Cranston’s Costco loss may be Johnston’s gain

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Plans for a new Costco-anchored development at the current home of Mulligan’s Island Golf & Entertainment in Cranston have again stalled, this time through a vote of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee.

And according to Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena, Cranston’s loss may be Johnston’s gain, if the town can find an appropriate site for the wholesale club.

“We would welcome them to Johnston,” Polisena said. “We would love to have a Costco.”

Polisena expressed optimism they could accommodate the business within the town limits.

“The developer called us,” he said. “We’ll see if we can find them a site along the Route 6 corridor.”

Whether the move represents the end of efforts to bring the wholesale club to Cranston remains unclear. It also remains to be seen what else might be proposed at the roughly 55-acre Mulligan’s site, the owners of which have said the existing operation is unsustainable.

The Ordinance Committee on May 20 rejected Massachusetts-based Coastal Partners LLC’s request for a finding that its plans for the property – a development that would be called Cranston Crossing – had undergone “substantial” changes since an initial proposal was filed with the city last year.

That initial submission from Coastal Partners – which sought a major amendment to the Mixed Use Planned District, or MPD, zoning that governs the site – was withdrawn in December 2020, shortly before a scheduled City Council vote.

Because the zoning change request had proceeded so far in the review process, the city’s ordinances prohibit reconsideration within a two-year time period unless either the Ordinance Committee and City Council, or the Zoning Board of Review, grant the “substantial” change finding.

The committee held a public hearing on the developer’s petition for that finding during its regular monthly meeting on May 13, hearing from area residents, city officials and Michael DiGuiseppe, managing partner of Coastal Partners. At that meeting, Planning Director Jason Pezzullo told council members that planning staff did not view the changes in Coastal Partners’ plans as meeting the “substantial” threshold.

Due to a lack of specific language on the May 13 agenda indicating a vote would be taken, the committee’s final deliberations and decision were delayed to a special session May 20.

Last week’s meeting was brief, with little discussion from committee members.

The final vote to deny the “substantial” change finding was 5-1, with citywide Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli, Council President Chris Paplauskas, Council Vice President Ed Brady, Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Ward 6 Councilman Matthew Reilly, the committee’s chairman, joining in the majority.

Citywide Councilman Robert Ferri was the sole vote against rejecting the substantial change finding. During the meeting, he had clarified with legal counsel that the vote pertained solely to that finding, and not to the zoning change or any other aspect of the review process.

Reached Tuesday, Ferri described himself as “a little torn” and said his intention was solely to allow the project’s developer to continue working to address community concerns.

Had the “substantial” change finding been granted and opponents still not been satisfied down the road, he said, he would have opposed the zoning change. He also said he expected to be the only dissenting vote last week.

“We were only voting to let [the developer] continue the process,” he said. “I didn’t see any reason to stop them from continuing the process … to give them another chance to try and get it right.”

He added: “I’m a man of conviction. I wasn’t going to change my vote just because I didn’t have anyone else voting with me.”

Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain, who had been unable to attend the May 13 meeting, abstained from the vote because she had missed the public hearing testimony.

Vargas said she did not see a “substantial” change in the developer’s revised plans, which remove some proposed restaurant spaces from the Cranston Crossing development but maintain the planned Costco at the center of the project.

“While I am not against Costco in general, I just don’t think this particular site, the way the plan has been presented, the change has been presented, the modification has been presented to us, is an actual substantial change, in my views,” she said.

Reilly echoed that sentiment.

“Looking at the plans next to each other, I don’t think a reasonable person could come to the conclusion there’s much, if any, difference … It was a proposed box store. It’s still a box store,” he said.

In an email Tuesday, DiGuiseppe declined to comment on the committee’s vote.

Following the vote, Mayor Ken Hopkins, who has been a vocal opponent of Cranston Crossing, issued a statement under the headline “Hopkins says Costco is still welcome to come to Cranston.”

“While I always maintained that the Mulligan’s Island site was not the appropriate location for Costco, I would welcome the opportunity to work with Costco officials to identify a better, more suitable location in our city,” the mayor said in the statement. “I agree with last night’s decision of the Ordinance Committee members that the latest plans were not a substantial change from the proposal withdrawn by the developer in December.”

He continued: “We have other possible sites in Cranston that Costco should consider and I have directed my Administration to reach out to company officials.”

DiGuiseppe, for his part, has publicly indicated that in terms of Costco coming to Cranston, the Mulligan’s site is the only option.

During the May 13 hearing, he said: “If they’re not going to Mulligan’s, they’re going to another city, or they’re not going to Rhode Island at all.”

Johnston Sun Rise Editor Rory Schuler contributed to this story.

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