By DANIEL KITTREDGE The proposed Cranston Crossing development, to be anchored by a planned Costco store with a fueling station, has captured the attention of city residents, local officials and political candidates - a fact made clear by the turnout at
The proposed Cranston Crossing development, to be anchored by a planned Costco store with a fueling station, has captured the attention of city residents, local officials and political candidates – a fact made clear by the turnout at last week’s initial public meeting on the matter.
Dozens of mask-clad people – more than a hundred, based on a quick review of photos of the crowd – turned out for the Aug. 11 joint site visit held by the Planning Commission and City Council at the New London Avenue property that currently houses Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment.
There was no public comment during the gathering, which drew House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Mayor Allan Fung and his wife Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, and numerous candidates for mayor and seats on the City Council. Public hearings on the proposed mixed-use project begin Sept. 1 before the Planning Commission, with hearings before the council and its Ordinance Committee scheduled for later that month.
Instead, Michael DiGuiseppe, the managing partner of Coastal Partners LLC, provided a presentation on what his company has in store for the site and fielded questions from council and commission members during an event that ran a bit under an hour.
Following the formal portion of the proceedings – which were streamed live on Facebook to provide an alternative means of participation in light of social distancing guidelines – members of the public had the chance to walk the site and observe markers indicating where various aspects of the proposed development will be situated.
Based on the comments made during the meeting and statements issued in the days since, it does not appear at present that the needed support exists among council members for the zoning change needed for the project to proceed. But officials nonetheless said they hope to continue an open dialogue – and for the public to be heard clearly during the review process ahead.
Hearing from the developer
A significant portion of the formal part of the site visit was devoted to remarks from DiGuiseppe.
His Massachusetts-based company has an agreement in place to purchase the Mulligan’s site, and it is seeking an amendment to the Mixed Use Planned Development, or MPD, zoning that currently governs the 55-acre site. That zoning was adopted in the late 1990s specifically to allow for the Mulligan’s operation on property that had previously been state owned and undeveloped.
DiGuiseppe told attendees his company started looking at the Mulligan’s property “about two years ago.” He said he inquired with the Planning Department’s office at City Hall and was informed of an unsuccessful 2007 plan to develop the property with “two large-format retailers, a couple of junior anchors and some small related retail.”
“Now, realizing that that development plan wasn’t acceptable, I tried to look at it a different way,” DiGuiseppe said, describing the Cranston Crossing proposals as containing roughly half the square footage in terms of new commercial space as sought under the plan submitted more than a decade ago.
“This would be considered, my proposal, a smart growth project,” DiGuiseppe said, including “buildings that take into consideration the neighbors” and measures to keep the commercial operations “as far as possible” from abutters. He pledged that the project would not create new storm runoff into neighboring properties.
DiGuiseppe said all of the major lighting and deliveries at Cranston Crossing would be oriented toward New London Avenue. The seven to nine daily deliveries, he said, would be done in the front of the proposed Costco rather than in the rear of the building, as is the case at many other large retailers. He also said Costco’s earlier closing times means lights at the store will be out by around 10 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends.
The project’s projected economic impact was touted, too. DiGuiseppe said Costco along would create between 250 and 270 part- and full-time jobs – positions he said come with a starting pay of at least $15 an hour, as well as health and dental insurance coverage.
“Costco’s one of the more sought after retailers domestically, also internationally,” he said, calling the wholesale club a “good operator” and “very philanthropic.”
Between 300 and 350 construction jobs would be created by the project, DiGuiseppe said, and an agreement is already in place with Laborers’ Local 271 to utilize its workers. The union had its box truck with digital signs at Mulligan’s during the site visit, with one of its messages reading: “Investment in Cranston grows our economy and creates good jobs.”
“We think that’s a good thing,” DiGuiseppe said of the agreement with Local 271. “It’s a way of giving back to the community.”
In terms of tax revenue, DiGuiseppe said an estimate he requested from the city indicates the property’s current tax bill of $75,000 a year could grow to between $500,000 and $600,000.
Impacts and complications
The project’s impact on already strained traffic in the New London Avenue-Sockanosset Cross Road area has been perhaps the top concern cited by residents and officials since word of the Cranston Crossing proposal became public. The plan for the development involves the creation of a new three-way, signalized intersection on New London Avenue, across from Brayton Avenue.
DiGuiseppe said the Rhode Island Department of Transportation has signed off on the intersection, which is being proposed as a three-way to avoid cut-through traffic on Brayton Avenue. He also said a traffic study for the project is “in the works” and will be submitted to the Planning Commission and City Council.
In addition to the Costco, the Cranston Crossing proposal involves additional commercial space along New London Avenue and to the south end of the project.
It also incorporates a single-family residential development, although DiGuiseppe on Aug. 11 said that element is meant to be built out “down the road.” When questioned by Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio, he did indicate he would be “open to having a discussion” on alternative uses for that 22-acre portion of the site.
“[I am] amenable to ideas of how we can make it better for the residents … I’m not closing the door on discussing this,” he said.
Another aspect of the plan involves the relocation of a historical cemetery from the area intended to house the Costco. DiGuiseppe said that cemetery contains six or seven headstones, and that his company has retained the company Public Archaeology Laboratory, or PAL, to submit a formal plan for the relocation.
Also to be relocated under the proposal would be one of the two telecommunications towers on the property.
On another front, a parcel of state land – a roughly 12-acre strip parallel to New London Avenue along the eastern side of the Mulligan’s access road – is included in the MPD zoning, although it is not intended to house any of the new development. DiGuiseppe last week said it has yet to be determined whether that property would play any role in the planned three-way intersection.
The Rhode Island Commerce Corp., however, which is the formal owner of the land in question, has not yet provided its sign-off.
“The Commerce Corporation did not sign the application nor has it considered the disposition of any portion of its property to be included in the Cranston Crossing project or otherwise,” reads a letter Jesse Saglio, the Commerce Corp.’s president and COO, recently sent to city officials. “This letter is written to correct the public record. When the developer’s plans mature and certain issues are addressed, the Commerce Corporation will consider any formal request from Coastal Partners LLC.”
Planning Director Jason Pezzullo last week said the issue is “fairly minor” in the scope of the process. The applicant, he said, may chose to remove or amend that portion of the site from its proposal.
“The letter speaks for itself from the state. The applicant’s well aware that there’s a process they need to go through with the state,” he said.
Short on support
A number of elected officials have already come out against, or voiced strong concerns over, the Cranston Crossing proposal. The include Mattiello, who has stated his opposition through campaign mailings to constituents.
The four major candidates for mayor have also come out against the project, at least in its current form.
Last week, Republican candidate and Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins – one of the most vocal critics of the project to this point – issued a statement under the headline: “Mayoral candidate Hopkins says the Costco project is dead on arrival.”
The “outpouring of neighborhood opposition at the site walk,” the statement continues, “insures that the project will not see the light of day.”
“The developer should not go away mad but should indeed go away,” Hopkins said in the statrement. “The City of Cranston wants and needs well planned and sensible economic development projects … this project was neither.”
Hopkins’s GOP opponent, Council President Michael Farina, has also come out in opposition to the Cranston Crossing proposal after initially saying he would first review the plans.
“I support responsible development; however, the Costco development proposal in its current state as outlined by the developer last Tuesday in the walk-thru is not acceptable in its current form,” Farina said in a statement. “I am not opposed to the development of a Costco in Cranston if the proposal fits the property, and the surrounding neighborhoods will not be impacted negatively.”
Democratic mayoral candidate and Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos questioned DiGuiseppe during the site walk over the developer’s assertion that Cranston Crossing would constitute a “smart growth” development.
“This seems to me the epitome of a sprawl proposal … I think the whole idea of smart growth is compact, minimal impact on the environment, encourage foot traffic, and this proposal doesn’t seem to have any of those elements,” he said during the gathering.
In a subsequent social media statement, Stycos went further, writing: “A lot of people have asked my opinion of the proposal for development at Mulligan's Island; so, here it is: It should be dumped into the trash pile of damaging projects along with the Cumberland Farms gas station proposed for Edgewood and unregulated massive solar power facilities in western Cranston.”
Democratic candidate and former Ward 4 councilwoman Maria Bucci has also stated her opposition to the project as proposed. She has called for the city to pursue the acquisition of the Mulligan’s property for use as a green space and park, with the hope that an alternative site within Cranston can be found for Costco.
“I have come to the conclusion that for this project to move forward, we must find an alternative location that will work for the community and the developers. Our development decisions must be made in the best interest of everyone. A project of this magnitude would help develop our economy as well as create good paying jobs for Cranston residents. It is critical that we get this right,” Bucci said in a statement.
She added: “I support the city making a strategic acquisition of this green space and creating a public park for Cranston residents to enjoy, complete with walking paths, benches, a playground for children, and a fenced-in dog park. We could also include a community garden and plant additional trees. If we want to be serious about climate change and protecting our environment then we need to focus on preserving green space in our city.”
During and after the site visit, other officials also expressed skepticism about the project as proposed.
“Right now, the way it stands, as I see it, I can’t support this,” Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas said during the gathering.
Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan wrote on Facebook, in part: “While the job creation, and increased tax revenue is enticing, it is important that economic development respect the integrity of our neighborhoods; I do not believe that this proposal does that. As such, I do not support the proposal before as us.”
Hopkins and Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain also questioned DiGuiseppe specifically about the loss of a recreational resource for the community with the likely closure of Mulligan’s Island.
DiGuiseppe noted that the impending opening of Topgolf on Sockanosset Cross Road is “certainly going to impact this property” and is a factor in the economic calculation facing Mulligan’s ownership. He told Germain he would be open to exploring the placement of a playground on open space at the property.