The prospect of a Costco coming to the Sockanosset Cross Road area has long been the subject of local speculation. For some residents, the rumors have also been a reason for concern given existing traffic woes and fears of the kind of
The prospect of a Costco coming to the Sockanosset Cross Road area has long been the subject of local speculation.
For some residents, the rumors have also been a reason for concern given existing traffic woes and fears of the kind of sprawling commercial development seen farther down Route 2 in Warwick.
Now, it appears the warehouse club may have found a new, nearby site for its first Rhode Island location – the site that currently houses Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment.
City officials this week confirmed that a pre-application meeting has been held with a developer regarding a proposed major amendment to the Mixed Use Planned District, or MPD, that currently governs zoning at the Mulligan’s Island site.
And last week, Providence Business News reported that the developer, Massachusetts-based Coastal Properties LLC, has an agreement in place to purchase the Mulligan’s Island property at 1000 New London Ave.
In a Monday email responding to questions about the reported Mulligan’s Island sale and the development plans at the site, Mayor Allan Fung wrote: “On Mulligan’s, all I can say is that they have not filed the official application yet but the proposal calls for a potential Costco at that site. I can confirm that the developer has had a pre-application meeting through the planning department.”
One of the world’s largest retailers, Washington State-based Costco is a membership warehouse club that operates in eight countries, according to its website. Its nearest existing locations are in Avon and Dedham, Massachusetts, and East Lyme, Connecticut.
As of Tuesday, Cranston was not included on a list of upcoming locations posted on the chain’s website.
According to the Providence Business News report, Michael DiGuiseppe, managing partner of Coastal Partners LLC, said the development plans at the property include a large retail building, additional buildings for other commercial uses and a residential development component. The terms of the purchase agreement, and the timeline for its finalization, were not disclosed.
DiGuiseppe told Providence Business News his company’s proposal would bring a “vibrant retail center” to the Mulligan’s Island site and create 250 permanent jobs, as well as more than 300 construction jobs.
Messages the Herald left for DiGuiseppe had not been returned by Tuesday’s press time.
According to its website, Coastal Partners LLC is a “full service development and management company specializing in retail developments throughout New England.” Its portfolio includes the Shoppes at Hooksett Landing in Hooksett, New Hampshire; the BJ’s Wholesale Clubs in Quincy and Haverhill, Massachusetts; and Taunton Crossing in Taunton, Massachusetts.
In an email Friday, Michael Friedman, managing partner of Mulligan’s Island LLC, wrote: “We are not providing a statement at this time. We are directing everyone to Coastal Partners LLC. We will continue to operate Mulligan’s Island as best we can during this difficult time with Covid-19 restrictions.”
According to the city’s online property tax map, the property at 1000 New London Ave. spans roughly 55 acres. Between land and improvements, it is valued at $2.26 million for 2020 with a property tax of roughly $70,600.
Where the process stands
Jason Pezzullo, director of the city’s Planning Department, confirmed Monday that a pre-application meeting regarding the proposed MPD changes was held June 30 via Zoom. The meeting was part of a process required under the city’s zoning ordinance.
Participants included DiGuiseppe; John Bolton, attorney for the prospective applicant; representatives of state agencies, including the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and State Properties Division; representatives of multiple city departments and offices, including engineering, public works, traffic, economic development and fire; representatives of the Cranston Historic Cemetery Commission and Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission; and planning staff.
Minutes of the meeting show multiple issues being discussed, including the possible relocation of a historic cemetery as part of the project, the possible relocation of a telecommunications tower, the need to develop new traffic solutions, and the potential for a land swap with the state as part of the overall project.
The minutes indicate planning staff recommended alternative plans be developed that would not require the relocation of the cemetery. They also indicate that the residential component of the planned development would be constructed during a later phase of the project, although some improvements would be done in early phases to prepare for the housing.
Pezzullo on Monday said it was expected the developer’s application for the MPD changes would be submitted to the city this week in order for the proposal to be introduced as new business during the City Council’s July meeting.
From there, he said, the proposal would go before the Planning Commission, the council’s Ordinance Committee and the full council for consideration in September.
Pezzullo also said planning staff plan to schedule a joint site visit of the council and Planning Commission ahead of the proposal being discussed at the September meetings. Similar site visits – which are open to the public – have been held ahead of consideration of other large projects and proposals, including at the planned liquor store at the former Mardi Gras site on Oaklawn Avenue site earlier this year. Pezzullo said the visit would likely take place in August.
“It’s a good way for people to get a real sense of the application of that point,” he said.
In terms of the plans at the Mulligan’s Island site, Pezzullo said the city’s rules effectively treat a proposed major amendment to an MPD as a new application.
“It’s a special process, more so than any other ordinance process,” he said, one that provides planning staff with “a good bite at the apple” in terms of the review process.
“We’re not ready for the recommendation yet by any stretch,” he added, with additional review to be ongoing in the weeks ahead.
Pezzullo said the city has developed MPDs for other locations, including Chapel View, although what is being proposed for the Mulligan’s Island property is relatively straightforward by comparison.
The commercials aspects of the proposal, he said, relay largely on the performance and dimensional standards outlined in the city’s C-4 commercial zone, while the residential component utilizes the A-8 residential zoning rules.
Pezzullo said the current MPD at the Mulligan’s Island property was developed in the late 1990s. It was developed to allow for commercial use while retaining an “open space feel,” he said.
Political, community reaction
As word of the potential arrival of Costco spread on social media late last week, the proposed development quickly became an issue on the campaign trail.
Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins, a Republican candidate for mayor, issued a statement Saturday expressing “concern” about the replacement of Mulligan’s Island with an “intense” commercial development.
“While I have not yet seen specific plans, I have heard from neighbors that an out of state developer is about to launch a major project to convert this quiet recreational site into a Costco Warehouse, a residential subdivision and other commercial uses … While I will await the formal introduction and will fulfill my oversight duties as a councilman, I am concerned about the tactics being utilized so far,” the statement reads.
Hopkins suggested the developer had held a Zoom call with a “select number of neighbors” and was attempting to “zoom through the zoning process in Cranston.” He said “residents of Oak Hill Terrace, Mayfield Avenue and Garden Hills should be able to attend meetings in person, review plans, ask questions and speak directly to city officials.”
“The magnitude of this potential project deserves a full, open and comprehensive review and discussion with neighbors before its formal presentation,” Hopkins said in the statement. “To introduce and promote this in the dead of the summer while we are experiencing a health pandemic is very troubling. Why is the out of state developer trying to slide this through when the City Council and Planning Commission are not yet even holding in person meetings? That is not a gesture of openness and good faith.”
Hopkins’s GOP mayoral opponent, City Council President Michael Farina, responded with his own statement. Its headline: “Ken Hopkins pulls the alarm bell too early on Costco.”
“Despite the early nature of this proposal, a press release expressing significant concern over the plans to convert the site into a Costco, a residential subdivision and other commercial uses, was issued, stoking premature fears amongst residents,” Farina’s statement reads. It echoes Pezzullo’s outline of the procedural steps ahead, including a site visit and review by the Planning Commission and council.
It continues: “Ken Hopkins’s statement shows a pattern of impulsivity and not fully grasping the importance of due process. Although there are no procedural laws or Council guidelines that prohibit a councilperson from sharing his/her personal opinion on a proposed project, I believe it is incumbent upon elected officials to be unbiased until the process has been completed. In this case, ringing the alarm before the project has even been submitted shows a true lack of understanding in his role in the process. Essentially, all members of the City Council are acting as so-called ‘jurors,’ and it is inappropriate in my opinion to make an official statement for or against a project until the applicant and residents can receive due process. I encourage all residents to keep sending me questions and their views on the proposal, residential feedback will weigh heavily on my decision through the vetting process.”
Others also weighed in on the proposal.
Matt Reilly, a Republican candidate for the Ward 6 seat on the City Council, voiced his opposition through a Facebook post.
“I am very pro-business, but not at the expense of our quality of life and neighborhoods,” he said. “That site is too close to residential areas. This is not Bald Hill Road.”
The group Cranston Neighbors for Smart Development also reacted through Facebook.
“We understand that in the current economic climate, Mulligan’s Island, is struggling to remain in business. We have never been anti-development, and feel that any changes to the zoning of that land should be consistent with existing zones and continue to provide a legitimate buffer between the ACI/Harrington Hall/Pastore Complex and existing neighborhoods,” the group’s statement reads. “The original MPD was created to protect the character of the City, as well as, the well-being and quality of life in Cranston's neighborhoods. Any future developments on that site should continue to do the same. We look forward to working once more with our neighbors in Cranston to ensure smart development.”