NEWS

Development plans for Trolley Barn site, Comstock parcel presented

By DANIEL KITTREDGE
Posted 9/22/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Plans for a pair of separate, large-scale development projects were unveiled before the Planning Commission earlier this month, with a formal public hearing process for both still to come. The first proposal, dubbed Trolley Barn

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NEWS

Development plans for Trolley Barn site, Comstock parcel presented

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Plans for a pair of separate, large-scale development projects were unveiled before the Planning Commission earlier this month, with a formal public hearing process for both still to come.

The first proposal, dubbed Trolley Barn Plaza, would be located at 777 Cranston St. That now-vacant, roughly 7-acre property once housed the massive brick structure known as the Trolley Barn, which was torn down in 2005.

The plaza, as proposed, would include an AutoZone retail and warehouse facility, along with a convenience market with gas pumps, a bank, and a drive-thru fast food location.

The second proposal would bring a pair of large new buildings to an undeveloped property in the Western Cranston industrial area on Comstock Parkway. The roughly 17-acre property sits on the eastern side of the road, across from Western Industrial Drive, north of condominiums on Sweet Pea Drive and south of Amflex Drive.

The developer proposes one building of roughly 199,000 square feet and a second with approximately 70,000 square feet of space. The property is currently zoned as M-1 industrial.

Both proposals were presented as pre-applications during the Planning Commission’s Sept. 7 meeting, meaning the proceedings were purely informational for commission members and staff.

Trolley Barn Plaza, as presented, would require a zoning change and an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, as well as master plan approval. The site is currently within an M-2 industrial zone, and the applicant is proposing it instead be designated as C-5 commercial.

Planning Director Jason Pezzullo on Tuesday confirmed a master plan application has been submitted for the Trolley Barn proposal, and the process of reviewing it is scheduled to begin in October. He also said there has been discussion of holding a site visit as part of the review, although no date has been finalized.

In a recent statement, Mayor Ken Hopkins welcomed both development proposals.

“Both these projects are exciting news for our city’s economy and for Cranston taxpayers,” the mayor said in the statement. “As I have stated, I am committed to expanding our commercial and industrial tax base to bring jobs and new taxes to Cranston and help for residential taxpayers. Both these projects meet my economic policy objectives and are part of multi-prong approach I am taking for economic development.”

He added: “I look forward to the progression of the plans for the development of these sites for the job opportunities, the expansion of our tax base and as major signals that businesses are welcome to come to Cranston.”

Trolley Barn Plaza

The Trolley Barn Plaza, which would sit on a historic site that was once part of the Narragansett Brewery complex, is being proposed by Trolley Barn Associates LLC. According to the mayor’s statement, the “redevelopment team is led by former Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. and First Hartford Realty Corp.”

Attorney Nicholas Goodier, representing the applicant, told Planning Commission members that the AutoZone facility that would serve as the centerpiece of the plaza is intended as a “tri-use facility” – a place where typical retail customers could come to purchase parts, as well as a supplier for other AutoZone locations and local parts and repair shops. Such multi-purpose facilities, he said, are “gaining popularity” nationally.

Dana Nisbet from DiPrete Engineering said the AutoZone facility would encompass roughly 35,000 square feet. It would be situated on the northern part of the property.

The convenience market – which would have a drive-thru for food service in addition to the gas pumps – would be roughly 5,500 square feet. The bank would be roughly 4,000 square feet, while the fast food building would be about 2,500 square feet. The plaza would have a total of 180 parking spaces, eight of which would be accessible.

Goodier described the site’s existing industrial zoning as “rather intense,” and said the property has been identified in the Comprehensive Plan as warranting “some zoning adjustment.” The C-5 zoning being sought, he said, will be a “hybrid” – one that includes typical C-5 uses, with an allowance for the AutoZone warehouse.

Commission Fred Vincent said officials have “long been awaiting something to happen on the Trolley Barn site, so we appreciate this proposal,” He did raise some concerns over buffering the site through landscaping, given the presence of homes to the west of the site. The commission, he said, “has been very deliberate in protecting residential properties with a very sustainable landscape buffer.”

Commissioner Ken Mason asked the applicant to look closely at traffic impacts from the project, particularly at the Garfield Avenue and Cranston Street intersection.

Chairman Michael Smith spoke of the site’s history and asked the applicant to “pay homage” to it in some way.

“This is actually a very historic site in Cranston. It hasn’t been used as a trolley barn in over 80 years, and yet we still refer to it as the Trolley Barn … I think it would be nice to be able to link the past to the present and the future,” he said.

City records show the property at 777 Cranston St. is valued at $818,600 as of this year. Its 2021 taxes are listed as $22,102.

Comstock Industrial

Plans for the new Comstock Parkway industrial development were presented by attorney Robert Murray and his client, John Walsh, principal of Comstock Industrial LLC.

The new buildings – the smaller of which would include roughly 6,000 square feet of office space – would cover a significant portion of the site, which is currently wooded. There would be more than 200 parking spaces, along with nearly 70 loading spaces and 42 trailer storage spaces.

Murray said “four or five different possible developments” have been considered for the site over the years – including a solar energy facility, multi-family apartments and retail – but those “never got to this stage.” Prior developments that were considered, he added, all would have required a zoning change or special permit, while the use being proposed would be by-right based on the current zoning. He industrial development being proposed, he said, would be the largest in the city in a number of years.

The M-1 zoning district is defined as “restricted industrial” in the city’s ordinances. There is a long list of allowed uses, but a review of the ordinance indicates that the most intensive industrial uses are either not allowed or require a special permit.

Murray said while tenants for the site have not been secured, he said the types of uses envisioned by the developer include light industry, a trucking terminal, a distribution center or a commercial warehouse.

Murray also said the developer is “sensitive” to the site’s proximity to nearby condominiums.

“We’re going to try and balance what is allowed with what we can to do accommodate” residents and officials, he said.

He added: “I understand nobody wants change. But this is just basically, the change was always coming. It was just a question of when.”

Walsh also told commissioners he would be “respectful of the fact that there is a residential community to the south.”

Some residents of the condominiums addressed the commission, raising concerns over the impact of the development on property values and quality of life.

Murray acknowledged that at this stage, a traffic study is a “missing component” of the proposal. He said that would be completed and included with the project’s master plan application.

City property records show the Comstock Parkway property is valued at $552,900. Its taxes for this year are $14,928, the records indicate.

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