With the exception of a longer Green Airport runway, few major Warwick developments have gotten as much review before a formal application as the plan to build a boutique hotel on Station Street in Apponaug.
The plan advanced by developer Raymond D’Abate calls for a six-story, 127-room Wyndham hotel and banquet facility, a 300-seat restaurant, a lounge and a spa. It would employ 120 full-time and 30 to 35 part-time workers, in addition to the construction jobs.
After two public hearings this past summer, which were not required and voluntarily held as neighborhood information sessions (at the suggestion of the Planning Department), the developer is ready for the Planning Board. The plan for the 5-acre site overlooking Apponaug Cove is on the Nov. 20 docket for master plan consideration. If approved, Apponaug Waterfront Development would then seek a zone change from the City Council. The property is zoned for light industry, which is a more intense use than the General Business zone required for hotels.
Just getting to this point, the developer downsized the project in response to concerns over the impact on West Shore Road traffic and aesthetics. Nonetheless, there are strongly divided opinions over the project, with advocates seeing it as a catalyst to an economically vibrant Apponaug Village and opponents voicing concerns that it will mar the picturesque cove and create more traffic.
The Planning Department believes added stipulations can address many of the issues. City Planner William DePasquale said the developer has already taken steps to “right-size” the hotel. Since it was first proposed four years ago, the size of the hotel was reduced from nine stories with 224 rooms to six stories with 127 rooms. The overall square footage of structure has been cut from 170,000 to 130,000 square feet and the footprint cut from 40,000 to 27,000 square feet. The building has been redesigned to assimilate with the style of the village architecture, with a slanted roofline between towers at the corners.
D’Abate said yesterday in response to concerns raised by the Planning Department, the mayor and the first public meeting, plans were changed to “answer the two largest questions.” He said those are the scope of the project and traffic. In addition to downsizing the hotel, it was relocated “in a hollow, so it won’t have an overwhelming look, and really fits into the neighborhood.”
He said the top of the hotel, at 70 feet, would be at or below the tree line. Also, the hotel has been moved further away from the coast, with that area, along with a right of way on Station Street to a cove boat ramp, to be preserved.
As for traffic, he said an additional traffic study was performed and the entrance and exit to the hotel designed to give motorists on West Shore Road a 400-foot view line, twice what is recommended for vehicles traveling at 35 MPH.
D’Abate said studies show the demand for additional hotel space. The city presently has 12 hotels with a total of 1,794 rooms, for 17 percent of the state’s hotel room inventory.
While the Apponaug Improvement Association and several village businesses and residents endorse the project, DePasquale fears that some people fail to realize that, under its current zoning, many “noxious” uses could be freely placed on the property now. Light industry allows for uses that would be far less compatible to area residents’ concerns or the village’s development of a mix of residential, office and retail use.
Ironically, when the zoning is changed, stricter standards on coastal development kick in. By changing zones, the developer will have to abide by more stringent coastal setbacks whereas, if left for light industry, the uses could be more invasive.
“The goal is to balance land use and good economic development,” said DePasquale.
He sees the hotel as bringing vitality to the village with an influx of people visiting village stores and coffee shops. The hotel would also serve as the bookend to the “saw tooth building” on the west side of the village. Acquired by the state Department of Transportation as part of the $34 million circulator project, the building is part of the former Apponaug Mill. DePasquale hopes the state deeds enough land in front of the saw tooth building for a “civic plaza,” where outdoor events could be held. He would also like to see space in the building leased or sold and made available for public use.
With a reduction in traffic resulting from the circulator, DePasquale sees the hotel and the saw tooth building serving to “knit the community back to the waterfront that was so important to it.”
The Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers.