Strip-Mall Developer’s Plan for East Providence Golf Club Riles Neighbors
July 5, 2020
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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