East Providence City Council relents, finally agrees to sell Harding Avenue land to neighbors


EAST PROVIDENCE — The long fight of Harding Avenue residents to gain ownership of two vacant lots on the narrow street adjacent to the waterfront in the Riverside section of the city finally came to a conclusion Tuesday night, Jan. 7, when the East Providence City Council voted unanimously to sell the parcels to two neighborhood residents.

Done so in executive session and announced by Assistant City Solicitor Greg Dias during the public portion of its meeting, the Council approved the sale of Lot Nos. 15 and 17 to Sheila Cruikshank and Bettyann Perry, respectively.

Ms. Perry agreed to pay $35,000 for Lot No. 17 while Ms. Cruikshank will pay $30,000 for Lot No. 15. Both agreed to purchase the parcels with deed restrictions preventing any future development of the land.

The women did so gladly.

"I want to the thank the City Council and (City Planning Director) Jeanne Boyle," Ms. Perry wrote in a text message exchange late Tuesday evening.

The crux of the neighbor's most recent joust with the city was their opposition to the land being sold to developers, who planned on building at least one more structure on the already crowded street.

The land has been in dispute for the better part of the last two decades with residents intermittently attempting to buy the property they've used as a parking area on-and-off, mostly on, for about a half-century.

The urgency of the matter grew last year when the city-owned land was first suggested to put on the market by the state-appointed Budget Commission. By late spring of 2013, the city and its realtor had entered into a purchase and sales agreement with MJV Homes LLC, a company located in Saunderstown, R.I.

The developers initially agreed to pay $67,200 for Parcel No. 15 and $82,400 for Parcel No. 17. MJV initiated the agreement by delivering two $1,000 downpayment checks.

At its June 18, 2013 meeting, the Council, by a 3-2 tally, voted to uphold the agreement, the three members voting to go through with the sale — Jim Briden, Helder Cunha and Tommy Rose — fearing possible legal reprisals from MJV. Riverside-based Councilors Chrissy Rossi, of Ward 4, and Tracy Capobianco, At-Large, voted to remove the properties from the market.

For several years, the residents and the city had what could be called a “gentleman’s agreement” over the land. The city wouldn’t sell it to them, but neither would it sell to anyone else. In exchange, the residents could park their cars in the lot without charge.

That scenario began to change when the Commission took over governance of East Providence. Seeing the significant amount of dormant city-owned land, the state appointees decided to put all of it on the market, including the Harding Avenue lots. The main complaint of the residents when that happened was that they weren’t made aware of the possible transaction until it was too late.

Even as they were rebuffed despite their many protestations, having received numerous governmental and anecdotal reports issued in support of their cause and having given what they believe were several empty promises, the residents of Harding Avenue remained resolute in their fight in their opposition.

At the time of the vote, the Harding Avenue Homeowners Association, nine in number, it would use every measure at its disposal, including the legal system, to prevent the city from going through with its plans to sell the land.

Ultimately, however, the matter was kept out of the courts.

MJV Homes recently asked for a request to extend its purchase and sales agreement, which the Council denied. The Council also nixed a purchase offer from Imperial Investment, opting to finally allow the residents to take control of the land.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.