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E.P. residents rigorously resist redevelopment of Metacomet Golf Club

Majority of speakers at council public hearing voice opposition to zone change

By Mike Rego
Posted 8/12/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — The majority of those who rose to the podium Tuesday night, Aug. 11, for a special public hearing conducted by the City Council in the Martin Middle School cafeteria on the …

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E.P. residents rigorously resist redevelopment of Metacomet Golf Club

Majority of speakers at council public hearing voice opposition to zone change

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The majority of those who rose to the podium Tuesday night, Aug. 11, for a special public hearing conducted by the City Council in the Martin Middle School cafeteria on the requested zone change for the potential mixed-use redevelopment of the Metacomet Golf Club spoke in near uniform opposition to the proposal being presented by Marshall Properties and its representatives.

The near four-hour long session, which had in-person participation and virtual interaction through the Zoom online website, featured dozens of residents in attendance from near the Veterans Parkway location as well as those from other parts of the city and environmental enthusiasts from around the state.

Due to some technical glitches and the intense response to the redevelopment plan, the council voted to continue the hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 26, beginning at 6 p.m. The exercise will resume online only through Zoom, affording those who attempted to speak last week through the platform but couldn’t the opportunity to have their thoughts on the matter heard.

The hearing, though not required, was held in part to allow the public to express their views on what has quickly become a lightning rod issue.

Marshall, which is attempting to purchase the land from its current owners with the intent of building both residential and commercial spaces, started the rezoning process of converting its designation from open space to mixed use with an appeal to the Planning Board in April of this year.

At its June 23 meeting, the board accepted the evaluation of city administrators and formally recommended the council approve zoning/comprehensive plan changes to the parcel. The seven-member body, following a vigorous discussion of its own which included questions from within the board and from several residents, eventually was unanimous in its vote.

The council has the authority to amend the zoning ordinance, but as part of its request Marshall is seeking to have the land placed under the auspices of the East Providence Waterfront Commission, another bone of contention for those against the plan. The commission has broader oversight than the council on some matters, which could benefit the project, but, as construed by the opposition, could also come at the detriment of the interests of the neighborhood, specifically, and the city, in general.

Many on hand at MMS were members of the recently formed “Keep Metacomet Green” organization, including one of its leaders, South Broadway resident and former council candidate Candy Seel, who put membership of the group at approximately 2,200.

Ms. Seel, like all other speakers afforded three minutes at the podium, said the proposal would turn most of the some 138-acre golf course into a “concrete jungle” and also referred to a 14-page document KMG compiled noting among other things all the ways Marshall’s attempt would not meet the standards of the city’s existing comprehensive plan for maintaining open space, questioned Metacomet’s inclusion in the federal “Opportunity Zone” tax program, opined about the lack of transparency on behalf of the developer and the transfer of oversight of the project by the Waterfront Commission.

“(Marshall) are the ones in a hurry. They want to get this done. We are not in a hurry. Once this green space is gone, it’s gone forever. This momentous decision is in your hands. There are too many unresolved issues to rush through it,” Ms. Seel said as she concluded her remarks.

Several other speakers referred to a host of concerns the proposal raises, to the lack of specificity about the structures planned for the site, to traffic impact on Vets Parkway, to water/sewer usage, to wildlife and to the overall “quality of life” for those who abut the course where the game has been played in some form since early in the 20th century and had its existing layout routed in 1925 by esteemed golf architect Donald Ross.

The KMG group also claims to have some 3,500 signatures of interested parties to an online petition opposed to the plan, of which Marshall representatives wondered about its authenticity, though which the organization adamantly said was accurate.

The few that spoke in support of the zone change said it could lead to the enhancement the city’s commercial tax base, bringing in revenue while creating jobs and offering up more professional and recreational opportunities for residents.

Marshall was represented by half of its ownership, city native Lianne Marshall, along with solicitor Bill Conley, the sitting state senator from District 18 in city and former City Council member, and Zach Darrow, from the real estate law office of DarrowEverett and a member of the project team.

Marshall stressed its roots in the city, having once been headquartered here before moving just over the border in Pawtucket to the Narragansett Park Plaza and the numerous projects it has finished in East Providence, including the Brown Medical complex on Wampanoag Trail.

Prior to the hearing, Ms. Marshall sent a mailer to residents around the city detailing her company’s commitment to engage with the public throughout the process. As examples, she wrote, and things her team also emphasized last week, Marshall was removing what could be an approved usage for the construction of a hotel at the site and had agreed to dedicate nearly half the parcel to publicly accessed open space.

Mr. Conley, who’s involvement in the effort as a sitting politician and who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee was questioned, said in his remarks the request for the zoning change meets all of the minimum legal requirements. He cited the initial approval of the Planning Board and urged the council to make its determination “based on facts,” not the “conspiracy theories” and innuendo, he said, was being promulgated on social media.

Late in the meeting, Ward 3 Councilor Ricardo Mourato said he took Mr. Conley’s recital of legalities as a “threat” of a potential lawsuit. Mr. Conley quickly retorted it was not, just a means of illuminating Marshall’s adherence to procedure.

Mr. Darrow was the person to express skepticism about the KMG petition, saying the Marshall team had requested a copy of it for review and as a means of engaging the signees, “but we were denied it.” He also wondered how many actual residents of the city were part the group. In addition, he “implored” the council to “vet” the company and the proposal before making any decision.

In that vein, Ward 3 Councilor Nate Cahoon requested Marshall ready for the ensuing August 26 continuance details about how it expects to fund the proposal, specifically whether it intends to seek “TIF” (Tax Increment Financing) from the city. A TIF is often requested by developers for this type of project, a method which diverts excise revenues from the city’s general fund over a graduated annual scale towards the installation of infrastructure elements necessary to make the effort viable.

Ms. Marshall concluded her company’s presentation, expressing a willingness to debate the proposal and accept input from the public, but wanting to do so in a respectful manner. She also defended the effort and the reputation of her firm.

“I want to be able to have a dialogue, to have an opportunity to listen and be respectful and find a way for this to work for all of us,” Ms. Marshall said, adding, “If you are going to attack our integrity than please come and have a conversation with me and look me straight in the eye…I hope that the next meeting and the weeks in between will engage us in good conversation where we can find some conclusions and some answers and to make sure we’re working with the facts when we make decisions.”

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