Westerly City Council urges supporters and opponents of Winnapaug Golf Course zoning amendment to ‘get it done’ by October 17 | West

WEST — Following Saturday’s six-thirty-hour public hearing on Winn Properties’ proposal for a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow it to build a hotel and other accommodations on the Winnapaug Country Club property, a only thing had been decided: the City Council was not ready to vote.

Instead, the council told the Scola family, Winnapaug homeowners and opponents of the zoning amendment to “get together and get rid of it” as they did two years ago in the purpose of avoiding repeating the process.

Saturday’s meeting began with presentations from the developer and its opponents. With no specific site plan available and concerns about the proposed commercial projects and their impact on the character of the surrounding neighborhood, solicitor Gregory Massad and members of the grassroots group Keep Westerly Green asked the council to reject the revised proposal submitted by Winn Properties. But, countered Winn’s lawyer, Thomas Liguori, there is no site plan available as none is required for a proposed amendment to the ordinance, and he asked council to take notice. city ​​staff and adopt the amendment.

The two sides had been in contact since Tuesday afternoon, as requested by the council, Massad confirmed, but no official meeting had been officially scheduled. A meeting was due to take place this week, however, as the board has given the two sides until October 17 to reach an agreement.

While it was clear that there was insufficient support to approve the amendment as currently presented, Board Vice-Chair Suzanne Giorno and Board Members Philip Overton and Brian McCuin, all voted to keep talks open and for the agenda item to return “by October 17.” for the purposes of modifications agreed between the parties”, or a statement indicating that the parties have not reached an agreement. The main public hearing is closed and will not be reopened.

“I’m all for sitting down and eliminating this. Let’s talk about it,” Giorno said. so that it doesn’t come back in two years with a plan that they won’t accept either.

The hope, both Giorno and Overton said at the end of Saturday’s marathon meeting in the council chamber, is that with a few weeks of trying to fix the problem (like they did at the end of 2020 when of a similar disagreement), the two parties could come to a compromise that would satisfy both the needs of the company and the concerns of local residents.

Councilors Christopher Duhamel, Caswell Cooke Jr. and Karen Cioffi did not participate in council discussions and voting.

The six-hour meeting on Saturday marked the second public hearing in the past three months as Winn Properties and Winnapaug Country Club owners Nicholas and Jill Scola seek changes to zoning text asking for definitions and standards of development that would allow the construction of hotels and housing for the workforce in the area.

In lengthy presentations ahead of public comment, representatives from Liguori and Winn Properties discussed the Scolas’ desire to restore the historic Donald Ross-designed course as a Jack Nicklaus Certified Golf Club. To meet these needs, the company would build a hotel, small suites, a new clubhouse with a banquet hall and housing for workers “to remain financially viable”.

The proposed bylaw amendment is intended to guide the development of hotels and suites as accessory uses on golf courses and yacht clubs currently within the city’s commercial recreation area.

In a closing statement to the council, an emotional Liguori shouted concerns that simply rejecting the proposal at this stage after all the work has been done was unfair to the owners and undermined their rights to develop their property. He said he believed the council had no choice but to approve the measure, saying the city would otherwise reject the word of its staff and the advice of its own experts and counsel.

“Creating a process that says we’re not coming to the table until this is voted down is wrong,” he said.

Council Chair Sharon Ahern, who opposed the motion in a bid to provide a decision to developers and residents on Saturday, said she felt there needed to be common ground among supporters lesson plans and those who cared. Prior to Saturday’s meeting, Westerly City Council had received 45 letters of support and 67 letters of opposition to the proposed amendment, according to city records.

All of these letters have since been placed on file.

“No one here is saying not to give us a hotel. Please give us a hotel,” Ahern said. “I don’t want my sister to stay with me anymore when she comes back from DC. Find us a hotel, but do it to scale; This is too much.”

For opponents of the project, the size of the potential development and the height of the buildings on the property have been an ongoing concern. In discussing the possible development of the property, Winn said the proposal would likely include up to a 150-room hotel with a 250-person banquet hall, as well as secondary suites. A concept proposal also included a salon and spa.

Several expert witnesses presented by Massad indicated that with a project of this size, the development would likely need around 500 parking spaces. To make matters worse, the proposed bylaw does not actually limit the number of units, and once passed, witnesses and residents have expressed concern that Winn could potentially go ahead with a larger plan. scale without facing any restrictions.

Massad and others, including Keep Westerly Green members Kelly Page and Elaine Doherty and Hatsy Moore, all said such a size would inevitably change the character of the neighborhood and negatively impact neighbors.

Regarding the project, Massad said the biggest issue will be the lack of limitation on hotel rooms or condo units. Allowing a limitless ordinance “would not be incidental, incidental or contingent” on a primary use of the property as a golf course.

“Our sticking point was, and it should be yours, that they want to adopt a no-limits ordinance that has language such that anything offered can be considered incidental use,” Massad said. “It’s not good government and it’s not good planning. Approving this is like throwing caution to the wind. Buckle up because it’s going to be a wild ride.

Liguori defended his client, however, saying the owners could not afford to wait years to restart the process before reaching some form of resolution. The proposal calls for just 36 acres of development, tiny compared to the course itself, which occupies 90 acres.

While opponents called three witnesses with work experience in Connecticut, Liguori said Rhode Island laws require incidental use to be defined by space used and said 90 acres used for land golf course greatly exceeded the 36 acres that would be used for the mixed-use development, meeting the definition of accessory use.

Several developers have also noted that hotels are an essential component of the development of golf clubs nationwide and help provide the necessary clientele to help the business succeed and the course itself remain underdeveloped.

Liguori said his client was more than willing to discuss a compromise, but didn’t want to start the process over again or have to go back to the drawing board at the end of what has already been a long process that started a while ago. nearly half a decade. He said any further delay was unacceptable.

“We are ready to sit now. If 36 (acres) isn’t the right number, what is? ” he said. “We will work collectively, but we are ready to do it now.”

Massad said the delays are not the fault of the opponents, noting that in the past two years there have only been two instances in which the parties held talks before reaching an impasse. He said he looked forward to more conversations in the coming weeks.

“We’re just looking to sit down at the table to make sure it’s done right,” he said.

Denise W. Whigham