Why is the planning commission hearing the Cumberland Farms proposal again?
To the Editor:
On March 6 the Cranston’s Planning Commission will be voting on a proposal to change the City’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and zoning classifications for four parcels at the corner of Park Ave. and Warwick Ave. in Edgewood. The two Ordinances before the commission, 10-17-03 & 10-17-04, are essentially the same as Ordinances 4-15-05 & 4-15-06 that were before the planning commission in April 2015. The end goal of the petitioner is also the same as in 2015: demolition of 4 structures, including 2 residential homes, so that a Cumberland Farms mini-mart and gas station can be built in this densely populated residential area. The majority of the residents living near this proposal are against these ordinances as evidenced by approximately four hours of public comment at the Feb. 6th Planning Commission meeting.
In 2015, Peter S. Lapolla, Cranston City Planning Director, recommended against ordinance 4-15-05 stating, “Absent sound planning reasons [which have not been made] to warrant a change to the future land use map, staff would suggest that planning process used to develop the land use classifications and the classifications ultimately adopted are correct and the Future Land Use Plan should not be amended”. In June 2015, these two ordinances were denied by the Cranston City Council.
So why are these similar ordinances before the planning commission and Cranston City Council in 2018 with no substantial changes? Evidently, as long as a petitioner waits 24 months, they can re-introduce the same petition that has already been denied. I am told the doctrine of Administrative Finality does not apply to City Councils so basically the same petition that was already denied can consume the city’s resources over and over again.
So what has changed? Well, besides the Cranston City Council membership, nothing has changed. But according to a memo that Lapolla submitted prior to his retirement in January 2018, he has changed his recommendation on Ordinance 10-17-03 (same as Ordinance 4-15-05). LaPolla stated, “While staff normally does [not] present value judgments regarding the quality of existing development, staff would note that the commercial properties at the intersection suffer from benign neglect and have been underutilized for a number of years.” This is precisely what the Comprehensive Plan warns about in the Economic Development Element: “A lack of compelling vision and coherent strategy creates a ‘take what comes’ attitude to economic development.” Basically, since the land owner has been unable or unwilling to do anything with these properties for two years since these ordinances were initially denied, the City of Cranston should give him a pass and approve the ordinances in 2018 so he can get a lot of money from Cumberland Farms as a reward for neglecting and underutilizing his properties. It doesn’t matter that 11 residential homes will abut this gas station. It doesn’t matter that approximately 40 homes within 300 feet of this proposed gas station will be ineligible for FHA and VA loans because large quantities of gas will be stored too close to these homes. It doesn’t matter that neighboring homes will be exposed to health risks including a four times increased risk of leukemia for children living near this proposed gas station. If these ordinances pass, the message to us homeowners is that the City of Cranston does not care about our homes, our financial future, our neighborhood. The City of Cranston is more interested in demolishing homes and creating 10 full time jobs at one location while nearby small businesses are put out of business. I know, I know, that is not a valid argument according to the “powers that be” but it seems pretty realistic to me. Cranston City Council and Mayor Fung: the other six gas stations within a mile of my home provide all the gas we need, is another unnecessary gas station really worth our homes, our children’s health, and our financial future?