May 27, 2008

Bill Introduced to Take Camp Meehan Site By Eminent Domain

By Richard C Dujardin

North Providence Rep. Arthur J. Corvese, who submitted the bill, says he doesn't favor taking private property, but in this case supports the Town Council.

NORTH PROVIDENCE -- State Rep. Arthur J. Corvese has introduced legislation in the General Assembly to authorize the town to take the Camp Meehan property by eminent domain.

The North Providence Democrat acknowledged that he usually does not support the use of eminent domain to take private property, but was prompted to when the Town Council approved a resolution seeking the authority to take over the 15-acre parcel.

"Eminent domain is a very powerful tool. It must be used judiciously. I would not support the taking of land by eminent domain in all cases, but the Town Council has put its support behind acquiring this property for open space and needs this legislation to do so. I support the Town Council's initiative."

Owned by Capital City Community Centers, the land is heavily wooded and has been used for decades as the site of a summer day camp. It sits along the Wenscott Reservoir and is adjacent to Governor Notte Park and the Lincoln border.

Although town officials had long talked about acquiring the property to expand Notte Park, it took on urgency when Capital City disclosed that it had entered into a purchase-and-sales agreement with Lincoln developer John Petrarca. Petrarca's Generation Realty would purchase the land for $1 million to build a 134-unit complex consisting of 60 condominiums and 74 geriatric units, provided the land could be rezoned from open space to residential.

Hundreds of people turned up twice to register their opposition to the proposed changes in zoning. In September, residents learned at the onset of what was supposed to be a Town Council hearing on the proposed zone change that the developer had withdrawn his request and instead was seeking a court ruling that the town had failed to complete all the steps to designate the land as open space and that the parcel is already residential.

Weeks later, the Zoning Board of Review held a hearing on the developer's contention that even if the land is zoned open space, it should still have a right to build an amusement park under the designation "passive recreation." When the board unanimously rejected the argument, the developer filed another suit in Superior Court.

Lombardi contends that both lawsuits would become moot if the town were to take over the land by eminent domain, and during the last few weeks he has been asking lawmakers to provide the town with enabling legislation.

The mayor said he expects the General Assembly to act quickly.

"We have spoken with House Majority Leader Gordon Fox and Rep. Peter Wasylyk, as well as Sen. Frank Ciccone and Senate President Joseph Montalbano, and all have assured us of their support," Lombardi said. "I would hope that this will pass the General Assembly by unanimous consent with immediate consideration."

Once the legislation is adopted, the mayor says he would meet with Capital City to discuss the town purchasing the site. He has said it is his understanding there is no longer an agreement between Capital City and Petrarca since the agreement that he saw was supposed to expire a month ago.

Lombardi said he would prefer having the town purchase the site without going through the eminent domain process.

Either way, the town would need to pay Capital City a fair market price for the land. Lombardi said he will ask the Town Council to put money into a special fund for the purchase or payment. The North Providence Land Trust also recently announced that it was earmarking $100,000, half of its assets, to facilitate acquisition of the land.

Lombardi said that under the arrangement he envisions, Capital City could continue to operate its summer day.

"Basically, this will be a win-win situation for everyone except for the individuals who want to build houses there."

Corvese, in his news release, said that while it is important to be vigilant about protecting property owners' rights, he also believes that the protection of open space, especially in a heavily developed area like North Providence, should be a priority for the town.

"Open space is at a premium in North Providence and it makes sense to try to protect it," Corvese said.

On Friday, Anthony DeLuca, spokesman for the North Providence Citizens for Open Space, Balanced Zoning and Development, lauded the Town Council for seeking General Assembly approval to acquire the site by eminent domain.

Camp Meehan, in North Providence, has been a day camp for inner city youths since the 1940's. North Providence has indicated that it would like to purchase the land so as to expand its existing Governor Notte Park. The Providence Journal Kris Craig

Lombardi [email protected] / (401) 277-7384

Originally published by Richard C Dujardin, Journal Staff Writer.

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