EXETER – The Exeter Town Council on Tuesday discussed the possibility of intervening in an appeal to the Preserve at Rolling Greens development, which is taking place close to the town line, though ultimately decided to table the matter until more information could be gathered.
Recently, an appeal was filed to the Rhode Island Superior Court, requesting a reversal on the decision to move ahead with the Preserve at Rolling Greens development in North Kingstown, which a member of the Exeter Town Council argued the Town of Exeter should intervene in on the side of the appellant. However, the council ultimately decided to hold off on making a decision until next month.
The Preserve at Rolling Greens, a major development proposed to be built off Ten Rod Road near the North Kingstown/Exeter line, has been a long discussed project, including a great deal of debate and even court battles. For more than a decade, opponents in both North Kingstown and Exeter have been voicing their concerns about the large-scale, mixed-use proposal, which they argue is inappropriate for the compact village development (CVD) zoned area. Proponents for the project, on the other hand, said that the Preserve at Rolling Greens would be beneficial for the town and bring in additional revenue.
After North Kingstown entered into a consent agreement last year with the proposed developer, Mark Hawkins, it appeared that the project could move forward, though with amendments to the original proposal.
The current iteration of the proposal, which was based on the agreement made with the North Kingstown Town Council, would allow Hawkins’ development company to construct up to 26,000 square feet of commercial space, with the expanded clubhouse excluded from the calculation. Up to 106 units containing 212 bedrooms would also be allowed, though the development will now be a 55 and older age-restricted community. The development would also include the existing Rolling Greens Golf Course.
After the North Kingstown Town Council was able to reach a consent agreement with Hawkins, and avoid a $10 million lawsuit, the project then moved before the planning commission and zoning board for consideration. Both boards approved the preliminary plan for the development.
However, in July of this year, Rickey Thompson, a North Kingstown resident, appealed the decision to North Kingstown Zoning Board of Appeals, which was denied, leading him to file yet another appeal, this time to the Superior Court. Thompson’s appeal states that the CVD ordinance was improperly amended by the planning commission, due to the consent agreement that was reached last year between the town council and Hawkins. Thompson claimed that the planning commission was under the impression that they had to approve the preliminary Preserve proposal, and amend the CVD ordinance to allow larger non-residential building coverage, as part of the consent agreement.
Thompson requested that the court reverse the decisions made by the zoning board.
And this week, Frank DiGregorio, a member of the Exeter Town Council, made a motion that the Town of Exeter seek an intervention in the Superior Court case in support of Thompson’s appeal — though other members of the council said it would be best to wait until next month to make a decision.
DiGregorio explained that Exeter’s position has been to consistently oppose the Preserve at Rolling Greens Development, due to its location being on the Exeter/North Kingstown line and its proposed size, which he said would negatively impact the town’s rural character.
“Exeter’s concerns and legitimate objections to the CVD ordinance and Preserve at Rolling Greens, as in the past, were recently dismissed, along with the objections of some North Kingstown residents,” DiGregorio said. “A North Kingstown resident has since filed an appeal to Superior Court for the preliminary plan approval by the North Kingstown Planning Commission. The Town of Exeter has a legitimate standing as an abutting municipality, with specific rights, in accordance with [state statute].”
DiGregorio went on to make a motion to authorize the town solicitor to seek an intervention on the Superior Court complaint, which the council eventually voted to table.
Before a vote was taken, town solicitor James Marusack explained that an intervention would first have to be granted by the court, which would entail writing a motion and memorandum in support of Thompson’s appeal. Then, if granted, there would most likely be an opportunity to place a brief before the court, outlining the town’s position against the development.
Marusack said that, if the council decided to move forward, he could not be sure if the court would allow it, nor how much it would cost the town. He also recommended that the town’s planning board solicitor, Peter Ruggiero, take the lead on the issue from a legal standpoint.
While other members of the town council requested more information about the matter, councilor Dan Patterson said that it was North Kingstown’s problem, not Exeter’s, adding that the town shouldn’t spend taxpayer money on the intervention.
Patterson also said that the town had expended over $100,000 on other lawsuits, exceeding the budgeted amount for the previous fiscal year.
“Enough is enough,” he said to DiGregorio. “If you want to sit here and get embroiled in a lawsuit, use your own money, not the taxpayers money. It’s in another town. This is North Kingstown’s problem and the taxpayers have had enough in this town.”
DiGregorio took issue with Patterson’s comments, arguing that many of the lawsuits filed against the town were done so by the energy company Green Development, which he said was the fault of the previous town council — including Patterson — for passing an amendment to the solar ordinance that was reversed by the current council.
Councilor Manny Andrews said that he would like more information as to the cost of the intervention before making a decision, though he said the Preserve at Rolling Greens development, which is already underway, was shocking to see in the rural area.
“I don’t think I have enough information to make an informed decision. This is a year that’s seen the town have a number of lawsuits. And though I don’t often look at the solicitor’s bills, when I do they are quite reasonable, but we are still paying a lot for legal fees,” Andrews said. “Even though I’m shocked when I drive down Rt. 102 and see the land clearing that’s going on, I don’t think is the correct time to engage in another lawsuit.”
“Unless the solicitor can give us some input on approximate costs, which I’m not sure he can do, I just don’t think it’s the time to engage in another intervention or lawsuit,” he added.
Councilor Mike Conn also requested more information about Thompson’s appeal before taking a vote.
And council president Cal Ellis said that he has been concerned about the Preserve at Rolling Greens development since it was first proposed years ago. Ellis said that Exeter was bypassed in discussions surrounding the development.
“My concern has always been about this process, that I don’t understand that the proper steps were filed from the outset. I remember the discussions that should have taken place with Exeter way back when the process started,” he said. “It seems that that process was bypassed, but it’s moving forward. I see what’s happening there now, I don’t know that it’s the most appropriate progress point, and I know others don’t either.”
“I understand why you’re concerned, Frank, I really do,” he continued. “And I understand Dan and Manny’s point, as well. It’s too bad we’re in a position like this and I wish we weren’t.”
However, DiGregorio said that it was an investment that Exeter had to make, adding that Exeter’s “future as a rural community rests on this.”
“To worry about a few more dollars for lawsuits is not justified, in my opinion. I think it is absolutely necessary that we take this step, otherwise you can kiss the town goodbye eventually as a rural community,” he said. “That is a large project right on our town line, it’s going to put immediate pressure on the properties that are adjacent to it.”
“I don’t think you have to be a planner to see what happens with development, how it grows,” he added. “It just continues to grow like a cancer.”
The Exeter Town Council voted to table the discussion until its November meeting, where the matter will be discussed further.