With lawsuits dismissed, Metacomet redevelopment pushes ahead

PLANS TO REDEVELOP the former Metacomet Golf Club in East Providence with housing, retail and commercial space are advancing after being stymied by lawsuits from former golf club members and citizens. /PBN FILE PHOTO

EAST PROVIDENCE – The controversial redevelopment of the former Metacomet Golf Club property still lacks specifics, with the developer yet to submit their project plans to the city more than two years after buying the property.

But with prior lawsuits seeking to stop the sale and rezoning now dismissed, city leaders say the project can move ahead in earnest.

First on the agenda: setting policies about building heights, traffic flow and other design elements for the 140-acre expanse off Veterans Memorial Parkway. The East Providence City Council in 2021 approved a requested rezoning for the property, outlining a host of permitted uses for the former open space, as well as some that are not allowed, like hotels and big-box retail stores. The rezoning also includes provisions ensuring that about half the land must remain as open space, including a 9-hole golf course available for community use.

But before developer Marshall Properties Inc. can submit its project plans, the East Providence Waterfront Commission must decide on more detailed design policies. The commission is working through the design guidelines for the property, which set limits on building heights, materials, traffic flow and other elements, with plans to approve a final set of guidelines sometime in the first quarter of the year, according to William Fazioli, commission chairman.

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Only after those guidelines are approved will Marshall submit an actual project proposal to the city, according to Fazioli.

The redevelopment plans have been mired in controversy since the private golf club was put up for sale in 2018. A group of former club members sued the former owners, including local golf legend Brad Faxon, for selling the club after members already paid a full year’s dues of $3,800 apiece. The members unsuccessfully sought to require the club to remain open for the 2020 season, and the case was dismissed in October 2020, according to records with Providence/Bristol County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, community residents also started to push back, forming a citizen activist group called Keep Metacomet Green! To try and stop the redevelopment. The group sued the East Providence City Council and the developer after the council approved the rezoning in 2021, but withdrew the lawsuit in February 2022 according to Superior Court documents.

WITH THE APPROVED rezoning for the former Metacomet Golf Club property, the East Providence Waterfront Commission is now developing more specific design rules for the project. / COURTESY MARSHALL PROPERTIES

Candy Seel, an organizer for Keep Metacomet Green!, said they dropped the lawsuit because they could not afford the legal fees. While the group has stopped holding organized rallies along Veterans Parkway, it hasn’t given up, and is now turning its attention to influencing the final design guidelines for the property, Seel said.

“I don’t want to say we’ve dropped all hope, but at this point we had to go on a parallel course, to work with the process and get the guardrails we think are important,” Seel said.

In a pair of memos submitted to the Waterfront Commission and shared with PBN, the group detailed its priorities for the design guidelines, including limiting new traffic on Veterans Memorial Parkway and making sure new buildings fit with the “architectural character” of the neighborhood.

Many of these recommendations are things the commission is considering anyway, Fazioli said.

As for the Parkway, as a state road, it is already subject to regulations that mirror what Keep Metacomet Green! is asking for, such as no traffic lights or roundabouts, said City Council President Robert Rodericks.

Rodericks agreed that the city should keep Veterans Parkway “as intact as possible’ but also said that an increase in traffic was to be expected from new housing and commercial development.

“The parkway has changed, but I think for the better,” Rodericks said.

Rodericks described the project as a “good compromise,” noting the open space and community access that was not available before when it was a private golf club. 

Though Marshall Properties initially threatened to develop the property “by right” with no public, open space after its initial rezoning request received pushback, the company has since been cooperative with and responsive to the city, according to Mayor Robert DaSilva.

“People try to vilify developers, but the reality is, they were offered an opportunity to purchase a property, they bought it, and they have gone through the process,” DaSilva said. 

Marshall Properties did not return multiple calls for comment.

Once the Waterfront Commission approves new design guidelines, the company will submit project plans, which will then go through a public review and approval process as well as permitting before any construction can begin, according to Fazioli.

Rodericks said the developer told him it would take about 10 years to complete their project after a plan is approved. He blamed the lawsuits and complaints for the lengthy timeline, but also said it was not any longer than the completion for other area projects. For example, plans to redevelop the dilapidated Narragansett Park Plaza on the Pawtucket/East Providence line were approved in 2018, but construction has yet to begin, Rodericks said.

DaSilva also said he wasn’t worried about timing.

“A development of this size needs proper review,” he said. “We’re not in a rush to get things done. We want to do it the right way.”

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

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