More than 400 people have signed a petition calling on the city to buy as much as 12 acres bordering the Pawtuxet River and “close the loop” to a 2.3 mile walking trail that circles …
More than 400 people have signed a petition calling on the city to buy as much as 12 acres bordering the Pawtuxet River and “close the loop” to a 2.3 mile walking trail that circles between Warwick and Cranston. The trail follows both sides of the river with crossings at the bridge in the center of Pawtuxet Village and at Warwick Avenue.
That loop was broken in the spring of 2022 when the owners of 175 Post Road the 15-acre site of the former Hammel Dahl valve manufacturing company posted no trespassing signs on the section of trail that had been maintained for decades by Boy Scouts. Residents were outraged, calling on Mayor Frank Picozzi to intervene. He appealed to the owners but they didn’t want the liability of opening the trail to the public. Meanwhile, Lee Beausoleil and Artak Avagyan who bought the property in 2019 for $450,000 filed plans with the city to build units that would be rented to independent contractors. The units would be built on the concrete pad of the prior manufacturing operation, which they had demolished. Their initial petition for the buildings was withdrawn when it was learned there was an outstanding violation with the DEM over the storage of PVC pipes within close proximity of the river. The violation was corrected and the owners came before the Planning Board again setting the stage for a standoff between the neighborhood and the property owners.
City Planner Thomas Kravitz and the Warwick Planning Board sought to find some middle ground. On Feb. 8 concluding hours of hearing, the Planning Board granted master plan approval to a reduced complex on condition about 12 acres be placed into a conservation easement - most of it wetlands - that included the trail. Beausoleil and Avagyan were agreeable to the buildings but objected to the extensive easement, especially a wooded area along Post Road not subject to river flooding during storms. The residents who banded to form the Pawtuxet Green River Revival objected, reasoning the site unsuitable for development because of contaminates that is a flood plain. For the first time to the recollection of Planning Board officials, both the petitioners and objectors appealed the decision to the Zoning Board of Review. The matter would have probably ended up in Superior Court had Beausoleil and Avagyan not withdrawn their petition.
Yesterday Artak Avagyan said he and Beausoleil may not have appealed the decision had the residents not appealed it first. He pointed out that residents were not satisfied with the 12 acre conservation easement proposed by the Planning Board, so he concludes they won’t be happy with anything. Also, he points out during the appeal process something might have been worked out to the satisfaction of both parties, but “now they have nothing.”
According to Matt Jerzyk, attorney representing the Pawtuxet group who lives on the Cranston side of the river, he met with the mayor and members of the group have had multiple meetings over the summer with council members and city officials. He believes a conservation easement of nine to 12 acres would be a win-win for the owners, neighborhood and those who walk the trail. Based on the fact that much of the land is a wetland and unbuildable, Jerzyk estimated the cost of the easement at $50,000 and the total cost including surveying and other fees would be less than $100,000.He thought the money could be raised through grants and use of American Rescue Act Program funds. He said it would be “low cost to city, preserves trail and I think really reasonable and fair.”
“We’re not a NIMBY movement,” said Jerzyk. “The end game is not to stop development.”
In response Avagyan pointed out yesterday he and Beausoliel own the land and that if the city or the residents are looking for a conservation easement they would need to buy it.
Fanning the coals, Beausoleil and Avagyan, filed on Nov. 9 for Department of Environmental Management approval to erect a chain link fence running along Venturi Avenue, Post Road and the wooded east side of the property and the trail to the river. The fence would cross a stream where the Scouts built a bridge as part of the trail. The bridge was removed by Beausoleil and Avagyan in early May this year.
“We are petitioning the City of Warwick to pay fair market value for the 12 acres of unbuildable green space that was formally proposed to be placed in a conservation easement by the Warwick Planning Board,” reads the petition. The petition does not offer a suggestion of fair market value. Jerzyk said the purpose of the petition is to gauge community support of the plan.
The petition continues, “This land contains a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regulated floodway, wetlands, the Pawtuxet River Trail, and the Pawtuxet riverfront. Cranston created Pawtuxet Oxboes Park on their side of the Trail. It is time for Warwick to do their part and restore access to the historic trail and protect the Pawtuxet River.”
Coldwell Banker lists the site as having 20 units available for exterior parking , “perfect for tractor trailers, construction vehicles, boats, RV's, vehicles, dump trucks, flatbeds, you name it.” The site would be fenced. Units would be 12 by 80 feet, “with easy access in and out for long term storage or daily use.”
Jeff Sutton. President of the Pawtuxet Green River Revival said two trucks are currently on the site. He questions why the owners would extend the fence to Post Road and then down the east side of the site when the truck parking area is a fraction of the space. Jerzyk raises the same question, adding it would appear the fence would provide greater security if in close proximity to the parked vehicles. Noting that a chain link fence on his property was carried down river during flooding, he wondered what damage the extensive fencing being proposed could do if swept away. He said it could become a “terrible weapon” that could damage houses and boats.
Both Jerzyk and Sutton mentioned wildlife in the area and that there is a marked deer crossing on Post Road. They ask how the fence will impact wildlife.
Avagyan said he is looking to fence the property to keep trespassers out and for security.
Picozzi said he would respond to the petition when he receives it. Not that it is proposed, he does not see how the city could acquire the land through eminent domain and asked what it might sell for.
The following letter was submitted in response to this article on 11/16/23. It will appear in print in the 11/23/23 edition:
To the Editor,
While we appreciate the Warwick Beacon publishing an article highlighting our petition to Mayor Picozzi to get the Pawtuxet River Trail reopened, we were not given the opportunity to respond to the property owners’ false and misleading statements in the story. We are writing to clear the record.
First, Mr. Avagyan falsely stated that the owners would not have appealed if the community had not appealed. The truth is that his lawyer actually filed his notice of appeal first. And they made clear at the planning board that they were unhappy and planned on appealing. Mr. Avagyan stated at the public planning board meeting, “We are not giving up that land!” “That land” refers to the conservation easement (including the land of the River Trail) proposed by the Planning Board as a condition of approving their project.
Second, Mr. Avagyan falsely stated that the community was “not satisfied with the 12 acre conservation easement.” The community supported this easement but chose to appeal the fact that the proposed industrial use on the banks of the Pawtuxet River was inconsistent with the Warwick Comprehensive Plan and city laws which specifically provide for the protection of the Pawtuxet River.
Third, Mr. Avagyan falsely stated that a compromise with the community could have been reached during the appeals process. On multiple occasions, the community reached out to set up a meeting with the owners and they refused. Then, in March, the owners finally agreed and a date and time was set. Unfortunately, the owners canceled the scheduled meeting and refused our attempts at rescheduling it.
The bottom line is that the community stands ready and willing to sit at the table and support a responsible development that reopens the Pawtuxet River Trail and does not pollute or harm the Pawtuxet River. The owners, as of now, can’t say the same.
Jeff Sutton, Jaime Sweeney, Vanessa McCauley, and Jean Sutton
Pawtuxet Green Revival