Neighbors Criticize Metacomet Golf Club Development Plans
Senator representing developer sponsored resolution that urged the governor to designate the golf course and surrounding neighborhood as “economically distressed”
July 20, 2020
Neighbors of the Metacomet Golf Club in East Providence, R.I., aren’t buying what the developer plans to do with the place they consider a peaceful presence in their neighborhood.
During a July 15 online discussion hosted by the developer, Marshall Properties Inc., residents spoke against rezoning the property from open space to a mixed-use designation, challenging the assertion made by the Pawtucket-based developer that 138-acre golf course would inevitably be developed.
Despite the developer’s upbeat tone about the project’s benefits and access to open space, none of the neighbors spoke in favor of the project during the two-hour neighborhood meeting. Several, such as Dereck Mendoza of Fort Street, wanted to know why the approvals were being overseen by the East Providence Waterfront Commission, a quasi-state entity whose members aren’t elected.
“We’re just following the process that was recommended (by the city),” said Zachary Darrow, Marshall Properties’ commercial real-estate attorney.
Darrow and others representing Marshall Properties reminded the neighborhood residents that the property is currently private land and not legally open for activities like sledding or jogging, and that any owner can encircle the property with a chain-link fence to deter trespassing. The benefit to consider, they said, is 30 acres they will set aside as public open space.
Matt Smith, a manager with Bohler Engineering in Southborough, Mass., described the proposal as “a real landmark community center that people can enjoy and be a part of.”
Members of the General Assembly were also represented at the recent meeting, although Sen. William J. Conley Jr., D-East Providence, and Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, were serving as members of Marshall Properties’ legal team.
Conley frequently responded to questions by saying that the bottom line is the property will not remain a golf course.
“We are in this for the long haul for the benefit of the community,” he said. “We want to do something here that we can be proud of.”
Conley later promised that the mixed-use development with walking trails “is going to be a place we can all live, work, and play. It’s going to be community.”
“We will be opening a segment of our community we have been excluded from our entire lives,” he said.
As senator, Conley sponsored a 2018 resolution that urged the governor and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to designate the golf course and surrounding neighborhood within a federally designated “qualified opportunity zone.” The designation offers a number of tax breaks to developers who build in these so-called “economically distressed neighborhoods.”
These opportunity zones, a Trump administration tax break, have been criticized for fueling a wave of developments financed by and built for the wealthiest Americans and for gentrifying marginalized neighborhoods.
Many of the residents only just learned about their neighborhood’s tax-incentive designation and wondered how it qualified as a distressed community when there are others in the city with empty storefronts and less desirable housing but aren’t receiving the opportunity-zone incentive.
“If this was a blighted area, I’d be fine with someone developing it, but that’s totally not the case,” resident Tracey McGowan-Finkbeine said.
The online forum took place ahead of a City Council meeting scheduled for Aug. 6, when Marshall Properties is expected to reveal new site plans to the public. A second meeting, if needed, would be held Aug. 11. Both will be held at Martin Middle School, 111 Brown St., at 6 p.m. The council could vote at either meeting to change the zoning designation. If approved, the proposal would be reviewed by the Waterfront Commission.
Marshall Properties has released a conceptual plan that contains a mix of retail and office space, a hotel, and apartment and townhouse complexes. The preliminary design has prompted many to worry about traffic congestion, which has already worsened because of new development nearby.
Others are troubled about displaced wildlife and increased noise and light by putting a commercial development into a neighborhood district. An online petition against the project has been signed by about 2,800 concerned residents.
“Do we really need more development?” asked Jordan Verner of Mountain Avenue.
The Marshall Properties team insisted that more studies would be forthcoming. They said a wildfire expert will be consulted as part of robust public input and review.
“We will put together thoughtful plans that will improve things,” Smith said. “We want to make this a great place to walk, a great functioning piece of property.”
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