SK Town Hall

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Plans for a shellfish hatchery operation in Matunuck will proceed with additional conditions of approval after receiving the green light from the planning board on Tuesday night.

Although there had been several changes made to the project’s landscaping plans since appearing before the board on Oct. 22, members pushed for the five-foot setback between the site’s parking lot and the water. In that space, which had been slated for pocket planting, site owner Perry Raso has agreed to include rain gardens in an effort to prevent runoff from entering Point Judith Pond.

This setback was a major concern for the majority of the planning board, but especially for member Elise A. Torello, who feels the site plans should go above-and-beyond minimum standards for protecting the waterway. 

“In this location, in particular, it’s a very sensitive spot,” Torello said. 

The project, which calls for a two-story, 3,600-square-foot shellfish hatchery on the site of an existing marina parcel, had been seeking waivers from the street, interior and perimeter landscaping standards. Landscape Architect John Carter proposed that the exposed existing site shouldn’t be landscaped like it’s an urban setting – to which planning board members mostly agreed. 

They maintained their concerns about protecting the pond from runoff and pollutants, though, and sent Carter back to the drawing board last month. When he returned with several changes, such as additional rain gardens throughout the site and adding a berm by the existing boat ramp, concerns about protecting water quality persisted. 

Although the Coastal Resource Management Council had already approved the original landscaping plans, given that the changes made to the site were already better than what had been there, some planning board members raised concerns that the changes to the site may potentially be bringing more runoff than before. 

Torello’s concerns were shared by planning board Vice Chair Maria Mack, Joseph T. Murph and Pamela B. Rubinoff, who argued that the frequency of severe rainstorms will only increase over time with climate change. 

Planning Board Chair Jean A. Riendeau acknowledged Torello’s previous comments but noted that the CRMC had already approved the plans for the site and deemed them acceptable, stating that it would be an improvement to what’s already there. 

“With all due respect to her comment, I don’t see this one site solving the problem at Point Judith Pond,” Riendeau said. “This is just one site. There are many other sites that contribute to the problems at Point Judith Pond, and it’s not going to be solved by this site alone.”

“I think we have to face that reality,” he added. 

Planning board member Steven DiMasi noted that the CRMC would be policing the site going forward to ensure standards are maintained, and also pointed out that Raso is retrofitting an existing site and not starting with a clean slate.

“It may not be perfect, but we started with an imperfect site,” he said.

Though Torello stated that she is in favor of the hatchery and thinks its a great project, she remained concerned and was still not satisfied by the amount of water that wouldn’t be captured in the plans before them that evening.

“In this location, putting five feet of perimeter landscaping, that’s in the regulations, between the parking spaces and the water, is more important than, I would argue, just about anywhere else in town,” Torello said. “If it’s against a waterbody, we want to capture that water.”

“Is this one site going to make or break Point Judith or Potter Pond? No,” she continued. “But what if everyone had the same attitude?”

If everyone forgoes placing a vegetated buffer, it spells out serious concerns for the waterways, she argued. If everyone included them, though, it could make a considerable difference in improvement. Every parcel matters, she said. 

“Water quality affects everybody,” Torello said. “It affects the aquaculturists, it affects the shellfishermen, it affects the property values – everybody who lives and works around these ponds has skin in the game in keeping this water clean.”

Attorney Elizabeth Noonan, who is representing the project informed board members that they’ll be able to include the five-foot setbacks in the area and also care about the water quality.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees on the water quality,” Noonan said. “I hope you didn’t take that to mean any of this. Perry makes his living off of shellfish and this hatchery is going to improve water quality.”

Because of the number of changes that will be made to the plans, members of the board granted the project conditional approval so that Raso will not be bounced back-and-forth between CRMC and the board.

The plan will come back before the planning board for final approval, as well. 

In other business, the planning board also gave conditional approval to the South Kingstown Land Trust, which is looking to construct an office building and storage shed at 17 Matunuck Beach Road. Conditions of approval included clearer parking signage so that visitors will know where to pull in, and an agreement that office space can only be rented out to service organizations.

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