Warren envisions improved Metacom Avenue

Planning department proposes "Metacom Avenue Special Revitalization District" to transform Route 136

By Ted Hayes
Posted 1/26/21

Warren's sprawling and in many places dated and drab Metacom Avenue could be transformed to a trendy business and residential area, with condos, small shops and green spaces, under a sweeping series of proposed regulations released this week by the town's planning department.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Warren envisions improved Metacom Avenue

Planning department proposes "Metacom Avenue Special Revitalization District" to transform Route 136

Posted

Warren's sprawling and in many places dated and drab Metacom Avenue could be transformed to a trendy business and residential area, with condos, small shops and green spaces, under a sweeping series of proposed regulations released this week by the town's planning department.

Warren Town Planner Bob Rulli's plan to establish a new zoning district, the Metacom Avenue Special Revitalization District, attempts to re-imagine the busy commercial road as something more pedestrian-friendly, navigable and aesthetically pleasing, while seeking to limit sprawl, better utilize large open parking lots for development, make access by drivers, bicylists and walkers easier, and lessen runoff from its acres of impervious asphalt parking lots.

"Nothing's going to happen on its own," said Warren Town Planner Bob Rulli, who has been working on the plan for a year before submitting it to the Warren Planning Board this past week.

"It's incumbent on the town" to make changes to improve the thoroughfare, he said. "Otherwise we're going to be mired with that late '50s, early '60s mess we have now. I expect some pushback but when I first talked about this (in early 2020), people were pretty excited about it."

What's the plan?
Mr. Rulli's plan to change Metacom is spelled out in a lengthy series of zoning amendments and other regulation changes that would need to be endorsed by the planning board and ultimately voted on by the Warren Town Council. The planning board is expected to take it up in the coming months.

Currently covering 21 pages, proposed regulations defining the new district are myriad. They regulate everything from landscaping and planting at developments to the size and number of curb cuts and the look, height, orientation and size of new buildings, speed limit changes and other standards.

"These amendments will provide opportunities to redevelop many of the parcels that are dated and underutilized," the plan reads. "Implementation of these zoning amendments will protect vehicular and pedestrian safety, improve design standards, and protect the environment. Importantly, zoning amendments will promote mixed use in a corridor that is over-retailed and dominated by many forty- to fifty-year old structures that are suitable for demolition and redevelopment."

The plan would use "form-based code," which include standardized development guidelines that Mr. Rulli used during his time doing planning work in Virginia. The code, he said, makes it easier for developers who buy into the town's concept of what an area should look like, to get the approvals they need:

"It gives you a playbook and says, 'If you come and build this type of building, trees, uses, you can have an expedited approval process,'" he said. "You go to the front of the line. If you don't want to, you can still go through the entire process. (But) it's kind of a carrot for developers because it's very predictable."

The Job Lot Plaza example
Taken as a whole, the complicated plan's impact on Metacom Avenue is admittedly difficult to envision, Mr. Rulli said. It helps to have a case study, and one — the transformation of the Ocean State Job Lot Plaza — has been developed by the town's planning office.

Though no plans to redevelop its property have been submitted by the plaza's ownership, Mr. Rulli said he has had many conversations with the owners to use the plaza as a case study of what it could one day look like if the plan comes to pass.

Currently, a large percentage of the property is taken up by parking spaces, with a strip mall-type series of shops at the western portion of the property. Under two hypothetical redevelopment scenarios, the plaza would be transformed:

One plan shows a tree-shaded central public plaza, 12,000-square-foot performing arts center, more than 30 townhouse-style dwelling units, and small parking areas interspersed throughout the area to replace the large open parking area currently there.

A second hypothetical shows a larger performing arts center of 500 to 750 seats, eight new buildings containing mixed use space, apartments and townhouses. Trees heavily populate both site plans and would help to serve as a visual buffer between buildings.

Under both plans, Metacom Avenue is shown as a three-line highway, as it has long been Warren officials' hope to convince the state DOT to eliminate one lane.

As for the Job Lot plans themselves, "I've had several conversations with the folks from Job Lot," Mr. Rulli said. "This is just an idea; they're not going to commit until (the town changes are) done. There's a huge upside to them if it gets approved; either they develop it or flip it to someone else."

Mr. Rulli talked briefly with planning board members about the proposed revitalization district Monday night. Board members said they will work to set up a special meeting in the coming months to begin pouring through the lengthy plan.

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.