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Development of long dormant Newport Avenue land in East Providence gains initial support

Planning Board approves masterplan, sends positive recommendations to council

By Mike Rego
Posted 7/22/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — Long dormant and its unused status often an irritant to the surrounding community, a Commonwealth developer is seeking to invigorate an eight-acre parcel off Newport Avenue, …

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Development of long dormant Newport Avenue land in East Providence gains initial support

Planning Board approves masterplan, sends positive recommendations to council

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Long dormant and its unused status often an irritant to the surrounding community, a Commonwealth developer is seeking to invigorate an eight-acre parcel off Newport Avenue, turning the empty lot into what is termed in industry and governmental parlance as a “CMU” or commercial mixed-use zoning district.

The Planning Board, after spending the back-half of a marathon four-hour meeting July 21 discussing the matter, more spirited and incisive than talks held earlier in the gathering on a redevelopment proposal off Wampanoag Trail, supported the masterplan submitted for and comprehensive land use change of the location between New Road and Moore Street at Newport Ave.

The latter move came with a recommendation for approval by the City Council and as well as an advisory opinion to amend the zoning of the property, which is currently C-3 commercial.

Project details
Schiavo Enterprises LLC, based in Dedham, Mass., is the applicant and developer/owner of the project, seeking to construct 152 units of housing as well a commercial element or elements on the site, which hasn’t been utilized for well over 30 years if not longer.

First concepts also call for potentially building a 4,500 square foot convenience store/gas station along with another single, 19,000 square foot retail outlet, possibly a market or drug store. The residential units would be built in the rear abutting Pine Grove Street. The total investment by Schiavo is estimated to be upwards of $40 million.

The property sits across from the plaza housing McDonald’s Restaurant, Burlington Clothing Store Aldi Market. It’s between the former Uncle Tony’s Pizzeria and Burger King Restaurant.

Attorney Joseph Shekarchi, speaking on behalf of his client Schiavo, said after an informal community meeting held earlier this calendar year, the developers have altered their initial plans for the parcel.

(Updated/corrected July 27, 10 a.m.) It changed from a single apartment building to three, separate approximately 14,000 square foot units. The total number of residences have also been reduced. The three buildings will be four stories in height, which developers explained is within the allowances of a commercial mixed-use zoning district.

“We want to assure the board and the public this project will be thoroughly engineered and the sewer and water will be adequate,” Mr. Shekarchi said. “We’re taking great pains to make sure we’re a good neighbor in the community.”

To that end, he added, the developer plans to preserve as a buffer existing trees in a large grove on the property, some of which are as tall as 50 feet. Mr. Shekarchi continued, emphasizing the apartments would be rented at “market rates,” that they weren’t low-income residences. Rather, they likely will be targeted to young professionals, some of whom might commute to work in Boston by utilizing the nearby mass transit location in Attleboro. He also noted the interior roadways created at the site would remain private and taxable.

Brandon Carr, a senior project manager for DiPrete Engineering advising the developer, reminded the board Schiavo has previously engaged in the city, retrofitting the former Scott Motors auto dealership site southward on Newport Avenue into an upgraded location for Uncle Tony’s and an O’Reilly Auto Parts store.

Mr. Carr said the new development would have three points of access to Newport Avenue from the commercial outlets at the front of the site, including a center roadway bisecting the property. The initial plan also calls for two access points each from New Road and Moore Street, one from the residential area and one from the commercial spots. The Moore Road residential point would be an exit only with a right-hand turn towards Newport Avenue.

City review
Senior City Planner Jim Moran, reporting out a review by the Planning Department, told the board the masterplan meets most if not all the criteria as mandated by the comprehensive plan. He did note the preliminary traffic information needed to be bolstered, but that the change to a CMU zoning designation is similar to what is being attempted by the Carpionato Group at Narragansett Park Plaza, “to see Newport Avenue redesigned to promote economic investment.”

Earlier in the discussion, Mr. Shekarchi referenced petitions submitted in opposition to the proposal, claiming one, an on-line version, had few signatories and some of those weren’t local residents. Mr. Moran noted that assertion, but said another written petition was presented to City Zoning Officer Ed Pimentel and included over 40 signatures of residents within the area.

Mr. Moran said the Planning Department recommended the board follow what he and his peers called a “three-pronged process” of approving the masterplan as well as provide the City Council with “positive” recommendations to rezone the parcel and amend the comprehensive plan.

Public comment
Unlike the Wampanoag Meadows presentation earlier in the evening, public comment on the topic was much more direct and varied.

Increased traffic in the neighborhood was a concern expressed as was the potential overcrowding of schools, especially Myron Francis Elementary that serves all of Rumford. Another inquiry asked why the developer wouldn’t rather build several single family homes instead. Mr. Shekarchi answered saying there was a greater return on investment through apartment rentals.

Other speakers were more supportive of the proposal, saying the development would enhance the look of Newport Avenue and remove a location often used as a dumping ground for garbage or parking spaces for derelict vehicles. The land, it was said, is often loitered and the trees are illegally cut for personal use.

Member thoughts
Planning Board Chairman Michael Robinson said he was content with where the process was at the current stage and that the body will later be able to delve more deeply into potentially urgent traffic and drainage issues.

“I’m satisfied we’re going to have another opportunity to get into the heart of the matter,” Mr. Robinson said.

As part of his motion to move the items, board member Chris Grant made presentation by the applicants of a revised traffic study for peer review study by the city be compulsory prior to the next phase of the process, the preliminary plan submission.

Burt Batty, the elder-statesman of the board, expressed his support of the proposal at this stage, jokingly saying, “I’ve lived here for 78 years and Newport Avenue has been an eye sore ever since I can remember…I think it’s a positive development that can make most people happy.”

Peer Michelle Rockwell concurred, adding Newport Avenue has become “run down,” especially, in recent years and could use the boost.

Though voting in the affirmative, board member Eric Crook said the draft proposal met the “bare minimum” of the city’s comprehensive plan, but agreed the developers still had an opportunity to make it “more attractive to the community.” Mr. Crook, who questioned potential traffic created and the need to fall trees at the front of the site, urged Schiavo to return with a proposal that has a “little bit more shine to it.”

Correction/clarification
Mr. Batty was identified with an incorrect first name in a story on the Planning Board meeting about the proposed Metacomet Golf Club redevelopment, which ran in the July 4 print edition of The Post and initially online at eastbayri.com.

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