Public reiterates opposition at hearing to Metacomet proposal

Developer pulls request, council signaled it would have voted against it

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/28/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council went ahead with a public hearing on the contentious Metacomet Golf Club redevelopment matter Friday evening, Sept. 25, in the East Providence High School …

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Public reiterates opposition at hearing to Metacomet proposal

Developer pulls request, council signaled it would have voted against it

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council went ahead with a public hearing on the contentious Metacomet Golf Club redevelopment matter Friday evening, Sept. 25, in the East Providence High School auditorium even though the prospective new owners of the property, Marshall Development, earlier in the day withdrew its application seeking to have the body rezone the 138-acre parcel.

Marshall was attempting to change the designation from its current Open Space “O-1” to that of mixed use. The company was also asking the council to amend the city’s existing comprehensive plan, allowing oversight of activity on the land to be transferred to the East Providence Waterfront Commission.

Last Friday morning, Marshall issued a statement explaining its decision to withdraw its petition for what it was calling its “Plan A” and instead of pursuing those changes said it would opt to go ahead with the purchase of the property and attempt to develop it under the existing “O-1” designation or its “Plan B.”

The statement read in part, “At this time it is in the best interest of everyone for Marshall Development to withdraw the petition for rezoning before the Council and focus on its development of the Property under current zoning. The Marshall’s thank the members of the Council, Mayor (Bob) DaSilva, and city staff for the time they have spent reviewing their proposal, and are truly saddened that a productive dialogue did not occur.”

Council President and At-Large member Bob Britto read another letter penned by Marshall legal representative Zachary Darrow into the record announcing the move to start the meeting, then opened the floor to comment.

All from the public who spoke at the ensuing hearing were against Marshall’s request, many who engaged being part of the grassroots opposition group “Keep Metacomet Green.” They again asked the council to take some preventative action so as to leave the land as it. One speaker near the end of the hearing did say he would rather Marshall follow its Plan B initiative rather than what he felt would be the more disruptive Plan A.

Mr. Britto, who has been the lone voice on the council in support of the developer’s proposal, reiterated last Friday his reasons to allow for the changes.

“It scares me more not to rezone it,” Mr. Britto said, telling those in opposition “you would have a voice” in the proposal as it moved through the system.

“This council can put restrictions on that land,” he continued. “We can tell them what they can have and what they can’t have…we have the authority.”

If Marshall were to pursue development of the land through current zoning, Mr. Britto said, “we don’t have that voice. We don’t have that opportunity.”

He concluded, “I’d hate to see upon closing that parcel is something totally different that doesn’t reflect the community.”

In contrast, Ward 3 Councilor Nate Cahoon, who would have been in the majority against Marshall’s proposal if it came up for a vote Friday night as originally scheduled, once again as he has during recent discussions on development being proposed around East Providence said his main opposition at the moment was the city’s lack of an updated comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan still being followed is a decade old. Two weeks ago, City Planning and Economic Development Director Bill Fazioli told the council the process of amending the plan was just starting and would likely take about a year to complete.

“I think I can confidently say I am not for any redevelopment on that property because, my reason is this, open space is a really big deal when you sit down to do a comprehensive plan. And when you rezone it, you don’t have it any more,” Mr. Cahoon said last week. “And once you don’t have it any more, it limits what your comprehensive plan can do. So given the fact that we are kind of at the early stages of coming up with setting the strategy for the entire city, I’d like to see us have all the available options there when that plan goes into place.”

Ward 2 member Anna Sousa, in whose district the Metacomet parcel is located, also expressed her opposition to the Marshall proposal, asking further if the council could rewrite the existing zoning ordinance to prevent any kind of development of the land. Ward 4 Councilor Ricardo Mourato later in the meeting said he, too, would have voted against the request.

In response to Ms. Sousa, City Solicitor Michael Marcello said the council could do so, but cautioned about the ramifications of such an action.

He noted any owner of the land currently could expect to develop it according to the “O-1” designation as a “matter of right.” He then read what was a rather lengthy list of allowable usages (see box also).

Mr. Marcello added, however, if the council were to rezone the land it could be viewed legally as an “administrative taking” and the city would be financially liable to reimburse the owner for any change in the use, similar to eminent domain requirements.

“It could subject the city to a possible law suit,” Mr. Marcello said.

Mr. Marcello, backing the comments of Mr. Britto earlier, did say any changes done at the request of the developer would give the council the legal authority to set further restrictions on property.

“I just want to make it clear, so there’s no confusion. Whoever owns this property has a right as a matter of today to put any of those uses on there right now,” Mr. Marcello said. “And even though it’s defined as ‘open space,’ I think we can all agree open space as it’s defined in our zoning code is a little more descriptive than just having farm land or something like that.”

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