EAST PROVIDENCE – There won’t be any hotels, funeral homes, or big-box retail stores coming to the former Metacomet Golf Club property in East Providence.
But exactly what is in store for the 140-acre expanse off Veterans Memorial Parkway is still not clear.
The East Providence City Council early Wednesday morning voted to rezone the property from its current open space designation to a newly created sub-district within the city’s Waterfront District. The rezoning, approved by a 3-2 vote, lays out a host of permitted and conditional uses – and some which are not allowed – to guide property owner Marshall Properties in its project plans.
The decision follows more than a year and a half of rising tensions and on-again, off-again plans for what to do with the land, which was first sold in 2019. Even after Marshall pulled its original rezoning request last year, community members continued to rail against redevelopment, citing concerns about environmental and traffic impacts and fears that a mega shopping center would not fit with the rest of the neighborhood.
The latest rezoning request includes several concessions from the developers: giving an additional 10 acres of open space over to the city and keeping a small piece as a nine-hole golf course, as well as limits on heights of buildings – four or five stories depending on what side of the property. But there are still more than 80 uses either allowed by right or with certain conditions under the newly approved zoning – everything from single and multi-family residential to grocery stores – though these must be less than 25,000-square feet – corporate and government offices, retail, schools and even certain types of light industrial work.
The details of the live-work-shop community Marshall has said it intends to build are still unclear. No site or conceptual plans have been submitted to the city, according to spokesperson Patricia Resende. Marshall did not return multiple inquiries for comment.
For some, that is still too much leeway, particularly given the contentious relationship between the developer and the city in the past. The city has considered seizing the property by eminent domain, while Marshall threatened last year to develop it “by right” based on uses allowed under its existing zoning – meaning no city approvals or oversight would be needed.
Councilwoman Anna Sousa, who was one of two council members to oppose the rezoning, attempted in the meeting to give more direction through a series of ultimately unsuccessful amendments that would have further restricted building height, size and density.
“My hope was that we would have more limits, since we don’t know exactly what is going to be brought in,” she said in a later interview with PBN.
While the developer has repeatedly said it intends to be a “good neighbor,” Sousa was skeptical, characterizing the entire sale and development process to date as one shrouded in “smoke and mirrors.”
Candy Seel, one of the leaders of the citizen opposition group Keep Metacomet Green!, also cast doubt on the developer’s intention.
“They had a year [to develop more specific plans],” she said, referring to the time from when Marshall dropped its prior rezoning request. “If they were really interested, they could have come up with a concept plan and done some impact studies.”
The city does not require development projects to submit more detailed plans before authorizing a rezoning, nor is that typical, according to Resende. At some point, these details will be reviewed by the city through its Planning Board and East Providence Waterfront Commission.
While opponents have questioned the ability of these groups to fairly review the project – both are appointed, not elected – Council President Robert Britto said he was confident in the process and in the developer’s intentions.
“We did our due diligence, worked hard, and came up with what we thought was the best option and solution,” he said.
He added that whereas community members like himself once had no access to the space in its time as a private golf course, the new plans offer up nearly 60 acres of open space for community use and access.
And denying the rezoning does not stop development. As Councilman Nathan Cahoon explained in the meeting, rezoning allows the council at least some power to define the terms of what’s allowed.
“When I weigh the knowns versus the unknowns, the knowns represent a much more attractive path to me,” he said. “I see this as an opportunity to have input and some control.”
Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.
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