East Providence Council declines to proceed with eminent domain taking of Metacomet property

Majority sites exorbitant costs associated, hears of its own $8.23 million appraisal

By Mike Rego
Posted 4/30/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council, at a special session on the matter held Thursday evening, April 29, near unanimously voted against continuing the process of taking the former Metacomet …

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East Providence Council declines to proceed with eminent domain taking of Metacomet property

Majority sites exorbitant costs associated, hears of its own $8.23 million appraisal

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council, at a special session on the matter held Thursday evening, April 29, near unanimously voted against continuing the process of taking the former Metacomet Country Club property at 500 Veterans Memorial Parkway by eminent domain.

Via a 4-1 vote, the council passed a motion to not do so “at this time,” thus likely bringing to an end discussion on the topic that has engulfed a portion of the community for nearly a year.

Prior to the vote, the council heard from attorney Harris K. Weiner, a specialist in the field whom the body hired to skipper it through the eminent domain legalities and to oversee an appraisal of the 138-acre parcel.

It also heard the passionate comments of residents both for and against the process.

Not present was the owner of the land, Marshall Properties, which has spent much of the past 12 months attempting to plot a course to redevelop the property into some sort of mixed-use vehicle.

Thursday’s meeting came a week after Marshall appeared before the council with its latest proposal, which included commercial and residential units as well as added
“green” space and maintaining a 9-hole golf course open to the public.

The council, citing the public’s right to know the figure, contradicted the advice of Mr. Weiner by making its appraisal figure known.

Upon a procedural vote, Mr. Weiner stated the figure was $8.23 million, roughly $800,000 above the $7.4 million Marshall paid for the land late in 2020 and recorded with the city.

The $8.23 figure, Mr. Weiner said, represents what the council’s appraiser deemed was the “highest and best use” of the property under its current O-1, “Open” zoning designation.

As part of its effort to redevelop the property, Marshall has sought to have land the rezoned and also placed under the auspices of the East Providence Waterfront Commission. The council took no action on either of those elements.

Mr. Weiner opined to the council by releasing the appraisal figure and likely facing the potential of litigation, if divulged it would put the city at a “disadvantage,” allowing the opposition to “pick apart…critique it.” Disclosing the number “gives the other side an unfair advantage,” he said.

Of the process, Mr. Weiner explained if the council took the land by eminent domain it would have to pass an ordinance in the manner it would any other, then would have 90 days to follow through, including the submission of the entire $8.23 million into an escrow  account of the State Superior Court.

The owner, Marshall, then would have three months to challenge the price. It would have right to a jury trial, though Mr. Weiner said typically these kinds of cases are adjudicated by a judge. And that the process could “potentially take years” to resolve.

Key as well, Mr. Weiner said if the judge or jury found for the owner a figure above the city’s appraisal, then it must have those additional monies at the ready immediately upon the verdict.

Of how the city could fund the purchase, the council sought the input of Finance Director Malcolm Moore of its available options. Mr. Moore said the city could tap the unrestricted balance in its “Rainy Day” (Budget Reserve) fund of $6 million, the remaining assets in the existing fiscal year Capital Improvement fund or by seeking the approval of voters through a bond referendum.

The four councilors who voted not to proceed with eminent domain — Ward 1’s Bob Britto, Ward 3’s Nate Cahoon, Ward 4’s Ricardo Mourato and At-Large member Bob Rodericks — each essentially said the total costs of doing so from the initial payment, to legal fees and potentially more monies towards the taking, to maintenance and operations of the site were too much to absorb.

Ms. Sousa, in whose Ward 2 Metacomet is located, also acknowledged the costs but said she was still against Marshall’s plan, even its latest iteration, because “it was not great for that section” of the city.

She added it was incumbent on the council as the matter remains active to make sure the location does not become “a heavily densed area” and the body should allow for continued input from community residents.

City Solicitor Michael Marcello reiterated previous comments made to the council, telling members if Marshall proceeds with seeking a zone change it would “have a clean slate” upon consideration, like limiting usage or expanding buffer zones.

“If we are presented with a petition to rezone, you will be able to craft that zone which you believe to be the best interest of the city and there’s basically very little the applicant could do,” Mr. Marcello continued. “That’s a legislative act and if you decide to do X instead of Y, unless there’s a procedural defect, there’s basically very little they could do to challenge that.”

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