The Johnston Planning Board on Tuesday will entertain final approval for a proposed Dollar General at 2630 Hartford Ave., a proposition that has drawn criticism from abutters for several months.
Gena Bianco and Mary Borges, whose properties both abut the overgrown lot on which developer Gary Eucalitto has his eye, have spoken out on numerous occasions regarding their concerns about landscaping, lighting and traffic, among other issues.
Bianco spoke during the Zoning Board’s May 30 appeal hearing to summarize her issues with the process more than the project itself. Both she and Borges have said they don’t have qualms with Dollar General moving in, but more with the residual effects of the development itself.
Bianco said she had an issue requesting landscaping design and lighting plans from the town, arguing that the town violated process along the way. She said she filed Access to Public Records Act requests to obtain the information she needed.
“It’s not funny. It’s sad,” Bianco told the board in May. “I put in an APRA request, filled out the form April 4, asked for a complete copy of the file. Go to pick up the file, there’s the file. No landscaping designs in this. We just – and this is the frustrating part – we just want know what’s going on. We should be able to know, where are the buffers, is there a fence? Is there trees?”
Bianco found some comfort at the time from legal counsel Joseph Ballirano, who agreed that the process along the way was “certainly sloppy.” Borges told the Sun Rise on Monday that she and others had attended the Planning Board meeting in April to be heard, but were told the meeting was not public.
“Things were done that shouldn’t have been done, and things were not done that should have been done,” Borges said. “These are our concerns. The traffic, and look at the street, too – it’s narrow, it needs paving. Are they going to pave the street? Is there going to be an arrow here?”
However, there was no quorum at the April 4 Planning Board meeting, and the matter was continued. According to state law, since the Planning Board did not act on it within a 45-day timeline, it passed automatically in May.
The May zoning meeting lasted well over an hour, with both sides answering questions from the board. Attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi, who is representing the applicant, told officials that they effectively had no other choice but to deny the appeal because the Planning Board had previously received sufficient evidence to make its decision.
“Clearly with the evidence presented, there was enough. Is it as much as they would have liked? Probably not, but it was more than enough with what the law requires,” Shekarchi said. “My client just stated publicly on the record there is a fence, there is landscaping. I’m going provide this young lady and her neighbors all of those plans and show that there’s another check and balance here, there’s another hearing.”
Anthony Pilozzi said the applicant was “lax” in providing information and preferred a continuance, but admitted that the board had “no authority to deny this.” He added that the abutters have building official Ben Nascenzi as an extra resource, as Nascenzi said he can help more once he has the permit in his hands.
“We have to uphold the decision made at the Planning Board level because it’s a state law,” Pilozzi said. “And you heard it from Mr. Shekarchi and you’ve heard it from Mr. Ballirano, however, that doesn’t end this and not give the neighbors or the town any recourse.”
Borges said Monday, though, that she has neither heard from nor reached out to Nascenzi. She said that she feels abutters “didn’t have a chance” to have their voices heard. She spoke to the Sun Rise about her concerns surrounding the narrow Pine Grove Avenue, which would have to support 18-wheelers making deliveries.
She added that if neighboring Pool Plus erected a fence, the road would become even tighter.
“I feel like I never got a chance to tell them about the traffic issue here, my concerns because, when the pool store has deliveries, they have their 18-wheelers parked over here,” Borges said, pointing at pictures of 18-wheelers on the road. “I can’t imagine that lot, picture a building here, where are there 18-wheelers going to go? What the town thinks is that that road is wide enough, but this is the pool store’s property.”
She also noted the lighting on and around the structure coming into her home and safety concerns with trucks backing out onto Hartford Avenue.
“So you tell me, how 18-wheelers are going to back in there?” Borges said. “How are they going to do that? These are just things we want answers [to]. We don’t want to stop it, but I need to know. My husband and I have to back in and out. The trucks back out on to Hartford Avenue. It’s not safe, it’s really not safe.”
Shekarchi told the Sun Rise over the phone Monday morning that he has had a “very productive discussion” with Bianco since the zoning appeal. He said the applicant agreed to add more traditional landscaping. He said he was certain the applicant has all of the necessary approvals to get the final go-ahead from planning.
“We expect that we’ll get an approval at the next meeting,” Shekarchi said. “They definitely are interested in coming into Rhode Island, Johnston in particular, and they really want to move things along. The market is really strong right now. They love the location, and it’s going to be a successful store. Johnston is a very pro-business town.”