Commentary: If you support preservation over development in East Providence, speak up and speak out

By Candy Seel
Posted 7/7/21

Oftentimes, governance in East Providence resembles a sausage-making operation. It’s not always pretty, and sometimes you end up feeling like the sausage.

On June 27, Marshall Properties …

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Commentary: If you support preservation over development in East Providence, speak up and speak out

Posted

Oftentimes, governance in East Providence resembles a sausage-making operation. It’s not always pretty, and sometimes you end up feeling like the sausage.

On June 27, Marshall Properties came before the Planning Board with a recycled version of its Plan A, which it had proposed last summer, only to withdraw it at the end of September. This “repetitive petition” was permitted only after the majority of the Council determined that there had been a “substantial change in circumstances” that would allow it to waive the legally-required 18-month ban between petitions. Marshall throwing them the bone of a 9-hole golf course seemed to convince them that that was substantial enough.

The Board heard compelling testimony from a number of abutting residents. They spoke poignantly about the devastating impact that the development of 60+ acres along Lyon Avenue and the Veterans Memorial Parkway would inevitably have on their quality of life. The Board members heard from other residents who shared concerns about the impact on traffic, wildlife, the peaceful culture of East Providence, and their grief at potentially losing our way of life to a developer who sees only the bottom line.

On behalf of 2800 members and 5500 signers of petitions opposing development, Keep Metacomet Green administrators took turns at the podium. KMG spoke on several procedural issues calling into question the validity of holding the meeting at all. For instance, Marshall was permitted to submit a supplemental petition as late as that very afternoon. This followed the Planning Department staff report the previous Friday recommending that

Marshall come back to the table with revisions. Neither the members of the Board nor the general public had had the opportunity to review the new documentation, as public notice and letters to abutters promised.

The second issue revolved around the mailing list used for the required notice to abutters within 200 feet of the proposed development. KMG argued that the list is defective and that the meeting should be postponed until the matter can be resolved. It based its argument on the fact that nearly 20% of the letters it had mailed out to abutters, taken from that list, were returned undeliverable, unable to forward.

Finally, KMG urged that discussion and vote on Marshall’s petition be postponed until the Board considers the City Council’s proposed zoning ordinance amendment, which it passed unanimously on June 15. This amendment calls for impact studies to be conducted BEFORE an Open Space area is rezoned to any other designation, rather than after. Rezoning first, then studying the impact afterwards, as the present law requires, puts the cart before the horse, as one Board member put it. Unfortunately, this argument was dismissed out of hand, as were the other two.

Apparently discounting the testimony of the public commenters, the majority of the Board chose instead to put their faith in Marshall’s expert witness. She ticked down the findings of fact that Board members are charged with making, findings based on consistency with the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinances. She read them off one by one, quickly glossing over several: Provide for orderly growth recognizing… natural characteristics of the land, values of coastal and freshwater features; protection of natural, historic, cultural and scenic character; protection of public investment in… open space; not adversely impact the community by… impacting existing uses as a result of increased traffic… effect on the livability of the area or the health and safety of residents. In her expert opinion, consistency had been achieved.

Marshall’s legal counsel, questioned about the inclusion of fast food joints and drive-through windows in the application, said, with all apparent sincerity, that it would be a service to the public should we be struck by another pandemic. How nearly everyone in the room managed not to laugh or cry at this point was a testament to their restraint.

Choosing to set aside many of his department’s own concerns, the Planning Department director endorsed a positive recommendation to the City Council to rezone Metacomet and move it into the Waterfront District. The majority voted to do so, kicking it upstairs to the City Council, as one Board member frankly admitted.

So, now the ball is back in the City Council’s court, and the public hearing has been hurriedly set for July 20, leaving supporters of Metacomet’s preservation to scramble. Sometimes you feel like the sausage… sometimes like the scrambled egg.

The future of East Providence is intricately connected to the future of Metacomet. If you support preservation of green space over development, speak up and speak out. Once open space is gone, it’s not coming back.

Ms. Seel is an administrator of the “Keep Metacomet Green” community group and former candidate for City Council.

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