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