NEWS

Temporary closure of river trail raises concerns over Pawtuxet site

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 8/9/22

By JOHN HOWELL

“We’re local blue collar guys who grew up in Warwick,” says Artak Avagyan. But that’s not the way some Pawtuxet residents see Avagyan and his partner Lee …

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NEWS

Temporary closure of river trail raises concerns over Pawtuxet site

Posted

“We’re local blue collar guys who grew up in Warwick,” says Artak Avagyan. But that’s not the way some Pawtuxet residents see Avagyan and his partner Lee Beausoleil. They view the two as outsiders looking to deny villagers of a two-mile river trail that has been accessible to walking for decades.

At the heart of the issue is a 15.7 acre tract abutting Post Road that was once the site of the 110,000 square foot Hammel Dahl valve manufacturing facility. After the company closed the Warwick site, it was occupied by a number of companies with the most recent use of the building as a warehouse to store PVC piping. The trail is part of the property and runs along the wooded banks of the river.

Beausoleil, who runs Beausoleil Paving, and Avagyan bought the property for $450,000 in April 2019 with the intention of demolishing the building and erecting four buildings local contractors could use for the storage of equipment and materials. Drawing upon his experience and that of friends, Beausoleil said in an interview Saturday that independent contractors are faced with municipal ordinances that prevent them from parking equipment in residential areas. The aim is to provide a secure place where they could pick up equipment and materials in the morning and return to lock it up at the end of the work day. 

As the property is zoned for light industrial use and had been used industrially, Beausoleil didn’t imagine he faced an issue with the city. To cover his bases, he talked with the Department of Environmental Management about his plan.  The area is subject to flooding during periods of extended heavy rains as happened in 2010. Beausoleil said DEM liked the plan because it is a reduction in the overall square footage of building and parking pavement. 

With that assurance, Beausoleil said he obtained a city demolition permit and went about leveling the building. It was then that he started running into problems. He removed the pipe that had been stored in the building, relocating it closer to the river and material from the demolished building and parking lot was stockpiled on the site. 

According to Rep. Joseph McNamara one of the stockpiles of earth near residential properties on Post Road had a foul odor. He started getting complaints and people wanted to know what was planned for the site. McNamara made some calls learning that Beausoleil hadn’t received DEM permits for the placement of the pipes that are close to the river. He had concerns.

What if the Pawtuxet overflowed its banks as it did in 2010, “we’d have a flotilla of toxic trash (the PVC pipes) end up in Pawtuxet Cove,” said McNamara, which would overshadow the current plastic nip bottles problem.  Alternatively, he said if there was a fire, the pipes’ toxic fumes would engulf the area.

Beausoleil first submitted an application for city master plan approval of the four buildings with an overall footprint of 90,000 square feet which has subsequently been reduced to 78,000 square feet. 

Beausoleil was scheduled to come before the Planning Board. What he claims he didn’t know at the time because the notice was sent to an address he no longer uses is that the DEM cited him for storing the pipes within a restricted area and that the piles of debris were also a violation. Beausoleil said he was mystified on the one hand he said the DEM was applauding his plan to reduce the impact on the environment, yet on the other they were finding fault for him doing it.

Beausoleil was in for another surprise when he came before the Planning Board. He was faced with about 30 people opposed to development of the property.

Concerned by development in the area residents formed Pawtuxet Green Revival.

“It’s an environmentally sensitive area,” says Lois Eagan, a member of the group. Because it is prone to flooding she believes the site should be restored to its natural state with the city rezoning it for open space.

Eagan says the proposal has turned into a “very vindictive situation” with Beausoleil citing his rights as a property owner and warning people not to trespass.  

McNamara said he saw petitions in opposition to the plan at the Saturday Farmers Market at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet which he believes were drafted by Pawtuxet Green Revival.

The Planning Board questioned the status of the DEM citations and, rather than proceeding with what promised to be a contentious hearing, denied the petition without prejudice, meaning Beausoleil could return without having to wait a year.

But there were more fireworks to come.

Aware of how frequently the river trail is used by the community, Beausoleil questioned what liability he faced if someone was hurt on his property. He covered a trail sign and posted no trespassing signs in late July. Mayor Frank Picozzi heard about it immediately as did McNamara. ecoRI staff writer Frank Carini, who was in contact with Pawtuxet Green Revival, wrote a story for the Aug. 1 edition. Social media buzzed with negative comments.

“It was the flashpoint for the community,” Jeff Sutton, one of a core group of five who formed Pawtuxet Green Revival, said of the no trespass sign. Sutton said it seemed Beausoleil was trying “to hold the Planning Board hostage” by threatening to close the trail unless he received approval for his plan.

Beausoleil met with Mayor Picozzi and explained his quandary. In early discussions with the Planning Department prior to the appointment of Thomas Kravitz as director, Beausoleil agreed to give about seven acres of the property – much of it not buildable because it is wetlands – to the city for open space.

 Beausoleil said the mayor wasn’t interested in turning the area into a park, saying the city already has more parkland than it can maintain.

McNamara sees the no trespassing signs as part of what he calls “a systemic denial of access to the Pawtuxet River.” He noted that in the 1950s and 60s there were multiple locations to access the river as well as trails along its banks. Those have disappeared over the years.

“To me it’s a bigger issue,” he said. “This is the last point of public access.” He accused Beausoleil of turning a “deaf ear” to those who enjoy the trail and seek river access.

Sutton said as Pawtuxet Green Revival looked into the proposed development they looked at the larger issue of flooding and residential development. He would like to see the open space Beausoleil suggests giving to the city, yet questions if the land would need to be cleared of asphalt from prior uses.  

As the mayor asked, Beausoleil took down the no trespassing signs and in their place erected a sign explaining he is working with the city, but that people were using the property at their own risk. 

Coincidentally, as he was driving past the property on July 29 he spotted a man ripping down the explanatory signs and a drawing of the proposed development. He confronted the man who said it was public property. Beausoleil followed the man to O’Rourke’s Bar and Grille and called police. Police retrieved the signs and returned them to Beausoleil. 

Beausoleil said he is addressing the DEM citations and looks to return to the Planning Board for approval of his project.

River walk, river trail

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  • sunnysideofthestreet

    This article is missing information and facts.

    -The building that these guys took down had been vacant for many years (over a decade?). It was not a bustling industrial business location and struggled to get a lease filled. The lot flooded frequently and the former building was filled with asbestos! The owners had the remnants of this building sitting on the lot? If so with every rain it washed into the river.

    -Since 2019, these owners were increasing their solid waste dumping on the site which led to multiple non compliance tickets from DEM. Go take a look at 175 Post road and see for yourself.

    -After their second meeting at the planning board (where they were issued a continuance) hey started bulldozing dirt around and were then issued a cease and desist from the city for not holding a solid waste permit. They were then issued a Notice Of Violation from DEM for multiple offenses including disrupting 25000 square feet of wetlands.

    -The site doesn’t flood in “extended period of heavy rain” it floods after a normal rain storm and is a 100 to 500 year FLOOD PLAIN. It floods worse than Unit Tools across the street (Unit Tools suffered 300k in damages in 2010).

    -Warwick's Comprehensive Plan is key here: The proposal of storing any sort of chemicals of toxic materials near a river goes against the comp plan for protecting the Pawtuxet River and Warwick’s environmental assets as a whole. This is mentioned multiple times in the plan. In addition, building on a flood plain ON THE RIVER goes against Warwick comprehensive plan of "intensifying efforts to make Warwick a “green” community, protect and enhance Warwick’s streams, ponds, and coastal waters by implementing measures to reduce nonpoint source pollution, and work on climate change resilience with the state." The city must stand by their goals.

    -These guys threatened to close the trail after they were denied at the THIRD planning board meeting.

    -Their “explanatory note” as Howell put it, was a threat stating something to the effect of “if all goes well at the planning board meeting we will donate the trail, if not we will gate it because it’s ours.”

    -Howell also left out (or maybe wasn't told) that they want to MOVE the trail which will disrupt more wetlands and they’ll never get the permit from DEM to do that.

    -The planning board and the public align in their concern about flooding and Pawtuxet river pollution.

    In my opinion these guys bought a lemon. The previous owner must still be celebrating that he was able to get it off his hands!

    I appreciate local papers and the work that goes into keeping a free press going, however, pieces like this are concerning. I wish that the writer had done more due diligence.

    Wednesday, August 10 Report this

  • yukilily

    I have been to two planning board meetings as well as a Pawtuxet resident for over 35 years-please read comment by staygoldenfolks!-Agree so much info missing here- It should be noted that this trail has been used by the public for longer than I have been here and the development in question has flooded so many times with just a heavy rain. Great effort has been put into the cleanup of this river by people on the Warwick and Cranston sides and the rezoning of this property should have happened many, many years ago. In the 2010 flood this area was completely under water closing down the adjacent Shaws and leaving Post Rd. impassable for days with ducks swimming in it. All concerned citizens should attend the next planning board meeting and check into Pawtuxet Green Revival on facebook.

    Wednesday, August 10 Report this

  • plantatree

    The issue I have with this article is that the owners are presented as hard-working folk who just want to help the community. Apparently, no one from Beacon was at the June Planning Board meeting when one of the owners told the members of the Board that if their Master Plan wasn’t approved, they could just leave the site the way it is and let his sons deal with it in 20 years.

    The following is a quote from the sign that was posted at the head of the Pawtuxet Trail. This does not sound like a goodwill gesture – I’ll leave it up to you to interpret.

    “If all goes well at the next Master Plan Board meeting, we plan to donate the walking path and acreage to the city of Warwick & its’ people for conservation. If not, the property will be gated & there will be no access granted as it is private property and does not belong to the city.”

    Maybe the person who stole their notice (and really, they followed him and called the police?) was angry because the owners took a hammer and destroyed the green Pawtuxet Trail sign (I was a witness to this). I don’t think the owners of 175 Post Road have the Pawtuxet Community’s best interests at heart, if they had they would have reached out after the first Planning Board meeting.

    Wednesday, August 10 Report this