NEWS

Bridge dismantled

Landowners drop plan for Pawtuxet land, residents want river access

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 5/4/23

If there was a bridge between the owners of 175 Post Road and the Pawtuxet neighbors who are looking to halt development of the commercial-zone property and save most of the 15 acres as open space, …

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NEWS

Bridge dismantled

Landowners drop plan for Pawtuxet land, residents want river access

Posted

If there was a bridge between the owners of 175 Post Road and the Pawtuxet neighbors who are looking to halt development of the commercial-zone property and save most of the 15 acres as open space, it appears to have literally and figuratively gone.

Last week Nicholas Goodier, attorney representing property owners Lee Beausoleil and Artak Avagyan submitted a two paragraph letter to the Zoning Board of Review withdrawing their appeal of the planning board decision granting them the right to build two buildings, which would be rented to contractors to garage equipment and materials on the cement pad of what had been the Hammel-Dahl valve manufacturing plant. They also dropped their application for the project.

“That came as a surprise,” said Jeff Sutton of the Pawtuxet Green River Revival in an interview Saturday. The grass roots organization came to life last summer after a trailhead sign erected by Boy Scouts was taken down and no trespassing signs were posted on the wooded east side of the property. The trail follows the banks of the Pawtuxet River and connects with a trail on the opposite side of the river in a loop of about two miles.

To access the river, a bridge built by the scouts about 30 years ago crossed a stream.

As Sutton talked, he said he had heard the bridge was being removed. Indeed, a later visit to the trail found Beausoleil and Avagyan erecting a trail barricade using boards from the bridge, Avagyan said, “we can’t afford to have anyone get hurt.”

He said he walked the trail earlier in the day, discovering the  beams crossing the span, which appear to have been utility poles, rotted and close to collapsing into a small ravine.  One of the poles was clearly rotted on the east embankment of the stream.

Sutton and village residents were prepared for a legal that could have taken them to Superior Court and drawn on for years. The organization set a goal of raising $3,000 that rapidly grew to $6,000 through donations ranging from $25 to $100 plus a $1,000 donation.

What set this battle between developers and residents apart from others is that following Planning Board approval of City Planner Thomas Kravitz’s proposal to enlarge the area developers had agreed to set aside is a conservation easement and grant the development, both the developers and the objectors appealed the decision to the Zoning Board of Review. This has never happened to the recollection of city officials and posed the question how the city was going to rule on both sides of the issue. The developers were not prepared to forfeit the additional land – about 2 acres – that Kravitz thought would seal a deal while the neighbors didn’t want the development and for the site to be cleaned up.

“Pause,” was how Goodier described his clients’ decision to drop the appeal and master plan approval for the project. He pointed out under the current zoning they can use the property for a variety of things by right. Specifically,, he mentioned parking trucks.

When encountered during the visit to the trail Saturday where they were working, Beausoleil and Avagyan didn’t offer plans for use of the property at this point. They defended what they felt was a more than generous plan to leave about seven acres in a conservation easement, but when the planner pushed for more they drew the line.

“They don’t want anything here,” said Avagyan.

Beausoleil looked at it from his perspective, “how much more can we give? We tried. We have not obligation to give anything.”

The pair suggests if the community is intent on saving the property from development, they should take up a collection and buy it.

“We are more than willing to sell it,” said Avagyan. Reflecting on the meeting last summer with Mayor Frank Picozzi prompted by the removal of the trailhead sign and posting of no trespassing signs, the issue of city ownership came up. Beausoleil said Picozzi said the city has enough work maintaining city owned property and that he is looking to increase tax revenues by enhanced development of property.

Referring to abutting property owner, singer, songwriter and pianist Vanessa Carlton, Beausoleil said, she suggested the city acquire the land and when that didn’t happen, “she wants to come and rile everyone else…it’s not about the people it’s about her.”

That’s not the way attorney and Pawtuxet resident Matt Jerzyk sees it.

“I’m ecstatic that the community prevailed,” he said of the withdrawal that he called one victory in the battle to turn the land into a park. He said about 50 neighbors attended a meeting Saturday at the Rhode Island Yacht Club to talk about next steps and to enjoy a barbecue albeit somewhat chilly.

He said Beausoleil and Avagyan requested a meeting about a month ago and then failed to show up. “They snubbed their noses at the community…they have shown nothing but distain to the community.”

He labeled removal of the bridge as another example of distain, saying if it was hazard he thought the group could raise the money to replace it. As for concerns over any liability faced by walkers, Jerzyk said they could agree to an easement for the trail and “they would have no liability.”

“There are easy solutions to all these problems if they would sit at a table like rational human beings,” he said.”

With an application and the appeal off the table, Jerzyk said the group will turn to the mayor and city council. “There are many actions they could take,” he said.

What about acquisition of the property?

Jerzyk thinks there are organizations that would entertain such an acquisition, but it would need to be more realistic than the $3 million for 15 acres of “toxic soil” the pair said they wanted.

“That’s another example of not wanting to sit down,” he said.

As for the immediate issue of the closed trail, missing bridge and access to the river, he said we need the “attorney general, mayor, DEM to step forward and require them to reopen it.”

bridge, Pawtuxet, plan