It can take time for an idea to grow, but it needs to start someplace.
For home developer Hugh Fisher, Dan Geagan of the planning department planted the seed more than four years ago. Lisa Primiano of the Department of Environmental Management nurtured the concept, and finally Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur pushed it along.
Fisher is the owner of more than 200 lots that comprise a wetlands and wooded area running down the spine of Warwick Neck. Last week, Mayor Scott Avedisian announced Fisher would give 119 of those lots, making up 18 acres, to the city to create a greenway from Meadowview Avenue to Rocky Point Avenue. Ladouceur and Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono have docketed the agreement.
In a telephone interview Monday, Fisher said Geagan approached him with the concept of giving six lots to the city when it converted a closed portion of Meadowview Avenue into a bike and walking path connecting Warwick Neck and Palmer Avenues. Fisher donated the lots and, at Geagan’s insistence, attended a formal opening of the path in October 2011. That’s where he met Primiano. She advanced the idea of creating a greenway.
The seed was planted.
“That kind of got me thinking,” Fisher said.
Ladouceur was also intrigued with the concept and brought it up when he and Fisher talked at the grand opening of Rocky Point as a state park in October 2014.
“We got to chatting,” Fisher said. The idea of a greenway was growing.
The lots are part of a bigger parcel listed under the name of Lion Realty, a company that Fisher acquired more than 10 years ago. Many of the lots are wetlands. Also, the city has held them in tax title for the failure of the payment of taxes, according to City Tax Assessor Christopher Celeste.
“I love my city,” Fisher said. He also has an affection for Rocky Point, remembering visiting the park as a kid and being one of five developers to submit a bid and proposal after the park closed and the Small Business Administration, as the appointed receiver for the Federal District Court, conducted an auction for the property.
Fisher said his plan for the park would have been beautiful, but he didn’t win the bid, and after many years and several other housing proposals that fell victim to the declining market, the city acquired 41 acres of shoreline and voters approved a bond issue in 2010 that made possible state acquisition of the remaining 83 acres.
Fisher said the Lion Realty property initially consisted of more than 200 lots. He said he wasn’t interested in most of it because of the difficulties of development. However, there was to be no piecemeal sale and the deal was to buy the company and its assets or leave it.
Celeste didn’t have the particulars on how long taxes haven’t been paid and what that might total. For Fisher to gain a clear title, he would have to pay off the taxes plus interest. Conversely, for the city to obtain clear title would require extended legal work.
“This clears their title,” Fisher said of the gift to the city. “There’s no reason for the city to do that [the legal work to get a clear title].”
At one time the road served as a connector between Palmer and Warwick Neck Avenues. In a prior life it was part of the right of way for the trolley that linked Oakland Beach and Warwick Neck. After becoming a dead end, the Palmer Avenue end of the road became a popular dumping ground. It was overgrown and filled with trash. With a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management grant and city funds, the 400-foot section of abandoned roadway was converted into a walking and bike path. The lots Fisher donated to the project ensured no development bordering the path.
According to the administration the donation, if authorized, would further goals outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, including pursuing improved connectivity of parks, open space, recreation land and water resources with neighborhood and other community destinations; protecting Warwick’s critical wildlife and wildlife habitat; protecting, preserving and enhancing natural resource areas adjacent to developed or potentially developed areas; and working to promote efforts to protect and enhance tree resources.
In a statement, Avedisian said, “This generous donation would add to the significant amount of land that has already been preserved and protected from development in that neighborhood alone, including the nearly 124 acres at Rocky Point, and 8.5 acres of farmland adjacent to the park property known as Rocky Point Farm.”
He added, “It will also ensure the protection of our valuable natural resources, and further efforts to increase pedestrian connections to Rocky Point. I thank Hugh Fisher for his willingness to make this donation and Councilmen Ladouceur and Colantuono for sponsoring this legislation. I am hopeful that the full council will vote in favor of the resolution.”
Asked about the agreement Monday, Avedisian said it does not include the forgiveness on taxes on those parcels Fisher would be keeping.
Ladouceur could not be reached Monday, but in a statement released to the Beacon he said, “This is a great thing for the environment and it’s a win-win for the city and the taxpayers and, especially, the residents of Ward 5.”