking to get rich on. This is a simple, 8-unit subdivision, and it is a project I have taken on because I have a vision for that property,” McIntosh said Thursday. “I care about this town, which is where I live and moved my business to, and all I want to do there is build beautiful homes on a beautiful property in a way that will make the community proud.”
The project and lawsuit drew further public scrutiny in December when McIntosh was appointed to serve as a member of the Planning Board to fill a one-month vacancy, despite the fact that he had an active complaint against the board with the state. He reapplied for the position in January, but the Town Council postponed a vote to get clarity on ethics surrounding the appointment.
Council President Nell Carpenter said Thursday that McIntosh, even before coming before the council, sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission and it was determined that it would be in the best interest of the town that he consider waiting until his development complaint is resolved. McIntosh agreed and Putnam was appointed to fill the term, which will run until January 2024.
With the remand order in place and certain guidelines set by the state, Resnick said his client expects to see the project move forward in an expedited manner. He said that due to delays and added requests, McIntosh has already absorbed considerable costs and it would be unacceptable to have any further delays in the matter.
Resnick also requested that if the board is unable to meet on May 25, officials be notified and a special meeting be scheduled as soon as possible. Phillip Damicis, chairman of the Richmond Planning Board, agreed to the request.
“The revisions will be submitted to the planner for April 26, and we will be making sure that proper notice of a hearing is issued to all abutters by May 11,” Resnick said.