By DANIEL KITTREDGE After several weeks on the sidelines, debate over the proposed Costco-anchored Cranston Crossing development is set to return to the forefront. Massachusetts-based Coastal Properties LLC has submitted a revised site plan for the
After several weeks on the sidelines, debate over the proposed Costco-anchored Cranston Crossing development is set to return to the forefront.
Massachusetts-based Coastal Properties LLC has submitted a revised site plan for the project, which would be situated on the roughly 55-acre property currently housing Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment.
The primary change involves an 18-acre parcel on the southeastern portion of the property, situated beyond the current Mulligan’s Island driving range. The developer initially sought a residential zoning designation for the parcel with plans for the future construction of single-family homes, but the revised site plan calls for it to instead be gifted to the city for recreational and open space use.
“We think that’s a big gift to the city,” Michael DiGuiseppe, managing partner of Coastal Partners, said during an interview on Nov. 13.
Touting the development’s projected benefits in terms of tax revenue and job creation, he added: “Moving forward, we hope to get the support of city officials for this great venture.”
Next comes a public hearing before the Planning Commission, scheduled for Dec. 1, on the zoning change needed for the developer’s plans to proceed.
Specifically, the developer is seeking a major amendment to the Mixed Use Planned District, or MPD, zoning that currently governs the site. That zoning, adopted in the late 1990s, is essentially tailored to the Mulligan’s operation – and, as a result, more restrictive than other types of commercial zones in terms of allowed uses.
The hearing process – which will also involve the City Council and its Ordinance Commission – had initially been slated to kick off in September, but it was twice delayed based on the need for additional information and in anticipation of an amended proposal from the developer.
Many elected officials and candidates expressed skepticism of, or opposition to, the Cranston Crossing proposal following its initial introduction over the summer, including during a joint City Council and Planning Commission site visit in August.
And the group Cranston Neighbors for Smart Development has mobilized against the project, arguing that what is being proposed is ill-suited for the Mulligan’s site and would have an adverse impact on residents of the area.
Rachel McNally, one of the group’s organizers, said Monday that the revised plan has not changed her thinking or that of other opponents of the project.
“Giving the land to the city does negate any of the issues with the development itself … It seems they’re trying to fast-track it while people are distracted,” she said.
Aside from the removal of the residential component, the revised Cranston Crossing site plan maintains most of the core aspects of the original proposal.
The centerpiece of the development, as the site plan narrative describes, would be a “new large-scale retail facility (wholesale club)” on the central portion of the property, where the driving range currently sits. That facility would also include a gas station.
Costco is not named within the site plan but has been acknowledged as the planned occupant of the space.
Additional commercial space is planned at the entrance to the Mulligan’s property, along New London Avenue. That includes three new buildings – one for a fast food business with drive-thru service at the intersection of Howard Avenue, and two others that would house “undetermined commercial/retail/restaurant uses,” the narrative reads.
Another parcel situated on the southwestern portion of the property and abutting city-owned land is also designated for future commercial use. The narrative outline of the proposed MPD amendment indicates all of the commercial parcels would house uses consistent with the city’s C-4 commercial zoning district.
In addition to the 18 acres, the revised plan provides for another 3.3 acres of open space adjacent to city-owned land and homes along the southwestern portion of the site. DiGuiseppe said the combined open and recreational space of 21.3 acres represents roughly 55 percent of the overall property, and that he views the development as representing “smart growth.”
The revised plan would still require the relocation of one of the two communications towers at the site and the Daniel S. Congdon Burial Lot, a historic cemetery. DiGuiseppe last week said an agreement is in place with the state for the tower’s relocation, while a recommendation has been made for the movement of the cemetery.
The plan also calls for the creation of a new, three-way signalized intersection on New London Avenue across from Brayton Avenue. He said it has been determined that a parcel of state-owned land along the Mulligan’s entrance is not needed for the intersection.
A traffic study – the lack of which was cited for the delay in the hearing process – has also been submitted for peer review through the city, DiGuiseppe said. The plan has additionally been submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
According to the narrative site plan, the study found that the project “will not have an adverse impact on public safety and welfare.”
“In our opinion, the level of service on the intersection doesn’t change,” DiGuiseppe said of the study.
DiGuiseppe last week said the developer’s request for delays in the hearing process stemmed from concerns raised during prior public gatherings and the fact that the city was in the midst of a election campaign.
“We didn’t want to be a football, for lack of a better term, passed between the different candidates. So we waited until after the election,” he said of the revised plan’s submission.
DiGuiseppe said he believes the additional open and recreational space included in the new plan addresses the concerns of abutters who wanted more of a “buffer” against the development, as well as the desire voiced by some officials and candidates to maintain the Mulligan’s property for some form of recreational use.
In terms of the benefits of Cranston Crossing, DiGuiseppe said his company estimates it will create approximately 800 jobs. That figure includes roughly 350 construction jobs – with an agreement already in place with Laborers’ Local 271 to utilize its workers – along with 250 to 275 positions associated with Costco, which he said pays well and offers health and dental insurance to its workers. The remainder would be jobs tied to the additional planned commercial uses at the site. He said Coastal Partners is “very diverse and inclusive in our hiring.”
From a revenue perspective, DiGuiseppe said his figures show the project would produce a net increase of $600,000 in annual taxes for the city over the $75,000 currently paid for the site.
“This is a big tax increase on the property to the city … This is pretty significant,” he said.
Tenants for the additional commercial spaces have not yet been secured, DiGuiseppe said – “It’s early in the game” – and “more than enough time” remains in terms of the purchase agreement currently in place with Mulligan’s Island ownership.
“If things fall into place, we hope to start construction in the spring,” he said, requesting that residents in support of the project contact their City Council representatives.
DiGuiseppe also said his company wants “to be a good neighbor” and reached out to the legal counsel for Cranston Neighbors for Smart Development regarding the revised site plan.
McNally, however, said she and her group continue to harbor major concerns regarding the impact Cranston Crossing would have on the surrounding area – and that they view the revised plan not as a concession but as a “bait and switch,” part of a predetermined strategy.
A Nov. 13 Facebook post from the group reads: “The new plans still contain the Costco, gas station and all future commercial elements. The only change made was one alluded to at the Site Walk, and we believe that was the intention all along. The residential component was removed and the land is to be ‘gifted’ to the City, but that does not change the fact that a big-box development at Mulligan’s Island does not fit the existing zoning, land uses and the comprehensive plan. Coastal Partners LLC are attempting to put up a smokescreen with this ‘gifted land’ that would not counteract any of the negative impacts its proposal would have on the neighborhoods and City of Cranston.”
Added traffic along the already strained Route 2-Sockanosset Cross Road corridor remains a top concern, McNally said. Noting that Costco stores in other parts of New England are situated in purely commercial areas far away from neighborhoods, she said issues such as noise, deliveries and visual impacts are also continued area of focus.
McNally also said the cemetery relocation had drawn opposition during the initial stages of the project’s submission.
“I just feel like a lot of the major concerns that were brought up were not addressed by [the revised plan],” she said. “It’s still going to negatively impact the city.”
Another key point made by McNally and her group stems from the way the Mulligan’s Island project was pitched to neighbors when the existing MPD zone was developed. The property was previously owned by the state and undeveloped, and the Cranston Neighbors group has said Mulligan’s Island was presented as a way to “provide a legitimate buffer” between homes and the existing state complex while protecting the existing character of the area.
“We’re not against Costco coming [to Cranston] at all … It’s not just Costco,” she said. “It’s the fact that that land was sold to be specifically built as Mulligan’s Island.”
She added: “Promises were made to the residents when that was built … and those promises should be kept.”
As with all public meetings in recent months, December’s hearings on Cranston Crossing are set to be held using Zoom. McNally said some residents are uncomfortable with remote meeting technology and might as a result be excluded from the process.
“A proposal of this magnitude should not be heard when all the residents are not given a fair opportunity … It’s just not the right time for this proposal to be heard,” she said.
She urged concerns residents to contact their local elected officials and said her group will continue its outreach ahead of the upcoming hearings. She said the group has also been working with its legal counsel and experts to prepare, and continues to raised money to support its efforts.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the parcel itself, as well as the proposal … We’re doing what we can to get the word out,” she said.