A tanking economy? A well organized group of citizen activists? Fear of responsible elected officials putting a halt to their ill-conceived proposal dubbed “Phenix Terrace”? Or perhaps an out-of-town developer experiencing a Capra-tinged, warm and fuzzy Yuletide moment?
We may never know exactly why Massachusetts-based developer E. A. Fish pulled the plug on its rather (un)ambitious 198 unit “moderate” income apartment complex, but I suspect the hard work and persistence of Cranston’s newest community action group, Cranston Intelligent Development (CID), weighed heavily in their decision. Spearheaded by Jim Malloy and Fred Joslin, CID organized neighbors, retained legal counsel, and summoned nearly every elected official/potential elected official in the city to Malloy’s back yard to be certain that their questions got answers.
Mayor Napolitano, Mayor-elect Fung, Democratic Mayoral candidate Fogarty, Nick Mattiello, the Democratic City-Wide slate (Lanni, Lupino, and Aceto) and Ward 4 City Council candidates Pelletier and McCutcheon, attended a number of meetings and offered opinions, support, and advice over the course of the summer months.
In 2007 E. A. Fish proposed a 192 unit condominium complex for the roughly 15 acre site at the intersection of Phenix and Natick Avenues. The project was approved by the Planning Commission and granted a Comprehensive Permit to move the proposal forward. In essence, a Comprehensive Permit requires only the approval of a city’s Planning Commission/Board. It is a process that can effectively by pass Zoning Board and City Council concerns.
By the spring of 2008 the condo market had all but dried up and the whispers of a looming mortgage crisis had become a blood curdling scream. E. A. Fish read the economic tea leaves, pivoted, and attempted to have the proposed condo units morphed into “moderate income” rental units. Some would call it a “bait and switch” of the approved Comprehensive Permit; some would say they attempted to have the proposal “grandfathered in” to the Comprehensive Permit; either way the neighbors cried foul and CID was born.
This spring in a crowded Council Chamber, E. A. Fish launched their own version of a “shock and awe” campaign. It featured an army of well groomed design visionaries sporting shiny leather attaches, a slick power-point presentation that included a brief history of “one of New England’s leading developers” and was presided over by Planning Department Head Peter Lapolla. If it was their intent to sway the neighbors with this presentation, their efforts fell short. If it was their intent to intimidate those opposed to the project, they failed miserably.
Like Cullion and Churchill and Banks (Mulligan’s Island/Big Box proposal) before them E. A. Fish has unintentionally galvanized a community, reduced public apathy and served as an unwitting Goliath to Cranston’s Davids…Jims(CID), Freds(CID), and Rachels(SCOS).