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The Big Box mystery goes before town

February 28, 2011

A photo of an artist's rendering on a proposed big box store in East Greenwich.

Plans for a mysterious big box, opening up to a commercial and residential development, have begun to unfold along the East Greenwich-North Kingstown border.
Representatives of the developer hoping to build The Commons at Frenchtown Road on the 107-acre property wrapped around the former Brown & Sharpe Building revealed some of their plans last Wednesday in their pre-application presentation before the Planning Board, the first step of the long journey Frenchtown Partners LLC must travel before the plan becomes reality.
Brian Laplante, a Providence lawyer, is the sole agent for Frenchtown Partners, incoporated in June 2010, according to the Secretary of State’s Office Web site.
Jay Glasson, lawyer for the developer, would not indicate which retailer would eventually move into the planned 135,000-square-foot, one-level building, to be sited on the western portion of the property near Route 403.
In additional to Planning Board approval, the parcel would require Town Council approval for a zone change from Farm to Highway Commercial and setback relief from the Zoning Board of Review.
The development plan calls for the large retail store and a restaurant and/or bank to be located on the East Greenwich section of the property, which angles out toward Frenchtown Road. The North Kingstown section is expected to include more retail, possibly another big box; a cinema, a restaurant or bank, a pharmacy and a mix of business and residential development. Thirty acres to the rear of the site and near Route 403. all in North Kingstown, will be reserved for possible future development.
“We’ve looked at Kohl’s and Target,” said Glasson, adding that the developer does not have a commitment from any major retailer. He compared the anticipated style of development to the recently built South County Commons, off Route 1 just north of Wakefield.
Glasson and engineer Scott Moorhead said the site has drainage issues that need to be resolved during the permitting process.
“At this early stage, we’re just looking at what pieces are to be put on the site,” said Donald Leighton, architect for the project. “We believe there’s some synergy between two communities who want to bring in user-friendly development.”
Frenchtown Partners does not yet have a hearing scheduled before the North Kingstown Planning Commission.
Joseph Lombardo, planning consultant for the developer, said the project could generate $250,000 in annual tax revenue for East Greenwich, an estimate he termed conservative.
Planning Board members gave the plan a warm initial reception, though not without concerns.
James Smith said the East Greenwich Fire Station 2 on Frenchtown Road would the closest responder in case of an emergency, with the North Kingstown section of the parcel not having emergency access.
“East Greenwich may only have 10 percent of the property, but 100 percent of the responsibility” for fire and emergency safety, he said.
Stephen Brusini applauded the project’s design and concept.
“I really like the village design. It’s attractive aesthetically and would make a nice addition in the current economic climate,” he said.
Chairman Bradford Bishop also felt the project would fit in well with the surrounding area.
“There are a lot of issues with the property, but none that the development community can’t resolve,” he said.
The development team will return to the board when it’s ready to seek preliminary approval, the next step of the Planning Board process.

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