Developer’s Peace Offering Fails to Sway Anxious Neighbors
December 3, 2020
CRANSTON, R.I. — At a recent City Planning Commission virtual meeting, 126 people crammed onto Zoom to hear the last-gasp effort by a developer to build a Costco and gas station on the Mulligan’s Island property on New London Avenue.
Michael DiGuiseppe, managing partner for Coastal Partners LLC, and his team of experts pitched the case for an amendment to the zoning of the property, which is currently zoned “Mixed Use Planned District” (MPD). MPD is a more restrictive zoning than other types of commercial zoning.
DiGuiseppe’s presentation at the Dec. 1 meeting followed three months of continuance after an August site visit to Mulligan’s Island, where the developer first painted a picture of how his project could look: a big-box store (likely a Costco), a large parking lot, and a gas station. It also featured the possibility of residential development on an 18-acre parcel on the southeastern section of the property.
The current iteration that DiGuiseppe pitched Tuesday night to the City Planning Commission confirmed Costco as a lessee, but took away the prospect of any residential development, instead making the 18 acres a “gift” to the city to be used for recreational use.
“We made a gift of 18 acres to the city of Cranston, and we could have just labeled that as open space,” DiGuiseppe said, “but we wanted to take the initiative because we heard in past presentations that the city wanted a space for recreation.”
But DiGuiseppe’s peace offering, and the long presentation by his attorney John Bolton and various planning experts, did nothing to appease neighbors, some of whom live in the abutting Hilltop Drive estate.
“It makes no difference, honestly,” said Rachel McNally, a member of a group called Cranston Neighbors for Smart Development (CNSD) who have come out against the proposed development. “It doesn’t negate any of the harm that the development will do, nor does it take away the size of it.”
McNally and other residents are concerned that the large development, with its truck deliveries, lights, and stormwater runoff, will sit too close to their homes and will increase traffic on New London Avenue.
“I drive on New London Avenue every single day and the traffic this is going to create will be a nightmare,” neighbor Rebecca DeCesaris said. “Costco will be a destination for shoppers from all over the state and just over the state line. New London Avenue does not have the capacity to sustain that added traffic in any form.”
CNSD brought their own team to present against the development, and its hired planner Kevin Flynn rejected the idea that what the developer wants is a simple amendment of current MPD zoning.
“This is an amendment unlike any other I have ever seen,” Flynn said. “It amends the current development out of existence. There’s a different word for what this proposal represents: a replacement.”
CNSD’s presenters also made frequent mention of various state agencies’ disapproval of the development, which would abut a Rhode Island Department of Corrections medium-security prison and would require significant roadwork.
Amy Goins, an attorney hired by CNSD, presented emails and letters from various state entities that were sent to the City Planning Commission. She read from a correspondence from Marco Schiappa, a professional engineer and an assistant director at the Rhode Island Department of Administration. The last sentence of his letter reads, “In closing, the state believes that the current application should be declined by the Planning Commission.”
A letter from Patricia A. Coyne-Fague, director of the Department of Corrections, read, in part, “The current approved land use had minimal impact to the correctional facilities, and we urge the Board to reject this proposed expansion.”
Mulligan’s Island featured miniature golf, a par-3 golf course, a driving range, batting cages, and beach volleyball.
An email from Jill Nascimento, managing engineer for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), to Joshua Barry, a senior planner for the city, expressed concern about the new traffic pattern being proposed.
She noted that RIDOT “is not in agreement with the current intersection design.”
Armed with this skepticism for the project from state agencies, the neighbors argued that a large-scale commercial development is simply not the right fit for an area that was designed to be a buffer zone between residential properties and the prison.
“There are so many pieces that are not OK with this location,” McNally said. “And we’re not naïve. Someday, something probably will go there, but anything that is going to go there, rather than trying to cram it down the throats of the residents and city, a developer should, before submitting plans, find out what it is that is a best fit for that land.”
A recommendation on the zoning change is expected to be made by the City Planning Commission at its Dec. 8 meeting. If a decision is made at that meeting, the proposal would then go to the City Council’s Ordinance Commission for review, perhaps at a Dec. 17 meeting.
For more information about the proposed Cranston Crossing development, click here.
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