WESTERLY — After more than six hours of deliberations and hearings, the Planning Board has signed off on and recommended adoption of proposed zoning regulation changes sought by the owner of Winnapaug Golf Club. The matter now moves to the Town Council, which has final authority on changes to the regulations.
The board issued its advisory opinion at the conclusion of its Aug. 2 meetings. The council has announced and scheduled an Aug. 15 public hearing on the regulations changes, which are also referred to as zoning text amendments, but a lawyer for Winn Properties LLC, the owner of the golf club, acknowledged during the Aug. 2 meeting that the council’s hearing may have to be rescheduled to ensure the public has adequate legal notice of the proposed zoning changes, which were edited by the board after legal notices announcing the Aug. 15 hearings were published.
The new regulations are intended to guide the development of hotels and suites as accessory uses on golf courses and yacht clubs currently in the town’s commercial recreation zone. Winn Properties LLC applied for the zoning text amendments requesting definitions and development standards for potential hotels in the zone and proposed language for both.
Nick Scola, a principal in Winn Properties LLC, has discussed restoring the historic course and has said the business needs the ability to build a hotel, small suites, a new clubhouse with a banquet hall, and worker housing to remain financially sustainable.
During the hearings, which started on July 19 and continued to Aug. 2, board members and residents questioned how Scola’s plans for a hotel and the other amenities could be considered accessory to the golf course. Residents and board members also questioned whether public access to the course would remain intact, despite a promise from Scola. They also questioned why so much development would be needed to make the course sustainable.
Residents also hammered away at conceptual plans that Scola and a team of experts discussed. Actual plans have not been filed because without the zoning text amendments most of the project could not go forward.
Scott Levesque, the board’s lawyer, asked board members to focus on the proposed text amendments rather then delving into the conceptual plans.
“I don’t want you to consider an actual project. We don’t know about the scale and massing now. Your concerns are good ones but they are not for now,” Levesque said.
One resident, Bill Donavan, spoke in favor of the Scolas.
“This is an opportunity to preserve something that we will never have again,” Donavan said.
Ken Julian, a member of Keep Westerly Green, said the group was open to a hotel being built on the golf course but only if it was accessory to the golf course. Nina Rossomando, who is also a member of Keep Westerly Green, described being hit in the stomach by an errant golf shot while gardening in her yard, which is adjacent to the Winnapaug course. She said constructing hotel suites on the course would put guests in harm’s way.
Thomas J. Liguori Jr., the lawyer who represents Winn Properties LLC, pushed back hard on many of the residents’ comments. He noted that many of the criticisms reflected a misunderstanding of municipal government and the process used by the Planning Board and Town Council. He also questioned how people who live near a golf course could be surprised to encounter golf balls.
“Not one house, not one building lot, not one residence was in place before this was a golf course. You buy a house on West Fairway Avenue and you come here and complain about golf balls. There’s some unfairness there,” Liguori said.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of the text amendments as edited by the board and 6-1 in favor of issuing a favorable opinion to the Town Council. Board member Richard Constantine voted in opposition. Board members Justin Hopkins, Christopher K. Lawlor, Kevin Lowther, Joseph M. Montesano, Andrew Delisio and Tabitha Harkin voted in favor of both motions.