Jul 26, 2014
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LIVE: Lodges at Phenix Glen Special City Council Meeting

The City Council is reviewing the The Lodges at Phenix Glen — a 192 unit mixed use development proposed by The Procaccianti Group off Phenix Avenue. Refresh this page for realtime updates.

LIVE: Lodges at Phenix Glen Special City Council Meeting LIVE: Lodges at Phenix Glen Special City Council Meeting

The City Council is holding a public hearing tonight. The subject: The Lodges at Phenix Glen — a 192-unit mixed use development proposed for an area adjacent to the Cranston Animal Shelter and Interstate 295 and Route 37 off Phenix Avenue.

We'll be updating this story through the night. Keep hitting refresh. And be sure to follow us on Twitter if you aren't already.

Want some background on the project and its process through planinng and zoning? Click HERE and peruse.

7:04 p.m. People are signing up to speak during the open comment portion of the meeting. Start time is imminent.

7:12 - TPG's lawyer John DiBona is at the podium. Right now he's getting revised exhibits officially submitted to the council and has given a basic outline of the project and the relief requested. The council's job in this process is to approve or deny a zone change request from A-12 (residential) to MPD (mixed use planned district)

He notes the area was highlighted during comp plan review in 2010 as area that is prime for redevelopment. And it stated that the site (950 Phenix Ave.) is inappropriate for A12 zoning.

The project so far has been through preliminary approval, master plan review and planning and zoning, DiBona notes. 

If the council approves the zone change ordinance, it would have to go through planning and zoning once again along with development plan review. 

7:19 : Michael Voccola, corporate VP for TPG is at the podium. He says he's a lifelong Cranston resident and the company deals in upscale developments. 

"Upscale is what we do," he said.

Voccola said TPG has been very active in reaching out to residents and trying to work with them to address their concerns.

The overall plan is properly scaled and tailored to the site. There is misconception the Lodges will negatiely impact city. It will plow own snow, light its own streets and colelct its own rubbish, Vocolloa said.

He says impact on city services will be minimal and will not attract families with children. 

He says it will bring $750,000 in taxes to the city and shouldn't put much demand on city services.

He outlines a number of "misconceptions" people have about the project, most of them the company has addressed on their Web site and would be familiar to people who have been following this closely. They will not convert to affordable housing.

"We want to build a truly upscale resort style rental community."

7:26 p.m.: Voccola's case: the project will be high end, increase property values, won't fall into disrepair, will become "a backstop of further proliferation of commercial uses in this area."

He shows a slide showing aerial photos of Meshanticut Valley Parkway and Oaklawn Avenue that highlight hundreds of units in large apartment developments. The suggestion is that this project wouldn't be nearly as obtrusive.

Half the site will remain undeveloped and said lodges will have an average of 12-13 units per acre, far lower than others in the city that are 18 or more units per acre.

7:31 p.m.: FYI, you will see typos as we go along here. Apologies in advance.

7:31 p.m.: Voccola Prudent, well designed, upscale rental community backed by  $30 million private investment with hometown company with ties to our city. Lodges complies with comp plan and will generate $7.5 million in new tax revenue in next 10 years.

7:33 p.m.:Joseph Lombardo up next to talk about fiscal impact for TPG. The methodologies are based on city data and census data. While gross estimate based on school budget and current enrollment is over $12,000 because city receives $38 mil in state aid figure was reduced to about $9,000. 

Looking at enrollment, in year 2000 city had 11,563 students. As of a few days ago, it's 10,634.

Estimating number of people who will live in the Lodges: 347 individuals and 10 school age children.

Estimated that each of the units will be worth about $91,000 in assessed value. Commercial will generate additional units — $635,000 in tax revenue. The $750,000 figure being tossed around is based on motor vehicle taxes, too. They account for an extra $150,000 or so.

So to educate the 10 kids is $90,000. 

On cost of services, there will be "incremental" increases on police, fire, libraries. But there is "considerable savings" on having Lodge private, he argues. There will be no cost for trash removal, street lighting, drainage maintenence. It is more like a commercial project. It is, he said, it's a mixed use development.

(Ed. note: a decent comparison would be South County Commons in South Kingstown)

School and muni cost subtracted out and the net revenue to the city will be: $460,000.

Construction will result in $15 million in local income, 234 jobs, TPG claims.

7:41 p.m.: On an annual basis, $4.4 million in local income, 61 jobs plus the tax revenue.

"This type of project in any community from a fiscal point of view is a very positive aspect on the community," Lombardo said. 

Councilman Mario Aceto asks if the numbers are based on the assumption that all units are full all of the time.

Lombardo said a well run facility will be pretty much full all the time.

Construction period would be 18 months. Numbers are based on a snapshot for 192 units using 'today's numbers.'

7:46 p.m. This isn't a senior or 55-and-up community, nor is it a retirement community, just an upscale community, Lombardo said. Councilman Mike Farina suggests that some of the residents could be empty nesters and people who aren't necessarily driving to a 9 to 5 job every day and could be buying second homes here. That means they're not full fledged residents of the city.

7:49 p.m.: The council is digging into the number assumptions presented. Steve Styos is asking whether the motor vehicle tax assumptions include commercial vehicles (pickup trucks?). Lombardo said if they're living in the city they'll pay taxes to the city. We're not talking about tractor trailers. Stycos agrees that the bulk will be cars but the number for the car tax seems a bit high partly because it assumes everyone is going to be a resident of the city and there's going to be 100 percent occupancy.

"This is obviously the maximum," Lombardo said.

7:51 p.m.: Aceto to solicitor: nothing would stop property owners to seek abatement before the assessment board of review, right?

Patrick Quinlan, City Council Lawyer (paraphrasing here): Yep.

7:54 p.m.: Lombardo is from JDL Enterprises, by the way. You can see a report he's working off of HERE.

7:56 p.m. This meeting is shaping up to be dominated by TPG's presentation. Lombardo said the entire plan is going to be laid out before the council. And Council President John E. Lanni Jr. told a woman who said "we've heard this before" earlier in the meeting that there will be another meeting after this one. 

Lanni said the council has not seen the presentaiton and everyone needs to be educated before any decisions are made.

7:58 p.m. In response to Lombardo's assertion that the plan is in harmony with the city's comprehensive plan, Councilman Stycos notes the comp plan spelled out two options for this property and the options differ from what is being proposed and "really three big ways."

1. You're proposing "about double" the residential units in both those options.

2. The comp plan speciically says buildings should be two stories and 25 feet high. (they're taller)

3. The two plans call for 70 to 80,000 square feet of commercial/retail and yours is 7,200.

"It seems what envisioned for this site was shorter, more retail and less residential."

Lombardo: what they were presenting in the comp plan was an "illustration."

What the council has tonight is "real," he said. A developer has come in and done the study and analysis and this is the result. Too much commercial on that site would be more of an impact than residential, notably from a traffic perspective. 

The height issue: Lombardo — I can't put myself in the minds of the drafters of the comp plan, but what you have in a commercial setting is higher (35-40 feet or more) those heights were thought in their example, more commercial less residential. The second fact is amount of buildable land. More commercial would mean a lot more parking space. TPG's evaluation of the site influenced the design. Sometimes the limitations of the site change the reality of what ends up being submitted.

8:02 p.m.: DiBona says the issue with comp plan has been dealt with in planning and it was felt by the planning commission that it would be in the spirit of the comp plan and the illustrations laid out in it that refer to lower building heights and more commercial, less residential.

8:05 p.m.: Duncan Pendlebury, architect, is up. The project was designed to be beyond normal and something to be proud of upon completion. A photo of the clubhouse demonstrates the extra level of detail — longer roof lines, a porch, stone walls, gardens. 

"Obviously a quality development," Pendlebury said. 

The larger residential buildings are designed to not present flat walls. The facades are broken up, porches are "absorbed" into the building to deceptively look like windows. The slides show a style that says Victorian country club. (My interpretation, not what Pendlebury is saying.)

8:11 p.m. Entrance is a serpentine shape to create buffer, make the bulk of the project mostly obscured from view. Parking is spread around the site so you don't get long or broad parking areas, Pendlebury says. 

8:13 p.m. David Taglianetti, civil engineer is talking about the site itself. Nine acres can be developed. There are four wetlands areas, floodplain, and an area that is susceptible to flooding.

It's important to know, Taglianetti said, the only wetland impact is with a culvert crossing. An existing culvert crossing needs to be improved to permit access for site development and construction.

407 parking spaces. Three dedicated for mail center. Forty-one for commercial use. Balance is for residential use. Number of spaces to units is right at industry standard, Taglianetti said.

55 percent of site will be landscaped or open space — far beyond (three times) city requirements. Lighting will be Dark Sky compliant, all downcast, spillage will be minimized.

Taglianetti is giving reassurances that the drainage, traffic, parking, wetlands and pretty much all technical aspects have been addressed.

8:21 p.m.: Mario Aceto — have we heard from DEM?

Taglianetti — this project hasn't been formally submitted to DEM, but there have been informal conversations to reduce the impact on the land. When the time comes, TPG will get the necessary permits and approvals.

Aceto — what about environmental impact studies? It was an industrial site for many years (gravel pit).

Taglianetti — can't directly speak to, but there were studies done in the past by a prior owner. 

Voccola — one of the first things developer does is to get that kind of problem out of the way. One of the first things did when put development under agreement was environmental assessment. Did a phase one study and it came back there's no issues and the site has been deemed clean environmentally for the purposes of the development.

8:24 p.m.: Peter Alviti Jr., of Hudson Place Associates says there have been discussions with city and with Veola (water co.) and Providence water to discuss prospective of sewer lines for the project connecting up, found that there are several available routes to developer to build sewer line to connect to existing sewer system.

A specific point recommended by city sewer consultant that has available capacity far in excess of what will be generated by the development, Alviti said. 

The city's sewer consultant said the Sherman pumping station nearby has 450,000 gallons capacity and this project would need 41,000. Line would be routed out of development and would hug the 295 interchange, go north, cross 295.

A member of the audience interrupts and is gaveled down by Lanni. Residents are antsy.

Lanni said people can "voice your opinion to your heart's content" at the public portion of the meeting.

Back to Alviti. He says the nuances of exactly how the sewage from the project will get to a place with capacity might evolve and be refined during final design, the purpose of the current study is just to make sure there is capacity and routes available. Each alternative has varying costs.

The just-mentioned plan is TPG's choice because it would be less costly and efficient. It would be private, so funded, designed, built, operated and maintained for all time by TPG.

8:41 p.m.: Technology used to drill sewer line under 295's reliability questioned by Aceto and its proximity to bodies of water and brook on site.

Alviti said technology is in use already and proven in the field. Said the route wouldn't touch bodies of water. 

8:43 p.m.: My battery is a 47 percent. I'd like a five-minute recess to call my wife, find a power outlet and use the boy's room. Not that it's newsworthy, but that's what's happening.

8:48 p.m. Aceto - what would happen if the line under 295 ruptured?

Alviti — that's true with any street in the city with utilities. It goes with having utilities.

The good part of this is that it's really "small capacity," a single 4-inch pipe, much less pressure, less risk. Risk of something happening is remote to "improbable" if it did, you "go out and fix it," Alviti said.

The lines used for forced mains like this one are over designed by a factor of 4 to 5, Alviti said. 

8:51 p.m. Thomas O. Sweeney of Sweeney Real Estate and Appraisal is up. He was hired by TPG to give opinion what property would have on surrounding real estate values. 

Sweeney says the property is appropriate, brings in residential component, commercial component and maintains significant green space. The project was built to accommodate as much green space as possible.

On the commercial side, the retail operations will likely service the development and wouldn't be high traffic retail locations that would have an adverse impact on surrounding neighborhood.

The project would act as a transitional use from industrial uses along Phenix Avenue into the residential areas in western Cranston and beyond. It would have a positive impact on surrounding property values. 

"This development in no way shape or form wouldn't have positive range," he said. Rents would average $2,000 per month. It would be a newer project, great access to highway. Would be a "home run."

8:56 p.m.: Traffic.

Robert Clinton of BHD, transportation engineer. He reviewed the traffic study. 

Study looked at current and projected future conditions. Based on his assessment, improvements that are planned for the area will mitigate traffic impacts and could improve traffic flow when all is said and done, Clinton said.

There have been several meetings with neighborhood and the plans have tried to incorporate concerns raised by residents.

Right now on Phenix and Natick intersection, there is one lane heading west and storage lanes heading south have tendency to back up. On the northbound approach in evening it queues up and the left turn lane or the through lane will block vehciles from making left turns at intersection.

At the Route 37 intersection, there's heavy left turn volumes that back up through movement which affects the Natick and Phenix intersection and cars coming from the other direction. Over at the Wilbur Ave. intersection, through vehicles block vehicles that are trying to take a right turn. Hard to follow? I'm lost.

So the future projections incorporate growth estimates and site-generated traffic. 

9:06 p.m. — There is concentrated peak out here. There are periods where this heavy congestion at the intersections and issues discussed earlier make it worse. The proposed improvements add an extra turning lane at the Phenix/Natick intersection, the storage lane for turning cars would be increased to allow for more through-cars to drive past and an increase in the stacking lane for cars going down the hill wanting to turn.

Natick and Route 37 would be fully re-striped to better delineate the left-turn lane to allow people traveling through the corridor to proceed without getting stuck behind turning vehicles. The idea is to get right-turning vehicles out of the way so as not to clog passthrough traffic.

Natick and Wilbur would have similar improvements including right on red for westbound traffic when eastbound is proceeding.

Clinton suggests that the improvements would more than make up for any traffic increases by the project.

The state DOT would have to sign off on these plans. TPG would have to apply for a Physical Alteration Permit (PAP) to make the improvements.

9:12 p.m. — Scituate, Wayland and Phenix intersection was not part of study. Clinton said the residential aspect means most of the traffic would be coming on and off the highway. 

Councilman Aceto says there are plenty of other neighborhoods nearby that have residents still trying to get in and out of the area and would be coming from the Scituate, Wayland and Phenix intersection. 

9:19 p.m. — Wondering why Councilman Aceto is asking so many questions? The project is in is ward, Ward 4.

9:24 p.m. — Councilman Farina - points out the traffic studies were based on a narrow time frame on a March day. Clinton notes that there is empirical data from DOT that is factored in.

So what happens during the summer?

No school, Clinton said, so counts go down when school isn't in session.

A few residents are shaking their heads.

Clinton says down in South County you have to worry about beach traffic and other fluctuations in the summer. Not that the only fluctation was the school year, though.

(Ed. note — I grew up in South County and the beach traffic, especially on Routes 4 and 1, has been severe in recent years.)

9:27 p.m.: Presentation is complete. We're heading into public comment mode. Short break.

9:36 p.m. — Beginning public comment.

David Nadeau - lifelong Cranston resident. Says the development is "arrogance and gred."

Traffic is only going to get worse. It will negatively impact my and our quality of life, says Nadeau. (not sure of his spelling, will double check ASAP).

He lives on Natick Avenue, 300 feet from Route 37, "right on top of this." 

Also owns commercial propert on Atwood Avenue. His family has lived through all sorts of major developmens including Route 37. There are many accidents there. It's a terrible road design that has seen weekly accidents since its completion in 1969.

Much traffic and chaos in morning and afternoons. Inconveniences and safety issues getting out of his driveway. Traffic is backed up 30 to 40 cars with aggressive traffic making matters worse.

With 192 residents, it will create more traffic and chaos. "It's not a place I want to live for the rest of my life."

We don't need to be steamrolled by TPG, Nadeau said.

TPG is feeding the council "BS" and labeling it caviar, he said.

9:41 p.m. Resident (didn't catch his name), lives at 602 Phenix Ave. Concerned about traffic. Leaves at 7 a.m. and goes towards Cranston West and takes him 20-25 cars passing on Phenix Avenue to get out onto the road. Wife goes opposite way and has to go past two lanes of traffic can be there 5 to 8 minutes crossing street. That's today's traffic. 

"With tomorrow's traffic, I don't know what's going to happen."

Laments fact traffic studies don't go further down Phenix Ave. 

There's a lot more work that needs to be done on this project. I believe there is a lot more of wetlands in there than what they're saying. 

I don't see how they're going to have enough egress to maintain the traffic. As it stands now taking about an egress towards ice skating rink, which is city property. Why should the city provide that, he asks. They need to figure it out on their own land.

9:45 p.m. — Vicent Cullen of Ionia Street. Been lifelong resident except for four years in Armed Services and two years in grad school. Been a great place to raise a family. Feelings starting to change in recent years. Neighborhood in Oak Lawn seemed like a great mix. But things have been changing. It's a good neighborhood of good people, few problems. Has lived in his house for more than 40 years. People come and people stay. To come in and make these drastic changes. . . my suggestion is to not approve this. If it were modified, downsized somewhat, might be feasible.

Mentions traffic and says he thinks it will remain a major problem.

He sees one faction against it — residents. The other faction for it are people who have a financial interest. Asks what "best solution" means when TPG says going to four stories instead of two, for example. Best solution for developers? Best decision for quality of life?

9:50 p.m. — residents are applauding each other.

9:51 p.m. — Resident Sherry Izzi presents petition with 151 signatures to the council. Says many people unable to attend tonight's meeting because of school vacation. Thankful there is a second meeting. Said she will wait until second meeting for her comments due to the clock nearing 10 p.m.

Lanni said the meeting fell during vacation unintentionally. Asked City Clerk to advertising meeting three weeks in advance. That was three weeks ago, didn' realize it was school vacation week. That's why there will be a second meeting.

9:54 p.m.: Fred Joslyn is up. He said he's concerned about scale of project and the relationship of the community it will be immersed.

Oak Lawn has historic roots dating back to 18th century. This community is close knit, but to put this, the size and scope of a project such of this in the community is "totally out of context."

Refers to current zoning laws, an A-12 zone, which is for single family dwellings, day care, cultural use facility, educational institution, nursing home, public safety, house of worship, open space or park use. 

"There is certainly ample profit to be made if the owner wanted to exercise his rights under those uses," Joslyn said.

Josyln said the council's approval of this in its current scale would have "grave consequences for decades to come."

Joslyn submits documents for the record that document accidents that have occurred at the intersections. The information was provided by Cranston Police from Jan. 2011 to Jan. 2013. 

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Josyln said expert testimony is "not conclusive just because he is wearing a suit and has letters of the alphabet after his name."

He said the project is a good one, but just doesn't belong in that area.

10:02 p.m.: School Committee Member Trent Colford is up. Said he's lived on Phenix Avenue for last 40+ years, knows intersection very well. Right now lives on Kimberly Lane North. Drives through intersection all the time. 

Talking about adding 192 units here. Cites vacancy issues. The drive-through 7,000 square foot property. Knows quick-service restaurants do 5,000 to 7,000 customers per week and anyone would love to have that property due to the proximity to the highway. But the traffic there would make it hard getting in and out.

Colford is "with" his neighbors aboout the traffic problems. Cars back up all the way to Olney Arnold Road. Trying to figure out how to get an extra 380 vehicles. Some opportunities like painting the road might help and that should be done if the project is done or not, by the city. He knows TPG wants to make win-win situation, develop the property, increase tax rolls.

Problem is, Colford said, is they haven't made the case for the neighbors. As taxpayer it sounds great, but as a resident it doesn't seem so great based on the added traffic and increased drain on city services.

And what happens if they don't fill all the vacancies? Colford pitches the idea that the city ask for money from TPG to make up the difference.

10:08 p.m. — Murmurs from the crowd as Aram Garabedian takes the podium. He has supported this plan in the past.

Garabedian said the testimony so far is emotional. He's sat in your seat. He sat there during the floods. Times when you have to let people go from work. A budget to live with. It's not easy. It gets to me, he said. I'm a trustee of a man who I knew for 50 years, lent some land to family and made me the trustee. If I represented you I'd be here for you if I were your trustee.

All I can ask the council is take this case like you'd be taking a claim someday. 

As a co-managing partner of Warwick Mall, Garabedian said he is concerned about traffic outside his mall. The owners of the Lodges property will sink $30 million. If they did that, they'd be the biggest investors on the block. And if they filled the 192 units, they're the ones who are going to be more involved than anyone here to make sure it's safe and the traffic moves.

"When you're in business and you got problems in the front of your place, you're the first one to work on it yourself," he said.

Garabedian says the council has to make a decision based on the process. Look at the evidence, make the decision based on the testimony and the planning commissions recommendations. They wouldn't recommend it if it didn't meet all the requirements, he says.

Boos from the crowd.

10:13 p.m. — Fomer Council President Tony Lupino is up. 

This is a valuable property, he says. 

The big question RE: planning/zoning — who designates the amount of commercial development will be there? There' s a drive-up. Could be a bank or a Dunkin' Donuts. Who will determine the limits?

Takes issue with some of the math used earlier. Basing units per acre based on just buildable land (9 acres) the figure is more like 20+ per acre.

$500,000 in new revenue — What does that do to the property tax rate, Lupino asks. "You know," he said. "It doesn't do much at all."

Student population not factored in all day K which is on the short horizon very soon so that will drastically change those numbers in the next year or two at the most.

RE: architecture — what happened to dedicated right turn lane from 37? Seems to have gotten smaller and shorter from earlier versions of the plan.

1.5 spaces per unit.

"My wife doesn't drive half a car," Lupino said. "I don't know if yours does."

10:25 p.m. — Michelle Calise is concerned about egress. Needs to transport someone in and out and is worried about traffic. Most rescue calls are rescue calls, not fire calls, and the egress issues coupled with traffic there could be highly problematic.

As a nurse and having a child who is chronically ill makes her worry about access to emergency vehicles.

10:27 — David Izzi says that the car tax calculation of $600 per car TPG used to base info on car tax revenue is not a panacea. Cars depreciate in value. 

10:30 p.m. — David Gould asks where the village center is. Suggests one lone commecial building along Phenix Avenue doesn't quite qualify if it's in front of the 192 apartment units.

Speakers are winding down. This might be wrapping up soon.

10:32 p.m. — Resident Kimberly Bittner said she's sure that if the Lodges don't fill up, rents will go down. 

She does not believe the plan "works" with the comp plan just because TPG is saying so. Wants to see something happen there but "not at the expense of the community."

10:33 p.m. — Nicholas Mattiello, state Rep.

Project is a good one, he says, but doesn't belong where they want to put it. If it can be trimmed down a little, it might work, but "192 units scares me. If I'm listening to my constituents correctly, it scares them also."

People move to the western side of the city and pay high taxes that subsidize other areas of the city for the quality of life. And traffic and ease of egress and ingress goes to quality of life. Aren't we allowed to rely on comp plan when it exists?

People who move into the area rely on the comp plan and a sense that they can trust the area will be predictable for years. Does this plan really promise that, he asks. What about when remaining undeveloped property in the area continues to get built, adding more cars to the mix.

Traffic is atrocious. Often turns around on Phenix Avenue to find a way out of the neighborhood to get to court, the State House, to do business.

That goes to quality of life. And previous comments about emergency vehicles are important. People need to feel comfortable they will be able to get in and out.

Matiello said he does believe the owner of the prop should be able to develop it but there needs to be a compromise. You can't create wealth for free, he said. It comes at someone's expense. By making development too intense in that spot, making it harder on people who've already been there.

10:39 p.m. Meeting is adjourned. 

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