By DANIEL KITTREDGE The City Council's Ordinance Committee was set this week to vote on whether Coastal Partners LLC's request for new consideration of a proposed zoning change at the New London Avenue property that currently houses Mulligan's Island
The City Council’s Ordinance Committee was set this week to vote on whether Coastal Partners LLC’s request for new consideration of a proposed zoning change at the New London Avenue property that currently houses Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment can proceed.
The committee heard from the developer, city officials and members of the public during its regular monthly meeting last week. In the end, due to the lack of explicit language on the meeting’s agenda that a vote on the matter would be taken, a final decision was delayed until a special meeting on May 20.
Michael DiGuiseppe, managing partner of Massachusetts-based Coastal Partners, told council members that the wholesale club Coscto, which would anchor the proposed Cranston Crossing development at the Mulligan’s site, would be a major boon to the city in terms of tax revenue and job creation.
He also said the existing Mulligan’s operation is “failing,” and the use of the site – governed by Mixed Use Plan District, or MPD, zoning that was tailored to Mulligan’s roughly two decades ago – is destined to change in some way.
“My feeling is that Cranston basically hit the jackpot … Costco wants to be in Cranston,” he said.
DiGuiseppe urged the council to find that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” since the initial zoning change application was submitted, and withdrawn, in 2020. That finding would allow for a new application to be filed. Otherwise, under the city’s ordinances, the proposal could not be resubmitted within two years.
The amended version of the Cranston Crossing proposal removes three proposed restaurant spaces, maintains the use of an 18-acre section of the site as a golf course, and includes a site plan for a piece of the property intended for future retail use and known as “Parcel 3.”
“We believe the substantial changes are significant,” DiGuiseppe said.
Planning Director Jason Pezzullo, however, told council members that in the view of planning staff, the changes to the Cranston Crossing plan do not meet the “substantial” threshold.
“However, at it’s core, the proposal was for Costco … Staff would say they are not significant changes from the proposal that we vetted for six months at the end of 2020,” he said.
A number of members of the public addressed the committee during the public hearing portion of last week’s meeting. Most spoke against Costco and Cranston Crossing, renewing past concerns over traffic, impact on quality of life, loss of property values and the desire to see the Mulligan’s property – previously a state-owned site known as the Cornfields – preserved for recreational uses.
“As long as that one thing, that one building, is still there, I don’t see how there are” substantial changes to the plan, said Rachel McNally, a member of the opposition group Cranston Neighbors for Smart Development.
She added: “We would still be negatively impacted as a city, as residents.”
“The primary use for this entire proposal has not changed,” area resident Kate Caito said, also accusing the project’s developer of “an inherent lack of respect for the neighbors, for the city.”
One member of the public, Adam Lupino, spoke in favor of the Cranston Crossing project, calling it an “exciting opportunity during an uncertain time.” He cautioned that other communities are ready to “roll out the red carpet” if Cranston rejects Costco’s chosen location.
The “substantial change” language comes from the city’s ordinances. DiGuiseppe said no additional definition is provided, leaving the decision at the discretion of city officials – either the Ordinance Committee and full council or the Zoning Board of Review, per the ordinance.
There was some question over whether it would be more appropriately referred to the Zoning Board, but ultimately, it was agreed the council should make the finding.
“I do think this is the proper forum to hear this item,” Council President Chris Paplauskas said.
DiGuiseppe also raised another procedural concern, saying he felt during the review process last year, he felt the zoning change was being evaluated for its land use – the specific elements of the project – rather than as a zoning amendment.
“We really want the council and the Ordinance Committee to follow the process,” he said.
Last week’s meeting additionally included some back-and-forth between DiGuiseppe and the administration of Mayor Ken Hopkins, who has been a vocal opponent of Cranston Crossing over the past year.
DiGuiseppe said he and representatives of Costco met with the mayor in March to convey that the Mulligan’s property is the “site of their choosing.” He also expressed concern over what he views as efforts by Hopkins and his predecessor, Allan Fung, to steer Costco toward a nearby site owned by Carpionato Group.
DiGuiseppe suggested that Hopkins had said he would support the project at the Mulligan’s site if the council gave its approval. He also rejected the idea that another location could be found for Costco in Cranston, saying: “If they’re not going to Mulligan’s, they’re going to another city, or they’re not going to Rhode Island at all.”
Anthony Moretti, chief of staff for Hopkins, described the March meeting was “cordial.” The mayor, he said, “still does oppose [Costco] at Mulligan’s Island” and “didn’t see a substantial change” in the latest plans.
“The mayor still does want to have Costco in Cranston,” he said, indicating there has been an ongoing effort to find an alternative site.
During an interview last week, Hopkins responded to DiGuiseppe’s account of the March meeting.
“I don’t believe that gentleman told the truth last night … I have not changed my mind about big box development at Mulligan’s Island for over 30 years, and I continue to say ‘no,’” he said. “Do I like Costco? Absolutely. If I could find an alternative spot in the city of Cranston, yes, it’s good for the city. Not on that spot.”
He added: “Nothing’s changed. He’s just trying to blow smoke and make it appear different.”
The mayor said he has spoken with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed about the possibility of securing federal funding for a recreation center on the property.
During the debate over Cranston Crossing last year, the prospect of the state moving to reacquire the Mulligan’s property was raised by its current owners and others.
Last week, Hopkins said: “There are rumors out there, but I’ve never heard that, and they’ve never approached me about it.”