The Cranston Planning Commission has their work cut out for them after hearing nearly five hours of testimony from developers and residents alike on the Lodges at Phenix Glen proposal. The meeting ran until just before midnight last Tuesday, leaving the commission with a lot to consider before their April meeting, at which time they will render a decision on initial approval or denial of the development.
The Procaccianti Group and TPG Development, LLC, has proposed a mixed-use planned district for the area on Phenix Avenue just off the ramp to Route 37, before the Cranston Veterans Memorial Ice Rink. The development would include 7,200 square feet of office space, 192 residential rental units and a resident-only clubhouse and swimming pool.
“The Lodges will be a top quality, upscale development with rents at or above what is in the city today. We are confident that The Lodges represent the best type of development consistent with the Comprehensive Plan,” said Michael Voccola, Esq., manager for the applicant and corporate vice president of The Procaccianti Group.
Residents are not so sure. While speakers both for and against the proposal stepped forward, the majority were Ward 4 homeowners who urged the Planning Commission to deny the application.
Resident Katie King, for example, is hesitant to sign on when there is no information on what businesses would be moving in and what type of traffic they would generate.
“When you have retail, that means you have KFC, you have Taco Bell and you have McDonalds. They will be coming and going; anything can come in,” she said.
Fred Joslyn, a resident who has led the charge against the development, keeping his neighbors in the loop about public meetings for The Lodges, is adamantly opposed to this proposal.
“This project for the Natick Avenue and Phenix Avenue area is totally inappropriate,” he said. “The density in this project is far in excess of anything that is reasonable for this area.”
Former Councilman Robert Pelletier agreed, pointing out that the Comprehensive Plan mentions the potential for a village center when detailing future development on Phenix Avenue. He believes the current plan “grossly exceeds” the definition of a village center.
The area, Joslyn continued, is steeped in history, from the Oaklawn Grange to homes on the National Register. He fears that a development the size of The Lodges would negatively impact the character of the surrounding neighborhoods.
And while the developer pointed to increased tax revenue from the project, Joslyn said the costs outweigh the benefits. He used another rental development, Independence Place apartments, as an example. In 2011, Cranston Police responded to 85 emergency calls from the complex. The previous year, the numbers were comparable, with 87 calls.
“I dare say that if there were single family homes at this project site, there wouldn’t be as many calls,” Joslyn said.
Voccola said that the services utilized by The Lodges residents would be minimal, as snow removal, waste collection, street maintenance and lighting would all be maintained in-house. The costs associated with connecting to the sewers, either across 295 or through existing residential pipes, would also be paid for by TPG.
“There is sufficient capacity in the city sewer system … it will not tax any of the city systems at more than 10 percent at the most critical point,” said Peter Alviti Jr., a sanitary sewer engineer for Hudson Place Associates, who was one of seven experts to testify on behalf of the developer.
Moreover, the property is not as likely to attract families with school-age children as single-family homes, which he surmised would result in less education dollars spent on the increased population.
“It has little or no amenities that attract families that have children,” said Joseph Lombardo, a certified land use planner with JDL Enterprises.
The project summary details that the rental units are geared toward renters ages 40 to 65 and will not include affordable housing, as was previously thought by residents in the area. The amount of taxes brought in, by comparison, would be roughly $118,000 annually, not including the fees and construction costs that would be funneled into the city during construction. The state would collect an estimated $1.5 million in sales tax revenue for this project, as well as motor vehicle taxes and permanent jobs resulting from the commercial office space.
Joslyn wasn’t impressed. When divided by the city’s population, he noted that the net gain is just $1.47 per resident – an increase he does not believe validates the development.
Drake Patten, a Phenix Avenue resident and former Providence City Planning Commissioner, said she did not envy the commission, as the job before them is a difficult one. She understands that emotions are irrelevant to the discussion but said it was impossible for residents of the area not to feel protective of their space. When she left Providence for Cranston, and thereby invested in the city, she was confident that the rural character of her neighborhood would be protected.
“Together, I know we can do something remarkable and something so much better than what we see here tonight,” she said.
Former Councilman Aram Garabedian, a co-trustee of the Deb Bonis Sand and Gravel Company that owns the land, disagrees and said Cranston could do much worse. He is confident that the land will be developed one way or the other, and previous proposals included as much as 80,000 square feet of commercial space. He believes that misinformation is permeating public perception of the project, and casting the developers in an unfairly negative light.
“It’s fear that drives everyone. You’ve got to disprove it with facts and figures,” he said. “I feel the project has merit.”
Matthew Coppa was one of the residents to speak in favor of the project, and he agreed with Garabedian.
“If you as a commission take these misperceptions into account, you are doing a disservice,” he said. “There’s virtually nothing to dislike about the plan. I think we’re fortunate to have them willing to make this investment.”
By far, however, the biggest concern for residents is traffic.
“There is already a terrible traffic problem that needs to be addressed,” said David Nadeau. “If this proposal is passed, traffic can and will get worse.”
He said the development “will cause more traffic, congestion and chaos.”
By increasing the “storage length” of the turn lanes on either side of Phenix, the traffic engineers commissioned by TPG said that traffic would be mitigated enough to minimize the overall impact. The developer would also put a light at the entrance of the development, repaint the street lines and slightly widen the lanes during repainting. The traffic signals would be retimed to optimize response.
“Our proposed improvements will provide adequate capacity and we have developed a mitigation plan … that will result in the delays not increasing from increasing conditions. Some of the movements at these intersections will improve from our efforts,” said Robert Clinton, the transportation engineer with Vanasse Hanger Brustlin, Inc.
The audience scoffed at that explanation, and residents maintain that the traffic problems will only worsen if this development goes through. In speaking with constituents, House Majority Leader Rep. Nicholas Mattiello said it is clear how the majority of the area feels about the plan.
“I don’t think they want nothing, but I think they believe it’s too much,” he said. “I don’t think this is what was envisioned when they said this side of the city would be developed.”
If the proposal is approved by the Planning Commission next month, it will need to undergo a detailed plan review, a site plan review and then will go before another public meeting at the Cranston City Council. Finally, it will return to the Planning Commission for final approval.
“This is just the beginning of a very long process,” said Peter Lapolla, director of the city’s Planning Department.