Down come the trees, up go the condos

Johnston Sun Rise ·

The trees along Atwood Avenue have been toppled, stripped and bundled like asparagus.

New condominiums are coming to 1767 Atwood Ave., and many neighborhood residents say they were caught off guard when heavy equipment rolled in to start clearing the site.

According to Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr., development on this parcel has been in the works since a zoning change 17 years ago.

“The zoning was changed in 2007 and the master plan went before the planning board in February 2023 and preliminary plan again before planning in August 2023,” Polisena wrote via email on Wednesday morning.

Johnston’s Director of Development and Public Services Thomas Deller said the plans call for “14 buildings containing 28 market rate units.”

Polisena informally met with concerned residents who live near the project, including Gary Marandola of 1756 Atwood Ave., on Tuesday, May 14.

Marandola said the mayor agreed to meet with worried residents at the Johnston Senior Center at 6 p.m. next Tuesday night, May 21.

Marandola and neighbors made flyers and plan to hand them out in an effort to stir interest in the project.

“We made 120 flyers so people can show up and ask questions,” he said Wednesday morning. “So they can hear it right from the horse’s mouth.”

According to the mayor, the project will include “14 townhouse condos” with two units “to each townhouse.”

“Three bedrooms, including a master, one and one half bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and garage,” Polisena said. “We are told they will all market between $450,000 - $500,000 range, the low to high end of that range dependent on how high housing prices are upon sale.”

According to the minutes for the Aug. 1, 2023 Johnston Planning Board meeting, the board unanimously approved a “preliminary plan for a Major Land Development containing 28 condo units,” at 1767 Atwood Ave., on property zoned R-7.

Planning and zoning regulations have been changing locally and state-wide.

Johnston Zoning Board member Richard Fascia was asked whether the project appeared before his board.

“‚ÄčNo, this project did not come before zoning,” he said Tuesday evening. “Under the Speaker's new legislative package, it appears it wouldn't need to.”

He referred to Rhode Island House Speaker Warwick state Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi’s ambitious slate of reforms aimed at boosting the Ocean State’s supply of affordable housing.

Deller, however, said the state’s new rules would have actually required more notice to abutters.

“Actually, the new regulations are more restrictive than the old regulations,” Deller argued. “The rezoning for this development was approved by the town council in 2007. By definition of the old state law the development was a minor land development, no notice required. The preliminary plan was brought before the planning board; the meeting was advertised. Under the new state law, the project would have been a major land development and would have required mailed notices.”

The Planning Board, however, listed the item on the agenda, and in the meeting minutes, as a “Major Land Development.”

Deller, a former part-time town employee, now works full-time for the town and currently oversees the “building, code enforcement, engineering, planning, public works and zoning divisions” in Johnston, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was asked about the discrepancy.

“Unfortunately, that was a typo,” Deller explained. “Happens occasionally with cut and pasting of agendas. It was advertised but no notice. Residential developments where no public roads are being built are minor.”

Marandola was expecting notice before the trees started coming down.

“I just didn’t think they could put condos in there,” Marandola said. “I guess they can without asking us. The mayor said he was going to check.”

Marandola said he and his neighbors should have at least received official notice the development had been greenlit.

“I guess I’d rather see a condo than a McDonald’s or a business,” he said Wednesday morning. “I’m more concerned with traffic and stuff. I don’t think we’ll be able to stop it now.”

This story was originally posted by Johnston Sun Rise. Click here to view the original story in its entirety.