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 …
“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.
3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here