For years it was the place to get Fudgie the Whale, Cookie Puss or an ice cream cake. And even when it transitioned into a lounge and late night hangout for motorcyclists or a burger joint, it was …
For years it was the place to get Fudgie the Whale, Cookie Puss or an ice cream cake. And even when it transitioned into 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 cupula at the intersection of Airport Road and Post Road moved a step closer to being demolished to make room for a bank and store Wednesday night.
The Planning Board gave master plan approval to Premier Land Development to develop Carvel Plaza. The board also recommended the City Council approve a zone change for much of the property, formerly owned by the state, from residential to commercial. But after listening to the concerns of neighboring residents, board members questioned the proposed entrance and egress to the development. Board members would like engineers to consider the feasibility of altering the proposed access from Guilford Drive and even if access and egress could be limited to a curb cut diagonally across from Airport Road. And at the request of Dennis Paolucci who lives on Pell Street, K. Joseph Shekarchi, representing Premier, and members of the City Planning Department agreed to walk the property to clearly define those portions of the site to be kept open space for use as a pocket park for neighborhood kids to play and residents to walk their dogs. Those areas including the entirety of one of the four lots making up the site would come under a conservation easement.
The property has undergone 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 separated the aviation division from the Department of Transportation to create the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, using federal funds the state acquired three homes behind Carvel. For a period, one of the houses was used as an office for the federally funded program to reduce the impact of aircraft noise through insulation, window replacement and air conditioning systems. Eventually all three homes were demolished. The neighborhood adopted the open space as a park. It stayed that way for years, but it wasn’t going to last when the federal government looked for the state to dispose of the land under condition it not be used residentially.
Residents were surprised and alarmed when -- without notice -- a giant sign indicating the property was going to be sold in auction was posted on property. Meanwhile, David Corsetti, president of Premier bought the former Carvel property from Don Ed Realty Corp. in January 2020 for $950,000 that had run it as Ozzi’s Burgers. The initial auction was postponed but when held March 9, 2020, Corsetti was the sole bidder at $400,000.
Corsetti promised to work with the neighborhood, saying if he couldn’t come to an agreement, he would sell the site to another developer rather than take on what could become protracted litigation. The former state property is critical to development of the Carvel site as the Carvel land is limited to a narrow strip along Post Road. The Premier plan calls for the bank and adjoining retail store (tenants of neither buildings have been identified, but the retail would not be a restaurant) to be setback from Post Road with parking in the front and back. The bank would have a drive thru window.
While neighbors say Premiere has listened to their concerns and sought to address them, they are wary.
“Even though we have a good relationship, every time it’s a different story,” Paolucci told the board. Paolucci said the neighborhood is “very blessed” to have the proposed “open field.”
“We want to work together,” he said.
His reservations were echoed by Harold Ouimette and his wife Kim.
Following Shekrachi’s presentation in which he stressed this would be a “low intensity development” and that a bank would be “ideal” because of its hours of operation and minimal traffic, Harold called on the board to “help us.”
“They have all the money and the power,” he said of the developer, “It doesn’t make it right.”
At the end of the hearing, his wife Kim said “I love you Lou (Lou Marandola who represented Premier), but we have to protect it (the promised open space and the neighborhood).” She said neighbors are aware “something has to go there and a bank is perfect.” Nonetheless, she is concerned that her view will be restricted to the back of a building and to access from Guilford.
“I think what’s happening here is not right,” she said.
Access, egress a key issue
Prior to opening the hearing to public comment Board Chair Phil Slocum said, “I love redevelopment of the location, there’s a lot of good about this project.” He expressed reservations over access and egress from the site saying “it is short of suicide even with a light.” Also, he said is concerned by the “intensity use” of the retail space even though it would not be a restaurant.
Board member Kevin Flynn likewise questioned access to the property and suggested it be limited to a single location.
Members of the board agreed with neighbors that vehicles parking on the Carvel lot and on Guilford from Rhode Island Home Improvement have been a long standing problem, although it has no bearing on this development.
More than once, Slocum emphasized that neighbors would have to have input as the proposed development is considered by the Zoning Board and the city council acts on whether to rezone a portion of the site to commercial use.
At this point he called the plan “conceptual” and that even after rezoning by the council, it will return to the Planning Board for Preliminary Plan approval and an additional opportunity for public comment.