Land Use

Warwick Board Gives Preliminary OK to Controversial Project on Pawtuxet River


A map of the proposed development site. The Pawtuxet River separates Warwick from Cranston. (DiPrete Engineering)

WARWICK, R.I. — It was standing room only in the Sawtooth Building last week when the Planning Board awarded preliminary approval to a controversial storage unit project abutting the Pawtuxet River.

Owners and applicants Artak Avagyan and Lee Beausoleil are seeking to build two storage unit buildings for contractors, totaling about 65,000 square feet, with associated parking and road infrastructure.

The proposal has galvanized Pawtuxet Village residents as the property, at 175 Post Road, includes a popular riverside trail used by the community for more than 30 years. Starting last July, the owners began blocking access to the trail, which, along with a history of environmental violations, has stoked controversy ever since.

The meeting quickly descended into chaos thanks to a last-minute change in venue. Instead of meeting in the much smaller community room in City Hall’s annex offices, the Planning Board met instead in a larger common area with no microphones, making it difficult for members of the public to hear.

Residents and community members yelled for both board members and legal counsel for the applicant to stand up and speak louder. An hour into the meeting, board chair Philip Slocum attempted to accommodate the crowd’s concerns by repeating what was being said in the meeting and frequently stopping to answer questions from the public.

In his motion to approve the project, board member Kevin Flynn defended his decision.

“It is a permitted use,” Flynn said. “We may not like it, it may not be the best use, but property owners have rights, and one of those rights is to deny others access to their property.”

The decision included a staff recommendation that stipulated a conservation easement along the riverfront trail, linking two existing conservation areas at either end of the property.

The compromise is likely to please no one, as community residents oppose the project overall, and the property owners were strongly opposed to the easement.

“We won’t give up the land for conservation,” Avagyan told the board.

ecoRI News first reported on the tug-of-war between the property’s owners and local residents over access to the trail. In July, the first “No Trespassing Keep Out” sign appeared, soon to be followed by sign warning “No entry, cameras in use.”

Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, in a letter to Mayor Frank Picozzi dated July 29, wrote the action “eliminates the last public access point to the Pawtuxet River Basin in the city of Warwick. This is a historic trail that has been utilized by citizens for over 5 decades.”

Residents expressed repeated concerns over repeated flooding in the area. Portions of Pawtuxet River Park, including 175 Post Road, flood during heavy rains. The property lies in a Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated floodplain, retaining water even after normal rainfall.

The property has long been used as an unofficial dumping ground and unpermitted storage area. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management inspections over the years have shown dozens of cubic yards of solid waste, including concrete, scrap lumber appliances, mattresses, used tires, and more, all within 200 feet of wetlands and the river.

The property is currently in compliance, according to DEM, and an environmental land-use restriction is on the deed.

The owners indicated developing the property remained the best solution for the public and the environment.

Last month McNamara introduced a package of bills aimed at increasing river protections around the state and in increasing public access. H5087 would require DEM to develop a plan for flooding on the Pawtuxet River, specifically at the site of the former Ciba-Geigy plant, not too far upriver from the 175 Post Road site.

The second bill, H5088, would amend the definition of solid waste to include PVC pipe left abandoned or discarded on the ground or otherwise not stored in a covered facility. The final bill (H5116) would permit the DEM director to recognize and identify public rights-of-way to the shoreline and water access over land owned by a private party, a function that is currently handled only by the Coastal Resources Management Council.

“Everyone will get everything they’re asking for,” Avagyan said. “Be it the walking path, be it the pipes getting removed, be it the [positive] environmental impacts. This is the only way it’s going to happen because we can leave it the way it is.”

Members of Pawtuxet Green Revival have indicated they want the property cleaned and properly remediated, and if developed, done so in a way that doesn’t increase environmental damage.

When the storage project will receive final approvals is unclear. Its property owners will have to receive additional approval at a later date from the planning board as the plan is finalized.


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  1. No construction should ever be allowed in a flood plain.
    Haven’t we learnt our lesson from all the money spent to reconstruct buildings in flood plains. Flood insurance has to be subsidized by the government.
    When disasters destroy buildings that are built where they shouldn’t have been built in the first place the government pays to rebuild them.
    Albert Einstein said “The definition of insanity us doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”
    This is a classic example of insanity!

  2. No one has mentioned the added noise and traffic from all the construction vehicles coming and going 24/7
    There is a large residential committee right there. What about the rights to peace and quiet?

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