Keep Metacomet Green Urges East Prov City Council to Vote Against Rezoning
While it has significantly disappeared from the news cycle, the long and drawn out Metacomet saga is still going on.
As GolfNewsRI reported back in April, the East Providence City Council voted against eminent domain and for developing the property.
That came a month after the clubhouse was demolished.
Now, Marshall Properties is seeking to get permission to rezone the property.
The East Providence City Council will vote on rezoning the property during a meeting on Tuesday, July 20.
The Facebook group Keep Metacomet Green has issued a lengthy statement regarding the potential rezone.
Read the Statement Below
Keep Metacomet Green (KMG) was formed as a Facebook group by five East Providence residents on July 3, 2020. This action was taken in response to a Planning Board recommendation to the East Providence City Council to approve Marshall Properties’ petition to rezone the Metacomet property from Open Space to Mixed Use and to move the parcel into the city’s Waterfront District, under the authority of the Waterfront Commission.
The group’s mission then, as now, is to work together “in opposition to any plan that will turn the iconic Metacomet golf club into a concrete jungle. Metacomet is an expanse of green, open space that our community has enjoyed for generations, and our goal is to save it for generations to come.” Over the ensuing 12 months, KMG membership has grown from five to 2800, and an associated online petition has gathered over 5200 signatures. In addition, several hundred concerned citizens have signed paper petitions.
In June 2021, KMG filed successfully to become a nonprofit corporation under the General Laws of Rhode Island, with the five founding members of KMG designated as directors. The corporation’s “specific purpose” pertains to “concerns with quality of life issues in East Providence including the protection of Open Space as an essential element of a community.”
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After a year-long battle to save the 138-acre property along Veterans Memorial Parkway in East Providence, formerly known as Metacomet golf club, from development, KMG faces another challenge in fulfilling its mission to preserve this Open Space-zoned parcel that has graced East Providence for more than 100 years. On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, the East Providence City Council is scheduled to consider Metacomet’s fate at a public hearing on the petitioner’s new application to rezone the property from Open Space into the City’s Waterfront District, overseen by the appointed members of the Waterfront Commission.
KMG remains adamantly opposed to the proposed rezone. As it has stated constantly since Marshall first proposed its “village within a village” project in the summer of 2020, development of this parcel will bring with it a potential of 10 years of disruptive construction, noise and air pollution, destruction of wildlife habitat, the unsustainable burden of excess traffic on Veterans Memorial Parkway and surrounding residential roadways, noncompliance with the City’s governing Comprehensive Plan, loss of elected representatives’ authority to the appointed Waterfront Commission, and a general reduction of residents’ peaceful quality of life.
Secondarily, KMG urges the members of the Council to postpone its decision on rezoning until the City’s Planning Board completes its review and tenders its recommendation concerning a proposed zoning ordinance amendment introduced by Councilwoman Anna Sousa at the Council’s June 15, 2021, regular meeting. This proposed amendment would require applicants seeking to rezone Open Space into any other zone designation to conduct mandated impact assessments, including but not limited to traffic studies, before, not after, a vote to rezone.
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By way of background, the City Council had previously been scheduled to vote on this applicant’s initial petition to rezone the property in September 2020, after a public hearing in August 2020 and a summer- long marketing campaign by both Marshall Properties and KMG. The vote proved to be unnecessary when Marshall precipitously withdrew its petition on the very day of the public hearing.
While the City’s Code of Ordinances (Chapter 19-76: Zoning) ostensibly prohibits a petitioner from requesting a rezone of the same parcel within an 18-month period—a so-called “repetitive petition,” the ordinance also provides an allowance to waive this requirement. Language within the ordinance grants the Council itself the discretion to bypass this restriction by determining that, in its opinion, the petition “sets forth facts indicating a substantial change of circumstances justifying a hearing on the petition.” On May 11, 2021, Marshall submitted a new application to City Hall to develop Metacomet.
On May 18, 2021, the majority of the Council determined that there had been a “substantial change in circumstances” that would allow Marshall to pursue a rezone once again. The critical phrase was not defined during the meeting, and many observers, including KMG, questioned whether circumstances had actually changed since September 2020. The Council’s vote set the ball rolling for Marshall to present its new petition to the City’s Planning Department the following day.
On June 15, 2021, as noted above, Councilwoman Sousa’s proposed amendment calling for impact studies prior to rezoning was passed unanimously by the Council and was sent to the appointed Planning Board, via the Planning Department, for its review and advisory opinion. Although there was limited discussion among the members of the Council that evening, two of them had expressed strong opinions on the need for impact studies prior to rezoning in September 2020, when the applicant withdrew its initial application.
Ward 3 Councilman Nate Cahoon stated then that he would have voted against Marshall’s petition had it not been withdrawn. “I think that what would be responsible would be for the Council to take into account what the impact is across the Board, economically, environmentally, wildlife, on the residents, and then make a decision accordingly…. If I were looking at a request for a zoning change and I thought that the plan was irresponsible in some aspect or another, my vote would simply be no.” Mr. Cahoon added: “[O]nce you rezone it, you don’t have it anymore.”
Also in September 2020, Ward 4 Councilman Ricardo Mourato stated: “I was prepared to vote against the petitioner’s request for zone change to this property…. One must… take into consideration the impact on our city finances, the environment, traffic, infrastructure and city services when considering current and future developments.”
On June 29, 2021, Marshall presented its new preliminary plan, including 60+ acres of residential and commercial development, to the members of the Planning Board for their consideration. During the public comment portion of the meeting, a number of abutters and other residents spoke in opposition to Marshall’s petition, citing all the issues enumerated above.
KMG administrator Candy Seel requested that the Board postpone its discussion of the application due to three procedural issues. First, she questioned the process by which the petitioner and Planning Department staff had hastily negotiated a supplemental application after the Department issued its report on June 25th. This report had noted several concerns, including the strain on traffic around the proposed development and the adverse impact that new commercial development would have on existing commercial corridors in the City that the Department had previously targeted for revitalization. As such, the Department staff recommended that the petitioner go back to the drawing board and revise its application.
Legally-mandated notices in local media and in letters to abutters had assured the public and abutting property owners that “plans and other materials” were available for examination. However, the Department’s report was issued on Friday, June 25, 2021, and negotiations apparently continued throughout the weekend until the afternoon of Tuesday, June 29, 2021, the day of the meeting, when Marshall introduced the negotiated supplement to its application. Neither the members of the Planning Board nor members of the public had access to these plans and other materials until they were presented at the meeting.
Second, Seel questioned the legitimacy of the list included within the petitioner’s application that was used to send letters to 200-foot abutters to inform them of the hearing. She noted that KMG had used that list to send out its own letters to 83 abutting residential households. Fourteen of the 83 were returned by the Post Office “undeliverable, unable to forward.” She also noted that KMG had learned that at least two other abutters did not receive a notice about the hearing. From a quick calculation of these numbers, some 20% of abutting households were given no notice, as required by law.
Third, Seel brought up Councilwoman Sousa’s proposed amendment that would soon come before the Board members for discussion. She said: “I implore you to table a vote on the proposal before you tonight until you provide an advisory opinion on the zoning ordinance amendment passed unanimously by the Council two weeks ago. There may be concern that enacting this amendment at this time would be counter to Marshall’s vested rights. However, state and municipal law state that such protection is available when ‘the submitted application is deemed to be substantially complete by the proper authorities.’ This is not the case here.” She continued: “Earlier this month… Planning Director Fazioli… assured me several times there were no plans in place, but merely a petition and a request for rezoning. His final comment regarding the completeness of this application could not have been clearer: ‘At this time, no formal application for a development on this property has been filed with the Planning Department…. As of today, all that we have received is a petition to rezone the property.’”
Planning Board member Eric Crook also stated his concern at the meeting that rezoning first, then studying the impact afterwards, as present law provides, “puts the cart before the horse.” Nevertheless, the majority of the Board voted, in one member’s words, to “kick it upstairs” to the City Council.
At its subsequent July 12, 2021, meeting, the Planning Board discussed Councilwoman Sousa’s proposed amendment briefly, but voted to table a vote until the members received more clarification from the Legal Department. Board member Christopher Grant expressed his desire to address this issue as quickly as possible out of consideration to Councilwoman Sousa.
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In summary, KMG implores the Council, primarily, not to vote to rezone the Metacomet parcel from Open Space into a sub-district of the Waterfront District at all, based on all the factors enumerated above; and, secondarily, to postpone its decision until Councilwoman Sousa’s proposed amendment has been properly vetted. KMG reminds the members of the Council that it is not necessary to rush through this process in order to get this issue behind them. As Councilman Cahoon noted in September, once you rezone it, you don’t have it anymore.
KMG will hold a rally of members outside City Hall on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at 5:30pm, prior to the Council meeting scheduled to begin in in Council Chambers at 6:30pm.
Attorney Bill Harsch of the law firm J. William Harsch, Esq. & Associates will lead KMG’s presentation in opposition to the proposed rezone during the public hearing, which will include the testimony of abutting residents and a number of expert witnesses.