Common Sense Grips Developer

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).

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11 thoughts on “Common Sense Grips Developer

  1. Thanks, Rick. I never expressed an opinion on the Phenix Terrace development proposal because I’m not sure I have been following closely enough. One concern I have, though, is that it seems like Western Cranston does not feel that it has to do its share to provide housing opportunities for low to moderate income families. I realize some people are probably hoping we move further toward a caste system here in America where some people are just considered untouchables, but the truth of the matter is that being poor is not a crime and people without tons of money should have the opportunity to live in communities where there are halfway decent schools and safety services.

    Just a little opinionating from the peanut gallery here at Kmareka. That was one of my college boyfriend’s reason for breaking up with me: I was too opinionated. Some things never change, like opinionated women and neighborhoods hoping to exclude the riff-raff.

  2. Kiersten,
    Being a rookie poster here on Kmareka is vexing enough, possessing 20/20 hindsight and dwelling on my posts choppiness and ommissions only complicates matters all the more. Things I forgot to include: traffic; police, fire and rescue; the financial burden on our school system and the virtually non-existent projected increase in tax revenue. E.A. Fish stated that it had done a traffic study and that the development would have little if any effect on traffic in the area. Their study differed greatly from previous traffic studies in that area and when pressed on these differences they stated that perhaps a ‘less limited” study needed to be done. During their power-point presentation E.A.Fish claimed that the project would bring an additional $230,000 to the city in tax revenue– a figure that failed to take into account the cost of police, fire, rescue, tying into the city’s water/sewer services, and a drastic revamping of the areas roads and infrastructure. This $230,000 figure was based on the 198 unit complex containing just (8) eight school aged children…If one was to use a more realistic figure of let’s say 28 school aged children, at roughly $11,000 per year/per student that $230,000 figure would be reduced to $10,000.
    Even if one was to play Devil’s advocate and accept the $230,000 figure as a given, that $230,000 would amount to a fraction of 1 percent of our city’s annual opperating budget. During their presentation in Council Chambers E.A.Fish representatives did touch on the project’s ability to bring a bit of the “American Dream” to a number of families that were currently priced out of it. It is my opinion that if E.A.Fish truly wanted to provide the “American Dream” to a number of families, this project would have consisted of maybe 75 single family homes that would provide pride of ownership, provide a sense of community, and also provide area seniors looking to downsize an affordable alternative to moving out of state. Being stuck in a cycle of renting on a month to month basis, no matter what the neighborhood, effectively reduces a families short-term chances of owning their own home. I cannot speak for any prevailing Western Cranston mindset on the subject of low/moderate income housing because I do not live in Western Cranston. When I attend meetings at City Hall, or Cranston West, or Jim Malloy’s backyard it is a pretty safe bet that I make a lot less money, live in a much smaller home, and drive a much older automobile than most people in the room, and yet surprisingly they still let me in…so far.

  3. Thanks again, Rick. I appreciate the additional information. I do believe there is room for some “American Dreaming” in Western Cranston and I look forward to future developers introducing new plans that will be more compatible with the city over there.

    Sometimes I think we should move to Western Cranston and then I could start advocating for more economic diversity in the community over there — see how many friends that would make me! Soon I’m sure I’d have people driving by my house at all hours of the day and night honking their horns and then we could have adventures like they do in Coventry. (o:

  4. Rick
    This was a pretty good post, however, I do want to make it clear that it was our efforts of the CID that forced Fish to withdraw, We (the CID) and Fish sat down two weeks ago and they asked us what we would rather see their. We suggested light retail or the assisted living facility proposal, it was obvious they wanted to work with us and I think they knew they didnt have enough votes in the outgoing council and the newly elected council to push any further but they decided to pull out anyway. Not to mention that fact that we had the real numbers on the affordable housing percentage and it was far higher than Fish and LaPolla expressed to the public. Many of us routinely spoke out at School Committe, Planning Commission and City Council meetings like Rep. Mattiello, Allan Fung, Lanni, Lupino, Aceto and of course myself. Fish didnt back out because of financial concerns, they have the cash to wait out the storm. When we met with them they kept saying how most of their developments become 100% occupied very quickly. So in my opinion they pulled out because of the efforts of the CID Committee.

    One other point I want to make clear to Kiersten, is that people in Western Cranston do support affordable housing. We stated from the beginning that it was the location and size of the project, the already burdened school system and the traffic issue that prompted us into action. Maybe you should have attended some meetings and learned the facts instead of being the “opinionated women”.

  5. Rick,

    Is the entire proposal dead or did Fish just pull out from the “moderate income” prospective?

  6. Jim,
    E.A. Fish withdrew the entire proposal (192 rental and 6 condominium units). But… in the future Fish or another developer could return with a similar proposal and the process would/could begin again. During the Mulligan’s Island/SCOS tilt Churchill & Banks floated a few variations of their original plan before taking out a full page ad in the Herald that touted a scaled back plan that offered nearly 20 acres of “open space” to the city. They were very creative with their
    verbage—this 20 acre “gift” to the city would take 20 acres worth of property tax off their ledger. Given it’s location (at the intersection of Phenix and Natick-and parallel to 295) I would expect that Fish or another developer would make a move to develope the site. It would be naive to think that the site would remain vacant in the future…let’s hope that a more creative,
    less aggressive approach is put into play by the next developer that looks to develope that piece of land.

  7. Thanks, Councilman Pelletier. That’s excellent news. One of the pleasures of being opinionated is having people like you set me straight. I will do my best to get more involved in attending comp. plan meetings and will be bringing my MSI Wind to take copious notes. How exactly is the leadership of Western Cranston working to support affordable housing? I would like to know more.

  8. Nice job to all CID members.

    “There is no one giant step that does it. It’s a lot of little steps.” Peter A. Cohen (“by a lot of little people”…)

    It’s nice to see the hard work of ordinary citizens rise to the occassion and make the developers stay to be ephemeral.

    I pose one question to Western Cranston organizers whom represented this taskforce, if you are agreeable to putting Affordable Housing….where is a place that might be good. This is the question we all struggle with here on the East of Cranston. I have always thought that a place near the Police Station off of Cranston (part of the Katie Gibbs or the Brewery land) or even the old Police Station on Atwood would be good alternate spots.

    As you pointed out there are many of us zealots, watchdogs etc. out here and when we get (to us a compliment) that we are obnoxious or are disliked by those that we unravel the facts to and protect our rights – then those that say such things are unable to do their back door deals and we prevail. I watched Jim Humel on OCG (Operation Clean Government) which was televised and he commented on how we need groups like ours because that guy or woman at the City Council meeting that you keep seeing who won’t take what’s being shoved down our throats and is smartly discounting the lies – needs to keep at it and form groups that will be an oversight committee. I couldn’t agree more.

    Bravo to the CID and all that have ensured this will be kept to the terms of the Comprehensive Plan!

    I thought this quote states my position perfectly:

    “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.â€? Winston Churchill

  9. I’m sure Councilman Pelletier supports moderate income housing. I’m sure if you ask him, he’ll pledge his undying support. I’ll bet if you asked 50 residents of WC, 49 of them would swear they support low income housing.

    However, I’m just as sure that, no matter the proposal, something will be wrong with it. The traffic. The schools. The fire coverage. The sun was in their eyes.

    Say all you want. I won’t believe that they really support it until they actually do something.

    Talk is cheap.

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