Proposed Development Along Pawtuxet River Stirs Up Flooding, Pollution Worry
January 4, 2023
WARWICK, R.I. — The proposed development of two buildings and up to 130 parking spaces along the Pawtuxet River has some residents concerned about increased flooding and further pollution of the long-abused river.
Building space, according to the project’s most recent master plan, would be leased to contractors for the storage of equipment and materials. The combined space of the two buildings would be 65,000 square feet.
“The proposed project is a good reuse of the site since the proposed buildings and asphalt drives will act as a new cap over the impacted areas of the site, minimizing the potential for human exposure to any hazardous groundwater or soil,” according to the master plan narrative prepared by DiPrete Engineering.
The developers’ latest project master plan application is scheduled to be considered at the Planning Board’s Jan. 11 meeting.
A group of concerned residents, however, believes building on a floodplain would increase flooding in an area already susceptible to the impacts of the climate crisis and would likely mean the end of a river trail that has been used for three decades by dog walkers and hikers.
“We remain steadfastly opposed to reckless industrial development on the Pawtuxet River and urge environmental advocates to come to the January 11 Planning Board meeting and join us in urging the defeat of this project,” according to a recent statement from the group Pawtuxet Green Revival. “The City of Warwick can and should stand up for the principles of protecting the Pawtuxet River enshrined in city laws and the comprehensive plan.”
Pawtuxet Green Revival recently posted a video taken Dec. 29 that shows “the existing conditions” at the property. Members believe the video “accurately displays the dumping ground” the property has become and “the poor operational management this developer has demonstrated during the period in which they are seeking approval for their plan.”
The issue reached a crescendo this past summer when the property’s owners, Artak Avagyan and Lee Beausoleil, tacked up a no trespassing sign over that of a Boy Scout sign marking the Pawtuxet River Trail. Boy Scouts have long worked to maintain the popular 2.3-mile loop trail that hugs the Pawtuxet River at the tip of the Pawtuxet Industrial Park. The trail remains closed.
The 15.7-acre property at 175 Post Road was bought by Needham, Mass.-based AZA Realty Trust Inc. in April 2019 for $450,000. The joint tenants are listed as Avagyan, manager of Alba Properties LLC in Smithfield and the owner of A-Star Oil LLC in Cranston, and Beausoleil, owner of paving contractor Beausoleil & Sons Inc. of Cranston.
Their initial master plan for a 68,750-square-foot storage facility that would have featured four buildings was “denied without prejudice” at a Planning Board meeting in June.
In a June 15 letter from the town’s planning director to the developers’ attorney, Nicholas Goodier of Providence-based Mancini Carter, Thomas Kravitz wrote the town will waive the resubmission fee for a revised master plan. The letter also recommended a few changes should Carter’s clients resubmit, including considering scaling down the size of the project and updating the site plan “to reflect new material that has been spread throughout the site.”
After Avagyan and Beausoleil bought the property, they demolished a 110,000-square-foot valve manufacturing plant that had been vacant for years. They saved a bunch of PVC piping from the facility and stored it near the river, and dumped piles of fill and other materials on the property.
In early May of last year, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a notice of violation regarding the proximity of the stored pipes to the Pawtuxet River. The developers paid a $9,076 fine and relocated the PVC piping, according to the state.
Pawtuxet Green Revival members want any development on the site to comply with local zoning ordinances and the city’s comprehensive plan. They also want access to the Pawtuxet River Trail to remain open and the impaired river protected.
Group members claim little has changed from the project’s last version. The group noted there would be “two enormous buildings” and a parking lot built near a stream, wetlands, and the Pawtuxet River.
This group of concerned residents doesn’t believe shaving off less than 4,000 square feet of building space does much to lessen stormwater runoff, and questions why a light industrial development should be allowed within 200 feet of the river.
They noted the owners have indicated the two buildings could also be used to house their own business operations. They said that potentially means the property could hold petroleum products, paving and asphalt materials, and an array of other contractor materials depending on who leases the units. They are worried toxic chemicals, pollutants, machines, and vehicles could likely end being stored on the property.
“The owners have claimed that they will not have ‘outdoor storage,’” according to Pawtuxet Green Revival. But previous piles of discarded asphalt and other materials on the property doesn’t inspire their confidence. “The business concept will have negative impacts on the Pawtuxet River, local wildlife, and the surrounding residences for a number of reasons.”
The property “will be partially improved at this time, with the most notable change being the exclusion” of up to 6.9 acres from any future development, according to a 14-page analysis prepared for the developers by Pimentel Consulting Inc.
The analysis also claimed the present proposal will realize a 33% reduction in the overall building footprint in comparison to recent historical development. “It will also realize considerable green and open space enhancements.”
Pimentel Consulting noted that in its professional opinion the redevelopment proposal is in accordance with the respective goals and objectives of the city’s comprehensive plan.
The Jan. 11 Planning Board meeting will be held at the Veterans Middle School Auditorium, 2401 West Shore Road, beginning at 6 p.m. “The purpose of the public hearing is to consider, and the Planning Board may vote, on a Major Land Development for a Master Plan Approval.”
All of the project’s plans and files are also available for review at the Planning Department office on the second floor of the Sawtooth Building, 65 Centerville Road, weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Editor’s note: The story was updated several hours after it was updated.