Cumberland Farms plan fuels debate
Usually people like to curl up in front of a fire and read a book during these colder months. On Monday night there was certainly some fiery heat at William Hall Library, but there was very little reading to be done.
Cumberland Farms is once again looking to locate a gas station and convenience store on the corner of Park and Warwick Avenue, after being shot down by the City Council about two years ago. In what is still early in the process – the planning board has yet to meet to look at the company’s amended plan – representatives from the Massachusetts-based corporation and members of the Cranston community met in the auditorium of the Broad Street library.
The proposed location is across Warwick Avenue from the fire station and would fill the entire corner, including the stores and residences there now as well as some of the space towards the neighborhood in the back.
The amended plan takes away an additional curb cut and increases the size of the site.
In order to operate, Cumberland Farms requires a zone change from Commercial 2 to Commercial 3 and a special permit from to build the gas station/convenience store, according to attorney John Bolton, a Cranston resident himself who represented Cumberland Farms during the last go-around. He guided the Monday meeting, first giving a presentation alongside the project’s civil engineer Phil Henry and developer A.J. Barbato, then opening the floor for citizen input, of which there was both opposition and support for the proposed project.
The first concern mentioned: traffic. Citing a recent city development making Roger Williams Park a one-way with the only entrance on Park Avenue, many people said they’re already backed up on Park especially during rush hour and a Cumberland Farms would only make matters worse. Residents of the adjacent streets off of Warwick and Park added that it’s already tough enough to maneuver through the intersection. Lines would form, people would be trying to get in and out of the gas station, and traffic would get even more backed up, according to the citizens opposing the project.
The traffic study was done around the end of October to early November, according to Barbato, but data is still being collected and will be presented to the City Planning Commission on December 5.
Bolton said putting a Cumberland Farms at the intersection would increase traffic, but so would anything else that could be put there to replace the buildings – some vacant and some not – that are there now. This is because the location is zoned commercially already, so whatever goes into the intersection will generate more traffic, he said.
Coinciding with traffic concerns were questions of safety, as many people said it was already such a busy intersection that accidents were frequent and it is difficult for students at Park View, which has expanded to three grades now, to walk through.
A former Warwick city planner and Cranston resident Jonathan Stevens said that if they got past the “traffic challenge,” they’d have a design challenge. He suggested the store be located on the edge of the intersection, facing towards the neighborhood behind, so traffic could flow in an out that way. Bolton responded that this would make visibility around the corner much worse and therefore less safe for cars and pedestrians.
Another major concern is the effect a Cumberland Farms would have on local businesses, according to Garo Tashin, whose family owns a Speedy Mart down the road. In his opinion, the size and revenue of Cumberland Farms creates unfair competition for competing convenience stores and gas stations because of their low prices.
Other citizens were concerned that local businesses would suffer, including the businesses already there, which would be eliminated from the location, and nearby stores or restaurants. Bolton responded that residents can still decide to go to those stores rather than Cumberland Farms and there is nothing illegal or unfair about this kind of competition. Some in the audience applauded this, but others were skeptical and said that the low prices would inevitably drive out other businesses.
Residents who live directly nearby the proposed site, on Henry Street and Ingleside Avenue, had a myriad of concerns, including the sound concerns of delivery trucks, health effects of gas pumps, and an influx of people to the station.
In addition to many people in the packed room being opposed to the plan, a large contingent – maybe about 40 percent of the room – were supportive of the plan, shown by their applause whenever someone voiced support of Cumberland Farms. One reason for this, which was actually agreed upon by many of those in opposition as well, is the current setup of the corner, which is “ugly” and “couldn’t look worse,” according to multiple attendees.
One Providence resident also lauded the potential convenience of a gas station there as he gets on or off of route 10. Others agreed that convenience of the store, both with its food items and gasoline, would benefit people in the area.
The store, according to the project developer, will bring about 12-15 jobs with it. The hours will be 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the lights will be shut off overnight. Barbato added, “It’s not the plan right now to be open 24 hours.”
The traffic study will be finalized before the December 7 planning meeting, where the developers will present their plan to the commission.