October 28, 2020

News Briefs

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“Rumors and misinformation ruled the day – Marshall”

Marshall Development Punts on Metacomet Zone Change
Hours before a highly anticipated East Providence City Council final public hearing on a proposed zone change to the Metacomet Golf Club, the presumptive developer, Marshall Corporation, withdrew their request.  As the City Council was being informed of the latest news in this controversial proposal, the community at large was buzzing about the shift.  A letter was hand delivered and emailed to council President Robert Britto and City Clerk Samantha Burnett informing them of the withdrawal request.  “This morning Marshall Development transmitted a letter … informing (City Council) that they have formally withdrawn their petition for a zone change and amendment to the East Providence Comprehensive Plan.   The Metacomet Golf Club, through no fault of Marshall Development, is closing. Marshall Development will be acquiring and redeveloping the property.  While redevelopment under current zoning is acceptable to Marshall Development, they wanted to work with the community to create a vibrant work-live-play development on a portion of the property, in addition to creating the largest public open space in the City of East Providence on the remainder of the property. Marshall Development viewed this as a true win-win for all stakeholders.  The developer would have been granted the ability to construct a more dynamic development, while the community would gain a substantial economic driver and be provided with the right to preserve and use much of the property as public open space for generations.

Marshall Development tried tirelessly to facilitate a constructive dialogue with the community on the benefits of redeveloping Metacomet in accordance with this vision - which would keep over 50% of the property green and accessible to the public. Despite great efforts to stimulate a productive discussion, there was very little constructive dialogue. Instead, rumors and misinformation ruled the day.  The immediate abutters of the property and surrounding neighborhood want things to stay as they are without considering the rights or positions of private property owners or the adverse impacts of foregoing such a significant economic driver – this is not realistic or attainable. Neither party at this juncture has achieved their desired outcome. Compromise is simply impossible if only one party is willing to keep an open mind.

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 DaSilva, and city staff for the time they have spent reviewing their proposal, and are truly saddened that a productive dialogue did not occur.”  -  Marshall Public Statement –

After hearing of the Marshall request, Council President Britto deemed that the hearing still would go on as advertised so that the public could still speak on the issue.  Although the community had heard that the zoning request was pulled and the issue was effectively moot, several residents opposed to the zone changed attended the hearing.  All who spoke against the plan basically rehashed the group’s reasons for their opposition.  No one spoke in favor and there were no Marshall representatives or attorneys present.

Although a vote was no longer needed, four of the five council members expressed opposition to the plan.  Only Robert Britto said he was in favor of a zoning change so that the City could limit development and control many aspects of the proposal.  In a statement issued earlier, Britto stated that  “… as an elected official for the City of East Providence, it is my duty to fully investigate and do my due diligence regarding any issues that come before the council.  When the request for the rezoning of Metacomet came before the council, I began to receive emails from concerned citizens regarding this proposal. I began to speak to city officials and the developers so I could fully understand the proposed development and make an informed decision,” wrote Britto.  “Based on my research and discussions with all parties involved, I am in favor of the development with restrictions for several reasons.  During my meeting with the developer, I expressed my objection to a hotel being built on the property, discussed the buffer zone (between the development and residential properties) and the need for a traffic study. A traffic study that would go beyond Veterans Memorial Parkway but include Pawtucket Avenue and the Wampanoag Trail is needed. I am against a hotel or motel being built at Metacomet.

I understand the concerns of keeping it green, but the reality is, it is a private sale and I don't anticipate another buyer purchasing the property and keeping it green solely for the enjoyment of our residents.  We have 22 parks in our city that are highly utilized by our residents. In fact, the City of East Providence has about 325 acres of public open space or conservation areas within a 10 to 15-minute ride of Metacomet.  Development and attraction of new businesses are the key to alleviating the tax burden of our residents and this can be done in conjunction with maintaining our green and open space,” added Britto.

Councilors Nathan Cahoon, Anna Sousa, Ricardo Mourato and Bob Rodericks said they were prepared to vote against the Marshall request.  Mourato gave an extended response as to his opposition.   “One must also take into consideration the impact on our city finances, the environment, traffic, infrastructure and city services when considering current and future developments.  In examining the facts I have mentioned above, it is apparent to me and the public that we currently have a situation where uninformed, unengaged, and out-of-touch developers and this city’s administration, are attempting to determine the future of this city,” said Mourato. 

  ‘Keep Metacomet Green’ organizer, Candy Seel, a three-time candidate for City Council in Ward Three, issued a statement which said in part:  “Keep Metacomet Green is gratified that the developer has pulled back its petition for rezoning. We remain optimistic that another investor group will come forward with an offer to purchase the property and retain the iconic Metacomet golf club as it exists today. We are confident that Plan B will never come to fruition.”

Plan B is a reference to Marshall’s statement, seen as an ultimatum by some, that a zone change denial will force them to build a development as currently allowed.  Currently things like amusement parks, schools, hospitals and other housing units and stores not acceptable to some in the surrounding neighborhood.

The question of ownership arises periodically.  Marshall has a purchase and sales agreement with current ownership led by golfer Brad Faxon.  They have yet to financially close on the deal. For its part, the Marshall family maintains that they are moving ahead no matter what and will develop the land.  At-large councilman Bob Rodericks asked if an entity has the authority to petition the zoning board for a variance if they don’t actually have ownership of the property.  “As an analogy, can I ask for a zoning change on a house or property I am going to buy but have yet to finalize the sale?”  The answer was unclear from a legal perspective.

One thing is definite.  The iconic Metacomet Golf Course was scheduled to officially cease all operations on Wednesday, September 30, 2020.  Many in East Providence anxiously await its fate.

City Council Examines Mayor’s 20-21 Budget
The City Council has conducted two public workshops on the City 20-21 budget as presented by Mayor Bob DaSilva. The Mayor’s budget message said in part,  “This budget was prepared to not only meet the financial challenges of funding our new high school and fulfilling the fixed contractual employee obligations that pre-date this Administration, but also to reflect the uncertainties and hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our City,” Mayor DaSilva said. “We believe this budget keeps our residents and businesses safe, our city service levels high, our infrastructure in repair, and our parks and recreational facilities maintained, beautiful and enjoyable.”

The proposed budget recommends General Fund expenditures of $169,051,000, a $4.3 million increase over last year’s spending. Of the total General Fund expenditure increase, city operating expenditures increased by $2.6 million city funding of the school department rose by $285,000 and the city appropriated an additional $1.4 million to fund future debt payments for our new high school.   To fund the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, we are requesting a tax rate that is approximately three percent (3 percent) higher than the current rate. The additional appropriation of $1.4 million to fund debt payments for our new high school makes up about one-third of our proposed tax rate increase. To reduce the tax increase impact on our homeowners, particularly our senior citizens on fixed income, the Administration is proposing in fiscal year 2021 to restore one percentage point to our homestead exemption bringing it from 13 percent to 14 percent. For the fully interactive FY21 Proposed Budget, Click here: https://stories.opengov.com/eastprovidenceri/published/iNesDQzug.” 

The Mayor’s budget message also lists the following six items totaling $2.2 million of the overall city operating increase:

  • City regular salaries and other compensation are budgeted to increase by approximately $601,000. The increase is associated with either the contractual two percent salary increases for our police and fire departments or contractual step increases across all departments. The two percent salary increase for Police and Fire alone totaled approximately $500,000. The increase in salaries occurred despite our reducing full-time employees (FTEs) from last year’s budget by seven and delaying the start date for four DPW vacant positions until midyear. No COLA raises have been budgeted for all other union employees, non-union employees, or for our department heads.
  • Our police and fire annual required pension contributions (ARC) increased a combined $462,000 mainly due to this administration’s choice to follow our actuary’s recommendation and adopt more actuarially conservative assumptions than what previously had been used to ensure that future generations in East Providence are not unfairly burdened with police and fire pension costs.
  • Our healthcare costs for fiscal year 2021 have increased by $682,000 and reflect an 11 percent increase to our health insurance premiums.
  • Refuse/disposal costs increased by $209,000 due to the expansion of our automated trash cart program ($155,000) and overall higher tipping and recycling fees.
  • Our finance department budgeted $100,000 for new accounting software to replace outdated and unserviceable software programs.
  • An $122,000 increase in our general liability insurance premiums for fiscal year 2021.

The school department is basically requesting level funding other than contractual requirements.  Responding to a question by at-large councilor Bob Rodericks about anticipated state aid to schools, city solicitor Mike Marcello said that “we probably won’t know that by the final budget vote.”  Ward three member Nate Cahoon asked that school representatives attend the next budget workshop.

City requires Temporary Use permit for short-term rentals/AirBnBs
The City had its first violators before East Providence Municipal Court this month. The property owners were in violation of a new ordinance (approved in May 2020), which takes an aggressive approach to illegal short-term rentals.  The new ordinance, introduced by Council Vice President Bob Rodericks and also sponsored by Councilman Ricardo Mourato, requires property owners, who wish to rent their properties for short-term use, to apply for a temporary use permit.

“It is not the intent of the city to prohibit residents from renting their property according to state and local laws,” Council Vice President Rodericks said. “The law abiding residents should not suffer because of the few who break the law.  “Simply put, short term rentals require owner occupancy,” Rodericks added. “Our clear intention is to stop abuses as noted by several residents to the Council.”

“The City will be aggressively enforcing this ordinance,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “Residents living in residential neighborhoods deserve to live in and enjoy their property in peace.”  The permit, which automatically expires on January 1 of each year, is only issued if it does not cause or threaten to cause, a threat to public safety or public health, does not conflict with another previously authorized use, and the applicant shows proof of ownership.

Some of these rentals have been an incredible nuisance to neighbors with new, large rowdy groups moving in every weekend.  Short-term rentals of single-family, two-family, three-family, semi-detached or multi-family homes may be used as short-term rentals if they are owner-occupied.  If property owners wish to post their properties on AirBnB or other short-term rental websites, the property owners must live in the property/home full time and must have a City of East Providence Short-Term Rental temporary use permit.

Residents are urged to report suspected violators to the police. Offender’s cases will be forwarded to the East Providence Zoning Dept., which will then prosecute the violation in East Providence Municipal Court.

If the short-term rental is rented for less than 28 days without a special use permit, the owner may incur a $500 fine. Illegal rentals may be fined up to $13,000 per month. Those fines may attach as lien on the real estate.

If the owner occupant wishes to rent out a portion of their property, they may do so if they acquire the temporary use permit. The permit must be annually acquired.

The owner of the short-term rental (defined as rentals of a period of less than 28 days) must also supply the following information within the home: visible printed materials with diagrams of all points of egress written in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The home must also have clearly-marked and visible fire extinguishers.

School Committee Hangs on to Oldham School
The School Committee elected to continue holding on to the vacant Oldham School on Bullocks Point avenue in Riverside, after a request last month by Mayor Bob DaSilva to have the building declared surplus by the school department and turned over to the city for potential development.  The school was closed in a controversial move by the state budget commission to help East Providence with its finances.  The building is in need of a roof and other improvements and was not considered safe for use as a school.  The only elementary school in Riverside is the Waddington School on Legion Way with over 500 students.  The former Platt-Watters buildings on Burnside and Turner avenues are vacant and the subject of several development proposals.  Those buildings have been legally turned back to City Council jurisdiction.  School board members cited concerns with current school capacity and the imminent development of a couple of housing developments in the area.  The issue of the current condition of Oldham and the expense to return it to a school have not been formally discussed recently.

EPHS has new Principal
East Providence has replaced retiring high school principal Shani Wallace with the appointment of Tony Gibbons of South Kingstown, RI.  Gibbons was the Assistant Principal at Narragansett High School where he was named Assistant Principal of the Year by Rhode Island Association of School Principals in 2019.  At his award ceremony, Gibbons said that “I believe that to build a positive learning culture in any school, every administrator needs to make endless investments in building personal relationships. I strive to connect with everyone in the building on a daily basis. Being near the parking lot at the start of the day and hallways during each passing time, stepping into classes and participating, and being present in lunch rooms are all good starting points. But simply being present is not enough. I strive to personally get to know each student, teacher, and member of staff. I want to ask about their role in the play, the result of their game, the attendance at the concert, the health of a child, or plans after school. By developing a high sense of community, all relationships become more positive which in return builds a strong and positive building culture.”  Gibbons received his appointment over at least one and maybe a couple of current East Providence educators.    

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