Costco debate back on docket

Developer seeks ‘substantial change’ finding, new hearing

Posted 4/28/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Have plans for a Costco-anchored commercial development at the current home of Mulligan's Island Golf & Entertainment been changed enough to warrant another look? That question will go before members of the City Council in May.

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Costco debate back on docket

Developer seeks ‘substantial change’ finding, new hearing


Have plans for a Costco-anchored commercial development at the current home of Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment been changed enough to warrant another look?

That question will go before members of the City Council in May.

Massachusetts-based Coastal Partners LLC – the developer behind last year’s Cranston Crossing proposal – submitted a petition on March 30 asking the City Council to find that revised plans for the site represent a “substantial change of circumstances,” as defined in the city’s zoning ordinance.

That finding would allow for new consideration of Coastal Partners’ request for a major amendment to the Mixed Use Planned District, or MPD, zoning that currently governs the site. Without the “substantial change” finding, the city’s ordinance would preclude resubmission of the proposed zoning amendment for a two-year period.

Coastal Partners withdrew its zoning change request in December, a move that came just two days before the council had been scheduled to vote. The withdrawal also came shortly after the city’s Planning Commission, on a 6-1 vote, issued a negative recommendation on the zoning change.

What’s changed in Coastal Partners’ new proposal?

According to a letter from the company’s managing partner, Michael DiGuiseppe, and an accompanying outline, three future restaurant spaces included in the original plan for the roughly 55-acre site have been removed. That, combined with the earlier removal of a planned residential component, has “significantly reduced” per-week vehicle trip estimates for the property, according to the letter. Additionally, the Howard Avenue egress from the site would be change to a left-turn only.

The revised submission includes a site design for “Parcel 3,” which is designated for future commercial use consistent with the city’s C-4 zoning designation. According to the outline, the parcel would house a “smaller scale retail convenience center” of approximately 13,800 square feet.

Perhaps most significantly, Coastal Partners’ latest proposal no longer seeks to convey an 18-acre parcel on the southeastern portion of the property to the city as a land gift. Originally, the developer had planned to pursue a future residential development on the parcel, but that component of the project was removed during last year’s review and replaced with the proposed land gift.

“The City does not appear interested in the gift,” the letter from DiGuiseppe reads. Instead, the letter sates, that parcel “will retain its current Use as a Par 3 Golf Course.”

“The changes presented are significant and address concerns addressed by the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee,” the letter from DiGuiseppe reads.

Other elements of the project remain unchanged from last year’s plan.

“The primary commercial element of the Cranston Crossing project,” the letter reads,” is a new retail facility proposed on the central portion of the property. This portion of the redevelopment also includes a fueling station.” While the wholesale club Costco is not named, it has been widely acknowledged as the proposed occupant of that space.

The plan continues to seek the creation of a new three-way signalized intersection on New London Avenue, across from Brayton Avenue. It would also continue to require relocation of both the historic Daniel S. Congdon Burial Lot and one telecommunications tower on the site.

Reached by email, DiGuiseppe declined to discuss the proposal further, referring the Herald instead to his letter and the accompanying outline.

Last week, Rachel McNally, an organizer of the community opposition group Cranston Neighbors for Smart Development, said the group’s view is that “although there are some minor modifications” in Coastal Partners’ latest proposal, they “are not a major change” since the core feature of the planned project – a big-box commercial development – remains.

“CNSD still feels as though this is not the right project for the city, and that this iteration of the plan is not significantly different from the plans that were withdrawn in December,” she said.

Coastal Partners’ petition for a “substantial change of circumstances” finding was accepted as new business during Monday’s City Council meeting and forwarded to the council’s Ordinance Committee for consideration on Thursday, May 13. It would then go to the full council, which is scheduled to hold its next regular meeting on Monday, May 24.

“We’re just going to let that process play out … We hope, of course, that it will be decided again that this development is very similar to the last one,” McNally said.

Cranston Crossing became a major issue during last year’s election campaign, drawing intense interest from the community during its months-long – and twice delayed – review process. The Planning Commission and council held many hours of public hearings and deliberations, including a well-attended August 2020 site visit at the Mulligan’s property.

Opponents raised a range of concerns over the course of the debate, arguing that Cranston Crossing would negatively affect the quality of life and property values in the surrounding neighborhoods. Meanwhile, supporters of the project pointed to Costco’s reputation as a quality employer and the economic benefits the city would realize in terms of job creation and tax revenue.

Mayor Ken Hopkins, an early critic of the Cranston Crossing plan, recently told the Herald his administration has continued to seek other locations for Costco within the city.

If plans for Cranston Crossing do not proceed, the future of Mulligan’s remains unclear. Its owners – who previously entered into a purchase agreed with Coastal Partners, which in turn reached a long-term lease agreement with Costco – have repeatedly said the current operation is not sustainable and that some change in use is inevitable.

The MPD zoning governing the site, previously owned by the state and known as the “Cornfields,” was adopted specifically for the Mulligan’s operation roughly two decades ago. During last year’s debate, three state agencies – the departments of Administration, Corrections and Transportation – submitted letters of opposition to Cranston Crossing, raising security concerns related to the adjacent Adult Correctional Institutions along with questions about traffic impacts.

The prospect of the state moving to reacquire the land was also raised during the debate, although opponents of the Cranston Crossing development rejected that concern.

Costco, Cranston Crossing, development


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