Taking sides

Posted 2/15/23

From the beginning, you could tell it was going to be a cat fight.

I had arranged to meet Lee Beausoleil in my office on a Saturday morning in June. He was self assured, on the cocky side as he …

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Taking sides


From the beginning, you could tell it was going to be a cat fight.

I had arranged to meet Lee Beausoleil in my office on a Saturday morning in June. He was self assured, on the cocky side as he described how he had been educated through the school of hard knocks, is a local kid and works hard. He was angered that Pawtuxet residents should tell him what to do with the 15-acre property he and his partner Artak Avagyan had paid $450,000 for. I don’t remember the exact words but essentially they were, “it’s my land and I can do with it want I want.”

In essence that’s what he wanted me to tell Beacon readers: “I’m going to do what I want because it’s my property.” Not that he asked, and I wouldn’t have expected him to, I would have told him, “you’re about to run into a buzz saw.” Pawtuxet residents are a tight knit group when it comes to the village. They defend it fiercely.

Usually I use this space to write about personal things from our dog Ollie, who I’m frequently asked about, to a severe summer night thunderstorm in the Berkshires while driving the Mass Pike. The hard driving rain obscured my vision and it had not been for the shoulder chatter strip I would have hit a truck that had already left the road. I came within a few feet of its tail lights before I even realized it was there.

This week’s column is written from the perspective of the observer rather than the participant – even though as the reporter one often needs to participate.

I could see Beausoleil’s defiance was going to buy him a lot of aggravation, especially when he and his partner Avagyan tore down the sign Boy Scouts erected on their property directing walkers to the river bank trail on their property. I was told the trail had been open to the public for the past 30 years and posting no trespass signs was akin to telling the Pope he couldn’t walk in St. Paul’s Cathedral Square.

I decided to see for myself just how sacred this walk is. On a warm summer afternoon I parked on Post Road, walked across the street to the trail head and instantly found myself on a well-worn wooded trail far removed from the hubbub of Warwick. I could have been in New Hampshire with the exception of the occasional overhead jet on the Green Airport landing pattern. I didn’t encounter a single other trespasser and soon came to the banks of the Pawtuxet where I saw small fish in the clear water and ducks. In the river shoreline, water bugs skated on the eddies. It was cool and refreshing. I understood why residents want to preserve access to this special place.

When I stepped back on the Post Road sidewalk, I was surprised to discover neither my visit nor my identity had gone undetected. “You’re John Howell, aren’t you,” said a woman who I hadn’t met and for whatever reason wants to remain anonymous.

I could only imagine the vigilance applied to watching every move on the 175 Post Road property.

It’s no wonder Pawtuxet Green Rival was able to collect 1,000 signatures on a petition opposed to  Beausoleil and Avagyan plans for a two building development to be rented to independent contractors for the storage of tractors, other vehicles and materials. People had made their minds up. They didn’t want the development regardless of how much of the 15 acres would be preserved with a conservation easement and the river trail would remain open. Two sides set on what they wanted and unwilling to consider anything less. That’s the way it works today.

Fortunately, the Planning Board and its chair Phil Slocum weighed issues by the city’s comprehensive plan and city ordinances.

Last Wednesday’s hearing where, after two hours of testimony the granted master plan approval with conditions to the development, is a case in point. Without a sound system and a lobby packed with more than 150 people, conditions were tough from the start. Slocum became the megaphone summarizing comments. It worked for awhile, but remember, minds had been made up. Slocum didn’t waver, allowing everyone to comment and bring new information forward. He wheeled his wheelchair into the midst of the audience so they might better hear him. He outlined the process and how if the board granted approval, the developers should they decide to proceed, would need to come before them again for preliminary and final approvals.

Board member Kevin Flynn explained why he moved for master plan approval of the project. It wasn’t what the residents or the developers wanted to hear. Both would be getting less than the full pie. Avagyan protested they have no intention of including 1.7 acres with Post Road frontage as part of the conservation easement. Residents wanted the land left undeveloped. Following the vote, there were boos and yells of “shame.”

This is not the end of the story. The sides are standing their ground, but they can’t say they weren’t heard or that the process was tipped. I would hope both parties see that despite feelings they have been treated unfairly.

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