WARWICK, RI — City Planner Tom Kravitz figured he’d found a reasonable compromise between owners proposing a 65,000 sq. ft. contractor storage facility at 175 Post Road and members of the Pawtuxet Green Revival neighborhood group.
“I thought I found a middle ground for everybody,” Kravitz said. A draft approval. An expanded conservation easement preserving the trail through the property.
Neither party liked it, Kravitz learned during the Jan. 10 Warwick Planning Board meeting at Warwick Veterans Middle School Auditorium, 2401 West Shore Road. Public comment lasted so long the agenda item was continued till the Feb. 8 meeting.
The meeting had to be called to an end at 11:15 p.m., said Jeff Sutton, spokesman for the Pawtuxet Green Revival. About 100 of their members showed to speak against the proposal, he said. They also presented a letter opposing the project signed by 500 residents, a number that has since grown to more than 900.
“It was a pretty contentious meeting,” Sutton said, with Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) and Sen. Josh Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) speaking against the project along with the residents.
McNamara criticized numerous PVC pipes and other materials stored on the site, noting the proximity to the Pawtuxet River mean they may be swept into the waterway during a flood, blocking it physically and potentially adding chemicals to the waters. The debris, along with unsecured gates lacking environmental notices, is visible in a video the Green Pawtuxet Revival has posted documenting the property’s condition.
“These sun-baked PVC and high poly products could easily be launched into the Pawtuxet River during the next flooding event leading to the contamination of the Pawtuxet Cove and Bay. It would be the equivalent of a half million nip bottles being dumped into our state’s most treasured resource,” McNamara said.
“I believe the Master Plan for 175 Post Road before [the Planning Board] would pose a substantial and unnecessary environmental risk to this area and the fragile ecosystem that exists within it,” said Miller. “It is for this reason that I implore you board not to grant approval to this plan.”
The owners, Artak Avagyan and Lee Beausoleil, who were opposed to altering their proposal, have not since updated their application. Kravitz said he has drafted both an approval and a denial of the plan, depending on where the Planning Board discussion leads during the Feb. 8 meeting.
“So maybe they would have appealed our approval,” had the matter been settled at the last meeting, Kravitz said, noting that an appealed approval is an easier contest for Warwick to win than an outright denial.
Avagyan pointed out that redevelopment of the site will involve a number of improvements to the site, including improved drainage. At the moment, according to Pimentel Consulting, Inc., hired by the owners to assess the proposal’s compliance with Warwick’s Comprehensive Plan, the site is covered in impermeable material, with uncontrolled runoff draining into the Pawtuxet River. The plan also calls for about 6.9 acres of land to be protected from future development by the plan’s proposed conservation easement, which would provide direct permanent public access to the open space.
The proposal also preserves a trail on the property, though the existing trailhead would be moved, preserving a portion of the property for future development.
“I think, what we’re doing, we’ve gone above and beyond,” Avagyan said, adding that it’s his property and he can decide what he wants to do with it.
Avagyan said if the proposal is denied, “Everything that we’re willing to give, property-wise, is going to be taken off the table.” He said he is willing to improve the site, but won’t alter his plans for the property in the process.
“I want to make it better. I’m on the same side as them,” he said.
Members of the Pawtuxet Green Revival don’t think they’re on the same side. They’re also not on the same page, at least not the one where Pimentel Consulting assesses the proposal as a fit within the Comprehensive Plan.
“The development conflicts with the Warwick Comprehensive Plan, which explicitly calls on city policy makers to reject development that poses a hazard to the Pawtuxet River. The proposed plan would allow construction trucks to enter and exit the site at all hours within a residential neighborhood. Such activity should only be permitted in a heavy industrial zone, which this site is not,” wrote Marilyn Hudson-Tremayne, a member of the Green Pawtuxet Revival, on their Facebook page.
Also, she wrote, “Contractors will use these buildings to store construction equipment, oil, gas, and other chemicals. In 2010, this site was under six feet of water. Allowing the storage of harmful chemicals in a flood zone could lead to an environmental disaster impacting one of Warwick’s natural gems.”
Warwick’s Comprehensive Plan sets the Pawtuxet River as a protected resource on page 22, noting as a goal: “Warwick’s natural resource systems, sensitive water resources and natural habitat are preserved and protected for future generations,” specifying the relevant policy, “Support continued initiatives to improve water quality and habitat quality in the Pawtuxet River and its watershed.”
Kravitz said once a plan for the site is approved, additional oversight from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will begin.
Under new state wetlands rules, the project would be considered a “major land development” requiring the City’s approval before DEM could accept a permitting application from the applicant, DEM’s communication department stated when asked about that process.
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