Dozens of Coventry residents turned out to Wednesday night's meeting of the Coventry Zoning Board of Review in response to a Special Use Permit application submitted by Thomas Miozzi, owner and operator of Green Light Farm, LLC on Town Farm Road.
Miozzi wishes to complete a 2,000' x 30' private airstrip and construct a 40' x 50' accessory hangar to store his two small planes in addition to a single family residence that he would reside in. He also plans to grow organic vegetables on either side of the airstrip which will be sold at a roadside farm stand.
The 75.5-acre plot of land is located on Coventry Assessor's Plat 330, Lot 30 and is currently home to a gravel bank utilized by Miozzi's asphalt company, T. Miozzi, Inc., located at 75 Airport Rd. in Coventry. If his airstrip application is approved, Miozzi has agreed to surrender the rights to the gravel operation on that property. The property is zoned Rural Residential 3 (RR-3) - a classification that was recently updated to allow for a private airstrip.
Miozzi spoke to Board members about his aviation history, having been a licensed pilot since 1985, with commercial licenses for land and sea. He explained how he is required to take a reexamination every two years as well as an in-depth physical examination annually.
"I've had an extensive amount of training and airtime and my planes are meticulously maintained," he said. "Aviation is a very, very safety conscious profession. I know there are a lot of questions from the people that showed up tonight but I hope we can address some of their fears."
Miozzi was accompanied by Attorney John Pagliarini who spoke on behalf of the permit application and the plans for the property.
"There is a huge benefit to eliminating the gravel extraction use on this property," he said. "It will be decades before a 75-acre site is exhausted and stopping it now will eliminate truck noise, dust - all the evils of gravel if you will."
Pagliarini went on to discuss other benefits that Miozzi's airstrip would have, including a break in the wooded property that fire apparatus could utilize in the case of an emergency, as well as a place to land emergency aircraft if the Town ever needed to.
"Should there be a medical emergency or disaster, the airstrip would allow for numerous types of flight to get in and out of the area quicker than in any other vicinity," he said.
Zoning Board members were assured that there are no flight restrictions in the area and that Miozzi would be required to fly at a minimum of 500 feet above ground level at all times. They were also told that there would be no requests for zoning relief in the future, no signage, airstrip lighting, excessive trash, de-icing operations, airplane fuel on-site other than what is in the airplanes or mechanical work done on the aircraft on the property.
Chuck Smith of Coventry's Department of Public Works and Emergency Management Agency, has been a pilot himself for 18 years and spoke in favor of the airstrip, reiterating its benefit in the case of an emergency.
"To have access to a closed airstrip to bring in support or supplies when critical infrastructure is damaged or hard to get into would be a huge asset to the town," he said.
Despite these points, many residents voiced their opposition during the three-hour discussion. Topics of concern included noise from Miozzi's 1931 Waco Biplane, decrease in neighboring property values, decreased privacy, risk of plane crashes or accidents, lack of town regulations in regards to an airstrip, additional noise and safety issues if Miozzi allows fellow pilots to land on the property, environmental concerns, property insurance requirements and an overall disturbance of the rural setting that many of the neighboring residents enjoy.
One of the last to speak was James Warcup, Aeronautics Inspector for the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and the authority who will either approve or reject Miozzi's airstrip proposal on the state level at the conclusion of what he referred to as a very long process.
"Nobody is getting anything forced on them without due diligence," he said. "If the Zoning Board grants the application, it's only the beginning of a process that will take months to get through. This meeting is step 3 of a highly regimented 27-step process."
Warcup stated that among the many issues concerning the proposal that have not yet been addressed, one is that Coventry police and fire officials need to be involved in the entire process. He also assured all those in attendance that any issues or complaints brought to his attention if the proposal does come to fruition will be addressed immediately.
"If I get multiple complaints and they are not addressed to your satisfaction, I will shut him down," he said. "I want to accommodate the land owner but I'm not going to allow adversity."
Zoning Board Chairman Robert Crowe concluded the discussion by requesting that Miozzi work with Zoning Enforcement Officer Jacob Peabody to secure a time, date and location for a site review and walk-through, complete with a noise demonstration from the louder of Miozzi's two airplanes. Once confirmed, the information will be advertised in the local newspaper and on Coventry Patch for any residents who wish to attend.