Westerly – After more than six hours of deliberation and hearings, the Planning Board approved and recommended proposed changes to the zoning regulations requested by the owner of the Winnapaug Golf Club. The matter now goes to the city council, which has the final authority on changes to the bylaws.
The Board issued its advisory opinion at the conclusion of its August 2 meeting. The council announced and schedules an August 15 public hearing on bylaw changes, also referred to as zoning text amendments, but an attorney for Winn Properties LLC, owner of the golf club, acknowledged during its August 2 meeting that the council hearing may have to be rescheduled to ensure the public has access to Appropriate statutory notice of proposed zoning changes, which was edited by the Council after the publication of the statutory notices announcing the August 15 hearing.
The new regulations are intended to guide the development of hotels and suites as accessories in the golf courses and yacht clubs currently located in the city’s commercial entertainment district. Winn Properties LLC has submitted a request for zoning text amendments requesting definitions and development criteria for potential hotels in the area and proposed language for both.
Nick Skola, Director of Winn Properties LLC, discussed restoring the historic track and said the business needed the ability to build a new hotel, junior suites and clubhouse with banquet hall and worker accommodation to remain financially sustainable.
During the sessions, which began on July 19 and continued through August 2, board members and residents questioned how Scola’s plans for a hotel and other amenities could be considered an extension of the golf course. Residents and board members also wondered if public access to the course would remain the same, despite a promise from Scola. They also questioned why so much development was needed to make the course sustainable.
Residents also came up with conceptual plans that Scola and a team of experts discussed. Actual plans were not presented because without the division text modifications, most of the project could not proceed.
Board counsel Scott Levesque has asked board members to focus on proposed text amendments rather than delve into conceptual plans.
“I don’t want you to think of an actual project,” Levesque said. “We don’t know about scale and crowd now. Your concerns are good but they are not now.”
One resident, Bill Donovan, spoke in favor of Scholas.
“This is an opportunity to preserve something we will never get again,” Donovan said.
Keep Westerly Green member Ken Julian said the group was open to a hotel being built on the golf course but only if it was an extension of the golf course. Nina Rosomado, also a member of Keep Westerly Green, described being hit in the stomach from a wrong golf shot while working in the garden in her yard adjacent to Winnapaug Course. She said building hotel suites on the track would put guests in harm’s way.
Thomas J. Liguori Jr., an attorney representing Winn Properties LLC, has strongly retracted many of the residents’ comments. He noted that many of the criticisms reflect a misunderstanding of municipal government and the process used by the Planning Board and City Council. He also wondered how people who live near a golf course could be surprised when faced with golf balls.
“There wasn’t a single house, not a single plot, and there wasn’t a single residence before this was a golf course,” Liguori said. “You buy a house on West Fairway Avenue and you come in here and complain about the golf balls. There’s some unfairness there.”
The council voted 6-1 in favor of the text amendments as edited by the council and 6-1 in favor of a positive City Council opinion. Board member Richard Constantine voted in opposition. Board members Justin Hopkins, Christopher K. Lawlor, Kevin Luther, Joseph M. Montesano, Andrew Delicio, and Tabitha Harkin in favor of both proposals.