Land Use

Strip-Mall Developer’s Plan for East Providence Golf Club Riles Neighbors

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The city has a fight on its hands over the future of the Metacomet Golf Club.

The par-70 golf course along Veterans Memorial Parkway was expected to be preserved by a group of golf-friendly investors that included local legend Brad Faxon. Club members even received a presentation from the new owners showing how the historic course, designed by renowned golf course architect Donald Ross in 1926, would endure and modernize as a private golf facility.

Faxon and four partners bought the golf course and club for $750,000 in early April 2019. The 138-acre property came with more than $2 million in debt and back taxes, according to the Providence Journal.

But the cost of upkeep proved too great. In less than a year, the ownership group reversed course and announced plans in late February to sell to developer Marshall Properties Inc.

The Pawtucket-based developer, which builds Walmarts, strip malls, and big-box pizza places, has yet to close on the property but has floated a $400 million residential and commercial center to the city.

Conceptual ideas presented by Marshall Properties to East Providence planning officials include a 60,000-square-foot hotel, 235,000 square feet of retail space, 760,000 square feet of residential apartments and townhouses, 150,000 square feet of office space, and 80,000 square feet of assisted-living units.

The developer also has offered to preserve about 30 acres as open space that includes a walking trail along Watchemoket Cove.

A group of disgruntled club members who believe they were deceived by the abrupt sale of the property are suing Faxon and the ownership group for breach of contract and fraud, according to Golf Digest.

Neighbors aren’t pleased with the likelihood of increased traffic and losing a quiet nature refuge that is home to coyotes, deer, and foxes.

“We’re all extremely frustrated,” local resident Roselette DeWitt said. “We’re going to try to stop it.”

During a June 23 meeting, DeWitt and other residents urged the Planning Board to slow the process, and to “do something that is environmentally responsible, not just an ugly eyesore,” she said.

An online petition opposing the project has received more than 800 signatures.

“This area is peaceful, and building on this will take away one of our beautiful and peaceful open spaces,” said Lynn Miller, the petition’s organizer.

The Planning Board, however, kept the process in motion, voting unanimously in favor of rezoning the property from open space to mixed use.

That recommendation heads to the City Council, which has the final say on the zoning change. The council will hear from the public when it sets dates for multiple, in-person public hearings at its meeting scheduled for July 7. The hearing dates will be posted in local newspapers for three weeks prior to the meetings. Abutters within a 200-foot radius of the property will receive certified mailings about the hearings.

Any approval will likely take several months, at least. If the City Council grants the zoning change, the official proposal for building on the site will have to be vetted by the Planning Board, a process that would include additional public hearings. Since a portion of the golf course sits on the banks of Watchemoket Cove, the East Providence Waterfront Commission is seeking to have the entire property added to its jurisdiction — meaning any approvals required by the City Council would switch to the Waterfront Commission.

City Council member Anna Sousa represents Metacomet Golf Club in her Ward 2 district. She has heard from residents across the city who disapprove of having their bucolic green space replaced by a large development. They dislike the idea of having the Waterfront Commission, whose members are political appointees and not elected, oversee any potential development.

“They are not held accountable like the City Council is held accountable,” Sousa said during a July 3 online forum with residents.

Sousa favors the city’s pro-development push. She believes that something will be built now that the property is headed into private hands.

“It’s a large tract of land,” she said. “There is going to be something put there.”

She prefers a modest boutique hotel, instead of a large-scale commercial and residential center.

“I look at it as ‘good ideas, wrong location,’” Sousa said. “Finding a happy medium is possible but it’s not something that should be rushed. We should take our time. We want to make sure we are making the right decision for the city, for the long term, not just the immediate or for the potential buyers at the time.”

So far, none of the major land conservation groups in Rhode Island, such as The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, have shown interest in preserving the property.

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  1. yeah, Rhode Island doesn’t have enough empty storefronts, unleased office space, or ugly strip malls, we need more, especially if we want to promote our state for locating post-apocalyptic movie siting. And we haven’t completed making Veterans Parkway as ugly as possible, the development community still needs to deal with pesky trees that remain visible, though the new orthopedic medical building there does its best to make the scenery as hideous as possible. With some water views that have not yet blocked, maybe a few parking garages could be built to take care of that and it would also bring in tax revenue. Finally, another modest suggestion is to institute a toll for using the bike path there, the revenue could be used to help pay for the developers’ expenses, think how that could improve our business climate rankings – and it could also produce more gas tax revenue if people drove more instead of biking, a win-win.

  2. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” Will there be NO green space left in East Providence before those in power (money) realize how ugly strip malls are especially when empty!?! Look around people. Online shopping, delivered to the door is here to stay. We already have too many empty parking lots, stores, restaurants and hotels. We need green and open space to LIVE and BREATHE!

  3. BUT of course politicians here in RI Don’t give a DAMN about the Environment, not as long as there is No money in it…. This has been true ever since the late 1980’s to the present..and with political appointees they have no soul about doing the right thing for the Environment all because they will not speak out or do anything against their Moneyed Masters in charge…. who also don’t give a damn about the environment…

  4. The owners of Metacomet falsely reported to the city council that the lawsuit brought by the members had been settled. The lawsuit is still very much alive and the city council was misinformed

  5. Seriously? I live a block from the parkway and it used to be a nice treat to have the bike path, views of the water and trees and some wildlife. Now, little by little, it’s getting darker with ugly buildings blocking the sun and water views, horrible fencing. Not to mention the declining wildlife. Can’t we have ONE area that is ours?! These developers don’t even live here. If they’re going to ruin our landscape and one of the main reasons people purchased homes here, we should have more than just a public hearing. It should be up for a vote. I, for one REFUSE to set foot in any stupid strip mall.

  6. This this is the number one story of the year is interesting. It says first and foremost that the economic development process is broken. That the only thing we have for economic development is real estate speculation and construction says we are going to kill the planet and ourselves along with it in pursuit of the all mighty dollar and economic growth. Our future economy will be based on ecological healing and justice. What we are being offered by the rich is that they will simply loot the planet and our communities.

  7. I realize this is an old article but I want to remind people that Keep Metacomet Green is still working to save the green space of Metacomet Golf Club and NOW also the 100+ year old Veterans Memorial Parkway. KMG has a case in Superior Court against EP City Council, Mike Marcello , city solicitor and Malcom Moore. It states that the vote to change the land from open space to mixed use was illegal as it did not follow East Providences current Comprehensive Plan dated 2015. Please go to KeepMetacometGreen! on Facebook and watch our videos with environmental experts including Curt Spalding , former Head of Save the Bay , and DEM and now a professor of practice .
    Keep Metacomet Green ideal plan would be to vote on a bond for East Providence to take Metacomet by Eminent Domain, saving the green space for everyone.

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