'Unique' Apponaug hotel gets mixed reviews


Darlene Williamson had a one-word question of those who propose to develop a 127-room boutique hotel overlooking Apponaug Cove, “Why?”

Raymond D’Abate, who proposes developing the 5-acre site with owner Joseph Pisaturo, provided a two-word answer, “It’s unique.”

If anything, “unique” is a term that fit many feelings about the proposal when it was discussed Tuesday night at an informational meeting at the Warwick Museum of Art.

For some, the hotel is viewed as a catalyst to the revitalization of Apponaug. Others consider it too big, a “monstrosity” that would overpower the charm of the cove.

Williamson, one of about 40 at the meeting, was among those fearing the development could be a detriment.

“I don’t think it’s a good vision for us,” she said.

With its view of the cove and proximity to the airport and Route 95, D’Abate said the hotel would be unique to the market. It’s a vision the developers have had for nearly five years. During that time, the proposal has been significantly downsized; from an eight-story 187-room hotel to the six-story building under consideration. The developers have met with Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) three times and seem to have answered their concerns about development within the 200-foot coastal buffer. In response to the city, developers conducted a traffic study and redesigned the building to be more in tune with the character of the village. In fact, Tuesday night’s meeting was held in response to the city’s suggestion that the proposal be aired publicly before coming before the Planning Board and the City Council for a zone change from light industrial to general business and open space.

City Business Development Planner Patricia Reynolds said the city Planning Department has worked with the developers for several years. She pointed out that, as it is now zoned, the owner could come in without review and build a chemical plant if he chose to.

She called the proposed hotel the “right size, the right amenity for this” location. She also said the hotel could provide a “bookend” to development stimulated by the Apponaug circulator project, with its series of roundabouts to replace signaled intersections to alleviate traffic. Construction for that project has been on the drawing boards since the early 1990s but is projected to start next spring and to be complete within the next three years.

Derek Andersen, president of the Apponaug Village Improvement Association, endorses the project. Anderson said he is “very concerned” about the future of the village and hopes the hotel will make a big difference.

“I think this is a great idea, we need more business,” he said. In response to added traffic, Andersen said, “There’s traffic everywhere.”

The plan calls for the developers to buy the two existing businesses – a boat company and trucking company – immediately east of the railway underpass on West Shore Road. Those properties would be combined with the parcel Pisaturo owns that runs along Station Street to the cove. The Apponaug Waterfront Hotel, as D’Abate described it, would be set in a “swale” back from the road. A two-level parking garage would face West Shore Road with the second level ramp serving the hotel entrance. The overall height of the building would be 70 feet but, as D’Abate described, it would be in a depression and only the top floor would be visible from the west side of the tracks. Looking from properties on Dory Road, he said, most of the structure would be hidden by plantings with only a small portion rising above the tree line.

Lynn Potter-Vosselman, the nearest neighbor to the development on Dory Road, was not convinced. Throughout the meeting, she raised questions about traffic, area wildlife and the impact on residents. Toward the end of the meeting she couldn’t make her feelings clearer.

“You don’t understand,” she said to D’Abate. “We don’t want you.”

Kevin Kernan, who also lives on the cove but further to the south, likened the cove to a work of art.

“It’s a masterpiece,” he said, adding the hotel “would besmirch this beautiful piece of Rhode Island.” He called the hotel a “monstrosity towering over the cove.”

Kernan’s image of a wall of hotel rooms at the end of a “pristine” cove resonated with many.

Pisautro reminded that the site had not always been idyllic.

“When did it become pristine? What was pristine was a junkyard,” he said. He said 40 truckloads of debris had been cleared from the property.

D’Abate said the project would generate 230 construction jobs and 120 full-time and 30 to 35 part-time jobs when completed. The projected is estimated to cost between $21 million and $23 million. If approved, D’Abate said construction would start in six to eight months. He said it would take about 11 months to build. The developers have an agreement with Windham Hotels.

Attorney Louise Marcus, who conducted the meeting, said additional informational meetings would be held as plans advanced. The developers notified all property owners within a 200-foot radius of the meeting, however others interested in the project that live outside the radius attended. Marcus welcomed the participation and a list of names and contacts was generated so these people would be notified of future meetings.

Yesterday, Reynolds said “some good ideas” came out of the meeting. She mentioned the suggestion for a left turn lane on West Shore Road so as not to tie up traffic at the underpass. She also shared the traffic report prepared by Pare Engineering. It can be viewed in the planning department. The report concludes, “Conditions expected following hotel construction are similar to those expected as part of the future no-build condition,” meaning it doesn’t affect traffic at all.

While developers have filed an application with planning, no date for a hearing has been set.

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