Pawtucket commission grants 6-month extension for Apex redevelopment plans

THE PAWTUCKET CITY PLANNING COMMISSION on Tuesday approved a six-month extension to master plans to redevelop the Apex site in downtown Pawtucket. / PBN FILE HOTO/PAMELA BHATIA

PAWTUCKET – Amid a legal battle over development rights, the Pawtucket City Planning Commission has agreed to extend existing approvals on the project proposed for the iconic Apex property in downtown.

The commission’s 3-1 vote on Tuesday gives Apex Development Co. another six months to make progress on its plans for a mixed-use development for the 12-acre, five parcel swath along I-195 in Pawtucket. The master plan for Riverfront Commons first approved in 2015 calls for “thousands of acres” of  retail, office and restaurants, anchored by the Apex Department Store. The approval was set to expire on July 1.

THE FIVE PARCELS owned by Apex Development Co. LLC. in downtown Pawtucket have been proposed for a mixed-use development known as Riverfront Commons. / COURTESY APEX DEVELOPMENT CO.

Redevelopment of the site has been a source of contention between the city and the property owner for years, but has escalated in recent months with the city taking steps to to acquire the property by eminent domain after it was pulled from the proposed Tidewater Landing soccer stadium development. Apex in turn filed an amended lawsuit in R.I. District Court, alleging that the city prevented the company from their efforts to develop the area and that it violated state law.

Joshua Glass, an attorney representing Apex, reiterated much of the language in the company’s 69-page legal complaint when making the case to the commission in Tuesday, saying the company has been singled out and unfairly discriminated against by the city.

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“We have been absolutely frozen and unable to move forward,” he said. “No reasonable and prudent investor would move forward with the roadblocks that have been put in front of us.”

Commission member Monique Renaud, who voted against the extension, pointed out that the eminent domain proceedings only began in 2020, but that the company has not made progress in the five years prior to that.

Daniel J. Sullivan, co-chair of the Pawtucket Foundation, also urged the commission to deny the extension.

“They sat on this property for years,” he said, adding that he was “sick of the excuses” for why the project has failed to materialize.

Joseph Whelan, another attorney for Apex, fought back, noting that development efforts stalled after the property was included in a failed proposal in 2017 for a new baseball stadium, as well as later public statements by city officials declaring they would take ownership of the site.

“If you were a developer and you googled the property and you saw what was going on by state and government officials, do you think you would have a fair shot at developing the property?” Whelan asked.

Apex originally asked for a one-year extension with the clock not starting until outstanding litigation was settled. As recommended by Jay Rosa, assistant planning director, the commission decision is not tied to litigation, and gives six months rather than a year for the company to show “some form of progress.”

While Glass referenced detailed architectural and construction plans for the project, nothing new has been submitted to the city since the original schematic renderings set forth in 2015.

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

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