Coun­cil again OK’s Apex plan Amend­ments to Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan ap­proved; lan­guage ironed out, clar­i­fied

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE jbis­son­[email protected]­tuck­et­times.com

PAW­TUCKET — The City Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day night, for the sec­ond time in a month, voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove amend­ments to the city’s Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan, declar­ing the Apex par­cel blighted and sub­stan­dard.

The coun­cil, on Nov. 7, pre­vi­ously ap­proved an amend­ment, declar­ing the prop­erty blighted and sub­stan­dard, while mak­ing clear that the city is open to hav­ing the cur­rent own­ers lease and or re­de­velop the prop­erty, act­ing as an “ig­niter” for the re­de­vel­op­ment of down­town.

A sec­ond vote was on the coun­cil docket for its Nov. 20 meet­ing, but ac­tion that night was de­layed after a se­ries of al­ter­ations to the or­di­nance stripped out cer­tain phras- es, prompt­ing coun­cilors to call for a pub­lic hear­ing to al­low in­ter­ested par­ties to dis­cuss the amend­ments.

The most no­table changes prior to the Nov. 20 coun­cil meet­ing were the re­moval of the words “fi­nanc­ing” and “con­struc­tion” when ref­er­enc­ing the cen­ter­piece of the amend­ment – the de­vel­op­ment of the Apex prop­erty, known as the “Cen­ter­piece Fa­cil­ity.” Ad­di­tion­ally, the word “recre­ational” was deleted from the lan­guage ref­er­enc­ing the de­vel­op­ment of a so-called “recre­ational fa­cil­ity.”

Lan­guage that was added spec­i­fies that the amend­ment pro­vides the Apex prop­erty may be re­de­vel­oped by the cur­rent owner. How­ever, the added lan­guage stip­u­lates that it may be­come nec­es­sary for the Paw­tucket Re­de­vel­op­ment Agency to ac­quire the prop­er­ties

ei­ther through a con­sen­sual sale or em­i­nent do­main.

Dis­trict 3 Coun­cilor Ter­rence E. Mercer, after a deep sigh, said “I don’t know where to start.”

“I still have some prob­lems with this en­tire is­sue,” Mercer said. “I be­lieve it’s a bit pre­ma­ture and that we’re walk­ing down a rocky path. I un­der­stand all the frus­tra­tion that’s de­vel­oped as long as two decades … This doesn’t cure that frus­tra­tion. It’s not a golden goose, this is not go­ing to mirac­u­lously make that frus­tra­tion go away.”

Ul­ti­mately, though, Mercer voted in fa­vor of the amend­ments.

Dis­trict 1 Coun­cilor and Coun­cil Pres­i­dent David P. Moran said Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing “didn’t change my opin­ion at all from the last time. If any­thing, it re­in­forced it.”

“It comes down to trust and track record. To me, the Apex de­vel­op­ment and that cor­po­ra­tion, they have a very weak track record…” Moran said.

“I think I trust the ad­min­is­tra­tion more at this time … I am ex­tremely com­fort­able in vot­ing on this and hope­fully both sides can come to­gether and that’s what I hope in the fu­ture.”

Rep­re­sent­ing the city and PRA on Wed­nes­day night was at­tor­ney Theodore Or­son of Prov­i­dence’s Or­son & Brusini. While the lan­guage de­clares the Apex par­cel blighted and sub­stan­dard, Or­son said it is his hope that the city will never have to take the prop­er­ties by em­i­nent do­main, as the city in­stead hopes to work with the com­pany.

That said, he noted, “we don’t want to wait years and years” and by hav­ing those prop­er­ties de­clared blighted and sub­stan­dard, “we’ve taken one step to­ward em­i­nent do­main tak­ing, if that should be­come nec­es­sary.”

Or­son opened his re­marks by in­form­ing the coun­cil that Mayor Don­ald R. Gre­bien had sent a let­ter to Apex Com­pa­nies Pres­i­dent An­drew Gates on Wed­nes­day in an ef­fort to re­solve con­cerns.

Or­son read from Gre­bien’s let­ter and ex­plained that the

mayor is hope­ful to work to­ward a “mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial” re­sult, as the city in­tends to work with Gates and his team so Apex can max­i­mize the value of the prop­erty, while the city can reach its goal of mak­ing the prop­erty the cen­ter­piece of the down­town and river­front.

“We can work co­op­er­a­tively to de­velop a plan con­sis­tent with the city’s re­de­vel­op­ment vi­sion, while not com­pro­mis­ing re­spec­tive goals,” Or­son read from the let­ter. “If every­one is just will­ing to give a lit­tle, we be­lieve there are no road­blocks that can­not be over­come.”

Or­son then told the coun­cil: “We hope this let­ter will re­solve Mr. Gates’ con­cern and that he will with­draw his ob­jec­tion to the amend­ment.”

At­tor­ney Joseph Whe­lan, who rep­re­sented Apex at Wed­nes­day’s coun­cil meet­ing, said Apex re­ceived Gre­bien’s let­ter about 90 min­utes be­fore the coun­cil meet­ing and he ques­tioned how any­thing in the amend­ments dis­cussed by the coun­cil “achieve what the mayor has told us is the goal? It doesn’t.”

“We do not want to be in a fight with the city, we do not want to be in lit­i­ga­tion with the city,” Whe­lan later said. “If you vote for this, we’ll still work with the ad­min­is­tra­tion as hard as we can.”

He also re­quested an amend­ment to the lan­guage, chang­ing the obli­ga­tion that Apex bring a lease to the city to in­stead read as a let­ter of in­tent as “no com­mer­cial de­vel­oper is go­ing to be com- fort­able hav­ing a lease shared with the city be­fore they know whether they’re go­ing to get it ap­proved.”

Or­son con­tended that let­ters of in­tent have “lit­tle value” and “can be drawn up with­out any re­spon­si­bil­ity … Usu­ally they’re not bind­ing.”

Whe­lan ad­di­tion­ally said that there is a “vi­sion for a very good mixed-use de­vel­op­ment” in Apex’s fu­ture, but a find­ing of blight by the coun­cil would “thwart de­vel­op­ment.” He im­plored the coun­cil to “slow down here and take a look at this,” say­ing the city’s ac­tions are pre­ma­ture, as there is no con­crete plan in place for down­town’s fu­ture.

In ad­di­tion to the Apex build­ing at 100 Main St., that amend­ment fo­cuses on the Berry Build­ing at 101 Main St., Apex Tire Cen­ter at 1 School St., the Apex over­flow park­ing lot at 10 School St., and the for­mer St. Ge­orge’s Church site at 46 Main St.

Com­merce Di­rec­tor Jeanne Boyle said the city’s vi­sion is one that will be where the prop­erty takes ad­van­tage of its lo­ca­tion on the river­front and has a “cat­alytic im­pact on down­town.” The vi­sion, she said, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­clude re­tail and is not be­ing lim­ited to any par­tic­u­lar land use.

“This is a crit­i­cal prop­erty and has the op­por­tu­nity to have ben­e­fits that are go­ing to ad­dress the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of the down­town,” Boyle said.

File photo

The City Coun­cil on Wed­nes­day night, for the sec­ond time in a month, voted unan­i­mously to ap­prove amend­ments to the city’s Re­de­vel­op­ment Plan, declar­ing the Apex par­cel blighted and sub­stan­dard.

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