Carvel Plaza plan gets initial board approval

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By JOHN HOWELL

For years this was the place to buy Fudgie the Whale, Cookie Puss or an ice cream cake. And even when it became a lounge and late-night hangout for motorcyclists or a burger joint, it was still known as Carvel. That won’t change although the octagonal building with a cupola at the intersection of Airport Road and Post Road moved closer to demolition to make way for a bank and shop on Wednesday evening.

The Planning Board has approved Premier Land Development’s master plan to develop Carvel Plaza. The council also recommended that the city council approve a rezoning for much of the property, formerly owned by the state, from residential to commercial. But after listening to the concerns of neighboring residents, council members questioned the proposed entry and exit for the development. Council members would like the engineers to consider altering the proposed access from Guilford Drive and even if access and egress could be restricted to a diagonally cut curb opposite Airport Road. And at the request of Dennis Paolucci who lives on Pell Street, K. Joseph Shekarchi, representing the Prime Minister, and members of the planning department agreed to walk the property to clearly define the parts of the site to be kept as space open. pocket park for neighborhood children to play and residents to walk their dogs. These areas comprising the entirety of one of the four lots making up the site would be subject to a conservation easement.

The property underwent a series of transitions as the airport grew and development intensified – squeezing the neighborhood between Amtrak and Post Road. In the 1980s, before former Governor Bruce Sundlun spun off the aviation division of the Department of Transportation to create the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, using federal funds, the state acquired three homes behind Carvel. For a time, one of the houses was used as an office for the federally funded program to reduce the impact of aircraft noise through insulation, window replacements and air conditioning systems. Eventually, the three houses were demolished. The neighborhood has embraced the open space like a park. It remained that way for years, but it was not going to last when the federal government asked the state to dispose of the land on the condition that it not be used for residential purposes.

Residents were surprised and alarmed when – without warning – a giant sign stating that the property was going to be auctioned off was posted on the property. Meanwhile, Premier Chairman David Corsetti purchased the former Carvel property from Don Ed Realty Corp. in January 2020 for $950,000 who had run it as Ozzi’s Burgers. The initial auction was postponed, but when it was held on March 9, 2020, Corsetti was the sole bidder at $400,000.

Corsetti promised to work with the neighborhood, saying if he couldn’t reach an agreement he would sell the site to another developer rather than take on what could become a protracted dispute. Former Crown ownership is critical to the development of the Carvel site, as Carvel’s land is limited to a narrow strip along Post Road. The Premier plan calls for the bank and adjoining retail store (the tenants of neither building have been identified, but the retail would not be a restaurant) to be set back from Post Road with parking at the front and back. The bank would have a drive-thru.

While neighbors say Premiere listened to their concerns and sought to address them, they are suspicious.

“Even though we have a good relationship, every time it’s a different story,” Paolucci told the board. Paolucci said the neighborhood is “very lucky” to have the “open field” on offer.

“We want to work together,” he said.

His reservations were echoed by Harold Ouimette and his wife Kim.

After Shekrachi’s presentation in which he pointed out that it would be a “low intensity development” and that a bank would be “ideal” due to its opening hours and minimal traffic, Harold called on the council to “help us”.

“They have all the money and power,” he said of the developer, “That doesn’t fix things.”

At the end of the hearing, his wife Kim said “I love you Lou (Lou Marandola who represented Prime Minister), but we have to protect him (the promised open space and the neighborhood).” She said neighbors are aware that “something has to go there and a bank is perfect”. However, she fears her view will be limited to the back of a building and the access from Guilford.

“I don’t think what’s happening here is fair,” she said.


Access, exit a key problem

Before opening the hearing to public comment, Chairman of the Board, Phil Slocum, said: “I love the redevelopment of the location, there is a lot of good in this project.” He expressed reservations about entering and exiting the site saying “it’s short of suicide even with a light”. Additionally, he expressed concern about the “intensity of use” of the retail space even though it would not be a restaurant.

Council member Kevin Flynn also questioned access to the property and suggested it be limited to one location.

Board members agreed with neighbors that vehicle parking on the Carvel lot and on Rhode Island Home Improvement’s Guilford was a long-standing issue, although it had no bearing on this development.

More than once, Slocum has pointed out that neighbors should have a say as the proposed development is reviewed by the zoning board and the city council decides whether to rezone part of the site for commercial use.

At this stage, he characterized the plan as “conceptual” and that even after rezoning by council, it will revert to the Planning Council for approval of the preliminary plan and a further opportunity for public comment.


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