Council hears of rift between East Providence property owner, neighbors

Approves rezoning of Taunton Avenue parcel known to most as old Standard Hardware locale

By Mike Rego
Posted 11/22/19

EAST PROVIDENCE — What appears to have been a long simmering rift between the owner of the parcel familiar to most as the former Standard Hardware location on Taunton Avenue and nearby neighbors …

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Council hears of rift between East Providence property owner, neighbors

Approves rezoning of Taunton Avenue parcel known to most as old Standard Hardware locale

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — What appears to have been a long simmering rift between the owner of the parcel familiar to most as the former Standard Hardware location on Taunton Avenue and nearby neighbors was exposed during the November 19 City Council meeting.

The proprietor, John Savage, and his legal counsel were present last week seeking a change in the zoning ordinance; first to allow for the current business in operation, a carwash called Sunset Auto Spa, to continue and second to potentially add a new structure there (speculated to be a four-car garage) and alter the landscape.

After nearly an hour of back-and-forth between the interested parties, the council voted 3-2 in the affirmative to allow for the zoning change at 360-362 Taunton Ave., from a C-3 (light commercial/retail) to a C-4 (light manufacturing) to occur. Ward 2 Councilor Anna Sousa, in whose district the parcel is located, and Ward 3’s Nate Cahoon were in dissent. Councilors Bobby Britto, Ricardo Mourato and Bobby Rodericks were in favor.

Ms. Sousa, in expressing her opposition, said the original agreement was for the owner and business operators, the carwash specifically, “being compliant and being a good neighbor, and I don’t believe they’ve been those things.”

When John Savage, the Providence lawyer who is known for his redevelopment of mills in Pawtucket and who was also among the owners of Phillipsdale Landing in the Rumford section of the city, initially bought the property in 2015, the transformation of the existing structure was deemed as so-called “business condominium suites.”

The building, which used to also included the former location of the East Providence Community & Teachers Federal Credit Union since moved to South Broadway, was supposed to be converted into five business condos that could house storage, display and office areas within. The building’s brick exterior was maintained, Mr. Savage noting last week his affinity for its facade and the fact that it was originally designed as an A&P Supermarket, which is was several decades ago.

“I want the building to look good. I liked it because it was an A&P,” Mr. Savage said.

The carwash operation was the first take shape shortly after the renovations were completed. However, it has been cited numerous times by the zoning department in the years since, leading in part to the owner seeking the zoning variance.

In addition, neighbors said soon tires began to pile up and the number of vehicles stored openly on the property, including old fire trucks, a boat and a trailer, increased. The area residents to speak last week also mentioned how the expansive parking lot was used for parties, riding all-terrain vehicles and spinning car tires in circles colloquially known as doing “doughnuts.”

Mr. Savage said he has told the business owners there to clean up the property and a plan was already in place to install arborvitae trees or other plants as a means of creating a buffer between the building and the abutting neighborhood.

“I can say this for sure that all of the tenants have been notified that their property has to be out and that was done probably six weeks ago,” Mr. Savage said. “And I’m very comfortable making a commitment that a buffer will be put in.”

Residents of Winslow Gardens, 60 of whom signed a petition expressing their displeasure, and others on the adjacent Irving Avenue disagreed with Mr. Savage’s assertions.

Sandra Cullen, the administrator at Winslow Gardens speaking on behalf of residents there, said photos of the stored cars and debris on the parcel presented to the council last week were from that very day.

She continued, saying neighbors were told originally the building was to be used to store antique cars, likely as part of another of Mr. Savage’s business ventures, Oxford Motorcare, which operates out of a building in city located parallel on 330 Waterman Ave.

“I have residents on that side of the building (Alexander Avenue) telling me about dogs barking at night, apparently there are dogs on the property,” Ms. Cullen added. “There is screeching in the parking lot. They’re doing ‘doughnuts’ in the parking lot. It is not what we thought it would be. And now with the rezoning, the junkyard we have next door to us is going to be a bigger junkyard.”

The majority of the council, however, was not dissuaded by the protestations. In the end, and after Mr. Savage made assurances he would consult with neighbors going forward on the proposed changes and noting its ability to follow up on the matter in the future, the body approved the change by the slim, one-vote margin.

Reached after the meeting, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Director Bill Fazioli explained the plans submitted for augmenting the property, calling the proposed new structure “an enclosed building for automotive and work space.”

He added, “Before the owner can proceed, he needs to submit a formal plan for review that includes landscaping improvements, stormwater and drainage systems as well as screening.”

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