Decision time for Sand Trace

Decision time for Sand Trace

SMITHFIELD – Hours of public and applicant testimony culminate tonight, March 21, when the Smithfield Planning Board is set to make a decision on the master plan application for the Sand Trace, a 180-unit residential development off rural Mann School Road.

Opting to give members more time to make a decision, the Planning Board on March 7 rescheduled the decision to March 21 at the Smithfield Senior Center, 1 William J. Hawkins Jr. Trail, starting at 7 p.m.

The developer’s presentation and public comments are over, and board members will open the night with a discussion among themselves before making any decisions, according to Planning Board Chairman John Yoakum.

“There was so much to take in after all those meetings, the majority of the board felt, let’s push until then (March 21) and go over everything together,” Yoakum said.

Yoakum said he expects all nine members to be present for the decision, which needs a majority vote for approval, and five members present for a quorum.

Yoakum said the Planning Board heard both sides of the argument, and wants to ensure a thoughtful decision will be made on Thursday.

“There have been some controversial projects in the past, but this is the one with the most passion I’ve ever seen, and the largest number of people that have shown up. It’s quite the experience,” he told The Valley Breeze & Observer.

During prior public hearings, nearby residents, abutters, and concerned citizens came out in large numbers, often filling the ballroom of the senior center to listen to the developer’s plan, which consists of duplex and triplex buildings, and give their opinions on the Sand Trace project.

Critics such as Steve Francazio have slammed the plans for being too large for the rural neighborhood.

Francazio said the development for low-income and moderate-income residents does not feel right for the rural neighborhood, which is zoned low-density residential. Under the town’s comprehensive plan, the Sand Trace will have five units per buildable acre, or 35 acres, which in Francazio’s opinion would put in 180 units where there should be 22 units, and 720 people where there should be 88 people.

“It could go either way. It is difficult for people that live in the neighborhood to try and defend against these things,” Francazio said.

While he said he is not attempting to personally attack people, Francazio’s newspaper advertisements pointed to Town Planner Michael Phillips as working with the developers when drafting table H-25, a table in the comprehensive plan identifying sites including the Sand Trace that are suitable for high-density developments. Table H-25 was made in 2006 to help the town reach the state’s mandated 10 percent for such housing.

Developer and Sand Trace owner Frank Simonelli said the accusations are false, as Phillips was not working in the town at that point, and his development is in compliance with the town’s comprehensive plan. He proposes to build the development in three phases, getting Planning Board approval for 60 units annually to conform with the town’s development limit of 1 percent of the town’s housing stock per year, which is approximately 79 units.

“We did not ask for a single waiver. There’s no reason we would not feel confident or positive about it,” Simonelli said.

He said he is known for doing good projects, and feels confident about his presentations.

“We are anxiously awaiting the direction of the board,” Simonelli said.

He said he will be more than happy to provide additional traffic studies in the next phase of the plan, if approved, confronting a possible decreased level of service at the intersection of Log Road and Pleasant View Avenue.

“I think that we have gotten a chance to present all the factual information, and based on the fact that we are only deciding on the first phase of 60 units, we feel positive about it,” Simonelli said.