By JOHN HOWELL Mayor Joseph Solomon won some votes Saturday and he didn't have to put a toe into the pristine waters of Sand Pond. The occasion was the first ever Sand Pond Palooza, a gathering of watercraft on the pond and an audience on the pond beach,
Mayor Joseph Solomon won some votes Saturday and he didn’t have to put a toe into the pristine waters of Sand Pond.
The occasion was the first ever Sand Pond Palooza, a gathering of watercraft on the pond and an audience on the pond beach, intent on stopping the development of a three-story, 630-unit self-storage facility at Pond Plaza on Post Road. The intent of the Palooza, according to organizer Jane Allsworth, was to have some fun, show off the pond and bring together the neighborhood.
It was more than that. Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix was in attendance, as was Senator Michael McCaffrey and then, later in the afternoon, Mayor Solomon. Solomon didn’t pass up an opportunity to speak to the group on an introduction made by pond neighbor David Bouchard.
Bouchard praised City Planner William DePasquale who, since former Mayor Scott Avedisian resigned to head the Rhode Island Transit Authority, also serves as Solomon’s chief of staff. Last September, the neighborhood turned out in force to oppose master plan approval for the self-storage facility. The Planning Board found the development non-compliant with the city’s comprehensive plan.
It’s wasn’t the end of the fight.
Project developer PRW Holdings LLC appealed to the Zoning Board of Review earlier this year. DePasquale stood firmly opposed. Basing its decision on technical aspects of city ordinances and the Planning Board decision, the Zoning Board overturned the planning board. Now PRW is seeking two special permits from the Zoning Board to proceed with the development.
“I wasn’t going to vote for him unless he showed up,” said one of the neighbors selling “Save Sand Pond” t-shirts, referring to Solomon. The sale of the shirts supports a fund to support the legal battle ahead. The mayor called the pond a “hidden treasure.” He spoke of his 100 days in office, how he named DePasquale his chief of staff and DePasquale’s passion for the city.
“We have listened; we are in agreement; let’s save the pond,” he said.
It would appear to be a victory for the neighborhood, yet the group isn’t letting up. Bouchard spoke of how the group has evolved since first appearing before the Planning Board. He said they have united and are no longer naïve and trusting; “we are resolute to have government by the people, for the people.”
Raising the prospect the Zoning Board could approve the special use permits, Rix urged the neighbors not to back off; to “investigate” plans for the development. “Keeping up the fight is so important.”
McCaffrey spoke of his childhood experiences, recalling how he skated on the small pond that is part of the larger pond and then being permitted to play hockey on Sand Pond when the ice was deemed safe. Former city councilman and a member of the planning board until his resignation last year, James Desmaris said if built the self-storage unit would be the highest building on Post Road other than the terminal at Green Airport between Apponaug and Pawtuxet.
“We have to go to every meeting and stop them,” he said.
As of Monday, a hearing before the Zoning Board had not been scheduled.
K. Joseph Shekarchi, attorney for the developer, said Monday the hearing will not be held Sept. 11 as originally scheduled and more likely in October, or perhaps as late as November. He said when it comes before the board, “the presentation will be based on facts, not emotion.”