A planned assisted living facility at the Briarcliffe Nursing Home on Old Pocasset Road took another step closer to completion on Oct. 11 with the town council's vote to approve a waiver to the town's requirements for minimum lot size.
Town Solicitor William Conley told the council that the vote was needed as part of the overall approval process for the project to build a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility on about 16 acres of land — smaller than the town's current standard requiring a 20-acre lot.
Residents Carmel Izzo and Cornelius Maloney spoke to the council to oppose the move.
"How much can you punish a neighborhood that's already been punished with spot zoning right in the middle of R-40?" Izzo asked, referring to the town's residential 40,000-sq.-ft. designation. "No resident who has R-40 is safe if people can indiscriminately take your right to R-40 and throw it away."
Izzo also said she feels the planned development is too big for the neighborhood.
"This [project] is going to create more beds, up in my area, than Rhode Island Hospital," Izzo explained, noting the hospital's 160 beds and Briarcliffe's plan to add nearly 100 beds to the ones in its existing facilities. "This area has enough commercial development."
Following Izzo's remarks, Maloney told the council that he feels the process for approving the project has been mishandled.
"The procedures followed for the Briarcliffe application have been clumsy at best, arbitrary, and only seem to favor one applicant: Briarcliffe," Maloney said, reading from prepared remarks.
Maloney pointed out that the council's vote followed previous decisions to approve a zone change for the project — in apparent violation of the town rules governing waivers.
"The recently-adopted ordinances creating this waiver from the 20-acre minimum in planned districts specifically mandates that the waiver occur prior to any other actions," Maloney said. "The waiver was not in place when the zoning change was issued, therefore you're violating the Comprehensive Plan on the 20-acre minimum."
At its meeting on Sept. 12, the council approved a change in the zoning designation on the proposed site of the new Briarcliffe facility from R-40 to what is called a Planned District/Continuing Care Retirement Community.
In response to a question from Council President Robert V. Russo on Oct. 11, Conley explained that:
- the planning board approved the waiver before considering the zone change;
- approval of the waiver was "referenced" in the planning board's opinion provided to the council in September;
- the council's vote to approve the zone change in September also, in effect, approved the waiver.
Still, Conley said he felt a second council vote — this time specifically on the 20-acre waiver — was needed.
(A copy of the planning board's opinion is attached to this article.)
"It frankly would have been neater if it had taken place all at once, so in order to clarify that and make the record clear that your approval also includes the waiver, we brought it back to you this evening," Conley said.
After the council voted 4-0 to approve the waiver — with Vice President Stephanie Manzi abstaining because she was not present for the entire discussion in September — Izzo left the meeting after saying: "I'm going to run for town council."
As councilors took up the next item on the agenda after Izzo had gone, Councilor Ernest Pitochelli said, "By the way, she should run for town council down in Florida, where she gets her homestead exemption."