Eminent domain push for depot being dropped: Pawtucket RI Times, 4/2/07

By Douglas Hadden

The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency is quietly dropping its nearly three-year push to seize the former train station property on Broad Street, which straddles the line with Central Falls, by eminent domain.

The City Council has voted twice, including late last year, to reject the move, which PRA again brought forward to the new council earlier this year.

Along the way the developer and owner, SMPO Properties/Warwick RICS LLC, which has a long term lease with CVS to build a 12,000 square foot pharmacy on the Central Falls side of the site, began demolishing a wing of the 91-year-old Beau Arts structure.

Pawtucket struck back in court by getting a temporary restraining order. That ultimately led to a compromise to save the vacant, decaying building that was announced March 20 by Mayor James E. Doyle and Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau, SMPO and CVS.

Key to the compromise was abandoning part of the wide sidewalk and roadway area on the north side of Broad Street to create more vehicle access for the pharmacy without having to remove any of the depot structure.

Since then, PRA has been quietly negotiating with Thomas Moses, attorney for SMPO, on terms that would prevent the agency revisiting eminent domain - a process for land seizure for which the owner is compensated at appraised market value, and which can trigger extensive litigation - against the depot in the future, according to Michael Cassidy, PRA executive director and the city's planning and redevelopment chief.

"We have actually been corresponding with Tom Moses on an agreement whereby the mayor (Doyle) and Redevelopment Agency would agree not to go forward on eminent domain, and the developer would not go forward with certain things," Cassidy told The Times last week.

Cassidy declined to give details but said the agreement was "already in the fourth draft. I'd like to have an agreement with the solicitor (Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta) and mayor to present to the next meeting (of PRA)," on April 24.

Even as the legal machinations wind down on the depot, PRA is going ahead with an eminent domain initiative for another city property, and - five years after it was welcomed to town - has filed suit against the owner of the Silver Top diner.

"We filed suit. I have not received the answer," PRA attorney Kevin Horan told the agency at its monthly meeting last week. Horan said the attorney for diner owner Patricia Brown has indicated he will file a counterclaim within the allowed 60 days.

Amid much fanfare and a 15-year, $100,000 loan at 5 percent from PRA, Brown had the diner, which operated in Providence's Promenade area for 60 years, towed to a PRA-owned lot on Middle Street where it has sat since March 12, 2002.

Since then, $60,000 of the loan has been expended on various business plans but Brown, who bought the classic Kullman dining car for $1 from prior owner Bernard Bouncervello, has been unable to secure the projected $600,000 in financing needed to get the diner a new kitchen, shore up the steep site and reopen operations.

Brown has also been unsuccessful in attempts to interest a buyer or find a new site.

Meanwhile the diner has sat five years under a blue tarp that has become a veritable part of the streetscape in the Pleasant View neighborhood. Its only use in that time was as a set for a Rhode Island School of Design student sci-fi movie, "Space Theater," in January 2003.

PRA has been more successful in helping clean up the corner of Broad and Barton streets, where it will provide demolition funds for a vacant former restaurant building that the Pawtucket Business Development Corp., a city nonprofit development entity, is negotiating with its owner to buy, avoiding the need for PRA to seek eminent domain authority, according to Cassidy.

Funds for the purchase will come from Rhode Island Housing, Cassidy said. The site is across the street from a planned community garden, and north on Barton from the new $1.7 million Callaghan Gardens affordable housing project, 14 townhouse condo units now well under construction by the private, nonprofit Pawtucket Citizens Development Corp.

PRA is also on the verge of selling the former Laurel Hill Playground site on Lonsdale Avenue to the Blackstone Valley Community Action Program.

Cassidy said BVCAP will submit a subdivision application this month to the Planning Commission to construct two single family homes, with double driveways and parking in back, on the 20,000 square foot site.

If all goes as planned, Cassidy said the PRA could be asked to approve transfer of the property to BVCAP sometime this summer.

As for perhaps the longest delayed city project of all - the new hotel to be built off Division Street at a former car dealership site overlooking the Pawtucket River - Cassidy said the Carpionato Properties project is nearing construction start.

"They plan to start construction sometime in May," Cassidy said, with so-called 70 percent architectural plans for a 200-room Hampton Inn (100 rooms in each of two phases) now completed.

But Cassidy said construction cannot start until a new fire hydrant service is installed, and the attendant water lines work must await a tearup of Division Street by the Pawtucket Water Supply Board that is not allowed to seasonally start until April 15.

The hotel is on land the city acquired for $1 from the finance arm of General Motors. Separately, PRA itself owns a small parcel to the southeast that it has been in exploratory talks with Carpionato to sell and add to the footprint, Cassidy said.

Carpionato as part of the project is also responsible to widen part of Division Street to result in two through lanes plus two stacking lanes and a turning lane.
The site will also feature a free standing restaurant near the road, and a drive-up entry for the hotel that will be at the level of the second floor.

Pawtucket RI Times: http://www.zwire.com