Apex owners re-up lawsuit against Pawtucket officials

Updated at 7:45 p.m. on April 21, 2021.

OWNERS OF THE Apex property in downtown Pawtucket have amended an existing lawsuit against the city and named officials for violating state laws and preventing their own efforts to develop the property. / PBN PHOTO/PAMELA BHATIA

PAWTUCKET – Failed attempts to strike a deal over who develops a key piece of downtown are escalating in court with an amended lawsuit recently filed against the city.

The 69-page complaint filed in R.I. District Court on April 14 by the owners of The Apex Cos. alleges that the city and a host of named officials have “relentlessly singled out” the property owners and violated state law in their attempts to take over ownership of the five-parcel property by eminent domain. It also states that the city has prevented the owners from making good on their own plans for a mixed-use development on the five-parcel property, which includes the iconic Apex pyramid site on Main Street and four surrounding pieces of land. The complaint details “millions of dollars and years accumulating and permitting the parcels” to create a “shovel-ready redevelopment project that promised substantial benefits to the city and state of Rhode Island.”

Yet city efforts to substitute the already-approved Riverfront Commons plan with its own vision have thwarted the owners’ development efforts, costing them their investment and the ability to cover basic expenses, the complaint states.

The complaint also states the city “tried to leverage and intimidate the Apex Companies into submission by denying basic rights.”

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“It is very unfortunate for the taxpayers of Pawtucket that it has come to this, but Apex Development was forced to file this suit after years of cooperating with the city and attempting to engage in reasonable negotiations – an effort that has only been met with harsh and unsubstantiated rhetoric from the city’s advisers,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

The suit names the city of Pawtucket and the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency, as well as Mayor Donald Grebien, Finance Director Joanna L’Heureux, Commerce Director Jeanne Boyle and Director of Administration Dylan Zelazo as parties to the suit.

Boyle in an emailed statement on Wednesday called the amended complaint “an unfortunate continuation of the property owners’ years-long effort to misinform our community through baseless accusations, stall tactics and obstructionism. Moreover, their highly irregular decision to list individual civil servants, including myself, as defendants in this case simply shows they are willing to resort to personal attacks and threats in order to get their way.

She also said the property owners have refused to work “in good faith” with the city, naming their recent attempt to stop the city from performing requisite environmental testing on the site as an example.

Apex refuted the city’s assertion that it has not working in good faith, even adding that it, “remains committed to working with the city in good faith.”

“The city’s narrative that we have implemented ‘stall tactics and obstructionism’ simply does not hold water. It is a false narrative that will not stand the test of time and will not stand up in a court of law,” the company said in a statement.

Theodore Orson, counsel to the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency and an attorney with Orson and Brusini Ltd., also refuted the claims of the suit as “not legally or factually supportable” in a letter presented to the Pawtucket City Council at its Wednesday night meeting.

“We intend to defend vigorously and will likely assert counterclaims against the Apex Companies on numerous grounds,” Orson stated in the letter.

Orson described the previous lawsuit from 2019 as a “placeholder complaint” which aimed to be resolved through a settlement rather than “complicated and costly litigation.”

The new complaint comes after the city filed notices in January to end the two-year failed settlement attempt , according to the letter. However, the city is still willing to enter negotiations for a new settlement, Orson said.

The city in recent months has taken steps to acquire the property by eminent domain after it was pulled from the proposed Tidewater Landing soccer stadium development planned for the Pawtucket riverfront. 

The battle over who develops the property dates back well before that, including the failed proposal to make it a new home for the PawSox. While the owners insist the city has not made them a valid offer to buy the property, the city contends that the owners have rejected offers for a “fair price.”

City tax assessor records show that the 6 acres of land and the 100,000-square-foot building at 100 Main St. was valued at $4.3 million in 2018.

The suit asks for the court to issue a declaratory judgement in favor of the property owners and award damages through a trial. The original complaint was filed in January 2019 and has been in negotiations since then, according to court documents.

“Apex Development has every confidence that they will prevail in court. When all of the facts are disclosed, it will be clear that the substantive and sincere efforts Apex Development made in an attempt to work with the city regarding sale of the properties were not met with a serious response. In fact, there are many instances where offers and requests for information went without a response from the city for many months and more than a year in at least one instance. All of this occurred while Apex Development had its own development plans frozen as the city pursued its goals,” the company stated.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

Updates: Adds comment from Apex Development throughout, as well as comments from Theodore Orson, counsel to the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency.

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