Talk Of The Townies

The future of the 138-acre Metacomet Golf Club in East Providence has been the talk of the Townies this summer - as thousands of people have signed an online petition opposing a developer’s ambitious proposal for the century-old club. And the City Council is considering what one backer of the project called a generational opportunity for the community. Jim Hummel hears from both sides, and takes us onto the grounds of The Met.

SCRIPT:

This is some of what you don’t see from the road as you drive by the Metacomet Country Club. Acres and acres of rolling greens in the middle of the property - an oasis of its own, right in the heart of East Providence.

The future of the 138-acre property - largely closed off to the public for the past century - has been the talk of the Townies this summer as the club owners prepare to sell to private developers for an undisclosed price.

 

Thousands of people have signed an online petition opposing an ambitious proposal for the storied Metacomet, and the City Council is considering what one proponent of the project called a ‘generational opportunity for the community.’

 

The drama has played out online, in public meetings, and on the front lawns of hundreds of residents who have placed signs imploring the council to Keep Metacomet Green -  the name of the opposition group formed in early July.

 

Seel: “This is a decision for generations to come - once this is gone, it’s gone.”

Candy Seel is one of five founders of Keep Metacomet Green. We interviewed her across the street from the club that was founded in 1901.

 

Seel: “Our main goal is to stop this particular development in its tracks by the City Council. Then we’ll have a chance, everyone sit back, take a breath and say well what is it we as a city really want here?”

The developers, Marshall Properties of Pawtucket, are asking the five-member council to change the zoning from open space, to commercial and residential.  Lianne Marshall, a principal in the company who grew up in Rumford with her brother and partner in the company John, has been the public face of the debate.

 

Marshall: “Our real goal in this is to work with the community, to work with the city, to find something that people are really going to be excited about. We’re not going to make everyone happy and we understand that.”

 

The Marshalls note in their original presentation that they have developed 1.2 million square feet of property in East Providence alone.

 

Marshall: “We wanted to create a development that would be a landmark development for the city of East providence. And something that generations to come could enjoy, be a part of and grow with us. What that exactly looks like, we do not know. But it would be some form of a combination of public open space, residential, commercial to be able to have a work/live/play environment that everyone can take part in.”

Hummel: “What was your greatest concern - you personally - what were you worried about?”

 

Seel: “That the complete culture and heritage and tradition of our city will be gone. You can see behind me how peaceful it is over there. Pierce Field beyond you is so peaceful, that’s what we want to be in East Providence, we want to be peaceful. That’s why we came here.”

 

One of the primary frustrations for opponents is that the plans have changed over the past two months and Marshall has given only broad outlines of how the property would be divided up with no specifics, other than to say it would generate an estimated $8 million to $10 million in tax revenue for the city. Marshall has not done an in-depth traffic study and neighbors say the Vets Parkway is clogged with cars as it is.

 

The developers envision a 10-year rollout to complete the project.

 

Marshall: “Jim, it’s a big property, it’s 138 acres. We are looking right now to develop almost 60 plus acres, it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time to determine, who the potential users are on the site, work to get the right tenants and develop this in the way that we want to develop it. That’s it is a beautiful, well thought, smart development for the city of East Providence.

 

Keep Metacomet Green formed in early July, with an online petition that now has more than 4,000 signatures and a robust Facebook page with 2,500 members. The group distributed more than 500 lawns signs that are prevalent within a mile radius of the club - but sprinkled through other parts of the city as well. During an election season they outnumber campaign signs in some places.

 

Marshall has emphasized its commitment to open space, saying that 50 percent of the property will not be developed. Opponents note that a good chunk of that is under water and couldn’t be developed anyway.

But Marshall has said repeatedly that a golf club surrounded by a rusted chain link fence would be opened to the public to use with walking paths and acres of green space. The nearest building would be more than a football field’s length from the abutting neighbor’s property and Marshall has committed to putting up only residential units along two streets adjacent to the bordering  neighborhood.

 

The opposition already has had an effect. On Monday, Marshall asked the council for a 60-day continuance “to continue our dialogue with the community and further evaluate the feedback we heard during the first council meeting.”

 

That first council meeting - on Aug. 11 - drew several dozen people to the cafeteria of Martin Middle School for a 3 ½ hour hearing. Opponents were irked that the Marshall team left them outside in 90-degree heat to go in and set up.

 

Seel: “By the time we got in, all the chairs in front had been taken, so the public was left to be in the back of the room.”

 

After a 30-minute opening presentation, more than 30 people got up to sound off to the council - the vast majority opposing the project.

 

Hummel: “What are you thinking as you’re hearing some of the comments? Some of the critical comments.

Marshall: “Overall, it’s a very good process. And people that had constructive feedback, that spoke, that gave strong suggestions for what they were looking to do. We’re open to listening, were open to hearing. There were things that we learned. And that’s the dialogue we want to participate in. With each person that spoke, in my mind, I’m trying to find a way that we can “solve the issue, solve the problem” for most of the people who stood up to speak.”

 

Hummel: “What would you think would be appropriate for this property?”

Seel: “I would say to Lianne: leave nine holes, build a few condos, just don’t keep saying it’s a gift to us what you’re going to give to us. That’s so condescending.
 

Hummel: “You take issue with that?”

 

Seel: “I do, I do. They’re so excited about the 51 acres to start with, 21 acres were underground, 30 acres are in the flood plain they couldn’t build on it anyway. So that’s the gift they were giving us. And now around the perimeter they’re going to give us a few more acres.”

 

Hummel: “Do you get the feeling with some people is: anything is too much?”

 

Marshal: “Yes and you are never going to be able to make everyone truly excited. Change, as I said, is hard. But if we look to the future, this property has a chain link fence around it. None of these residents, unless they pay a fee to go onto this , course are able to enjoy this course at the current time.”

A huge concern for the neighbors near the club is traffic.

 

Seel: “If those trucks, the construction trucks, and then whatever delivery trucks there are after something is built, if they can’t come down Veterans Memorial Parkway they’re going to be on our residential streets. It’s going to be a nightmare.”

 

Hummel: “What if the traffic guy comes back and says: ‘I’m not sure this can sustain it, between South Broadway, and the Parkway, what do you do then?”

 

Marshall: “Jim, that’s a good question. And we have not done any in-depth study at this point. We do not have enough data to be able to do any in-depth understanding of what it could be.”

While many things are still unclear at this point, Marshall said the company will be closing on the property in September, no matter what happens before the council.

 

Hummel: “Regardless of whether they get the zoning change or not, they’re buying the property. Did you know that?”

 

Seel: “I’ve heard that that might be the case and I’ve wondered how they can sit on $6 million worth of property, if they’re not going to get exactly what they want.”

 

Marshall: “We are currently requesting a zone change, and within that zone change there are several uses that we are asking for. And if we are so fortunate as to receive that zone change, the traffic impact will be X, Y and Z. If for some reason we are not granted that zone change, then we would be able to operate within the designation the property is in currently, which is open space. And there are uses other than a golf course that we could potentially develop that property as. And that would have different trip generations that what is there. We do plan on purchasing the property in the fall. We plan for it to be a long-term hold. Most of the history that we have in the city of East Providence is we hold our properties for a long period of time. We are in this for the long run.”

 

In East Providence, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.

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