EP Planning Board Approves Step One in Metacomet Development Proposal
Board recommends zoning change be sent to City Council.
The city Planning Board met on June 24, 2020 and conducted a public hearing on the petition of Marshall Development LLC, to eventually allow for a mixed-use development for the use described as retail, office, residential and multi-family residential. This is a first in a series of steps required to allow Marshall Development LLC to amend the “Generalized Land Use Map of the City’s Comprehensive Plan” to change the Metacomet Golf Course from “Open Space” to a new sub-district of the East Providence Waterfront Special Development District to be given the designation “Veteran’s Memorial Parkway II”. Eventual approval by the City Council could allow for development to include a hotel, shops, housing, retail and office space, etc.
Tuesday’s hearing was to deny or approve a recommendation to the City Council to change zoning. The hearing was conducted virtually via a “Zoom” application. Residents could call in questions and comments or do so via computer. Some residents were allowed to enter City Hall council chambers to view the meeting following all social distancing requirements by Rhode Island.
The hearing started at 7 pm and lasted beyond 11 pm with several comments by Marshall Development staff, city planning staff and members of the public. The Zoom meeting took about a half hour to work through technical glitches and eventually viewers were able to see and respond to the hearing participants.
Planning board members had questions regarding the scope of the project as presented with some questioning the need for a hotel and more business space with several vacant buildings in the city. Planners and Marshall staff said that their research showed a need for housing and more business and would provide for a revenue boost to the city. A couple of members thought that the issue could be tabled until more studies could be conducted on traffic and school census implications.
All residents speaking were mostly against the plan by Marshall. A few acknowledged the need to have development in the city but no one explicitly supported the proposal. Planning department staff recommended that the proposal was good for the area and could be adjusted during future hearings.
During the hearing, Marshall confirmed that they have a solid agreement to buy the golf course at any time but a final purchase hasn’t closed. Metacomet Property Company LLC (the golf course) is still the owner. Marshall also stated that an earlier announced “lawsuit” by Metacomet members against the Faxon group who owned the course, has been settled and was no longer an issue. Marshall didn’t directly answer a resident’s question which asked if they would finalize the sale if the zone change didn’t prevail in the long run.
Ward Two councilwoman Anna Sousa is the council representative to the Planning Board and attended the Zoom hearing as a participant. “I do understand development needs but most comments from my constituents have been against this proposal. I do have questions,” said Sousa. At-large councilman Bob Rodericks also attended the Zoom session. “I watched the entire hearing and have also received mostly negative calls and emails from residents. The process will come to the council where I assure residents a wide open public process,” added Rodericks after the meeting.
In the end, the Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend approval to the City Council for the rezoning of the Metacomet property. The board vote doesn't approve the proposal, but "recommends" it to the City Council. The process will move ahead for further Planning Department (not Board) recommendations and impact studies and finally council action. Also involved will be the Waterfront Commission which may have the most direct regulatory oversight in the development. Waterfront Commission Chairman William Fazioli said that 8 of the 11 commission members are East Providence residents. State officials on the commission have “no voting rights.”