Growth a theme for Lincoln in 2019

Growth a theme for Lincoln in 2019

The Albion Bridges on School Street reopened in late August after being closed for more than four months for construction on their railings and trusses. (Breeze file photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – It was a year of growth for Lincoln, with new construction projects rising up and fresh faces in local leadership hoping to make waves of positive change.

Rookie Town Councilor Pamela Azar took over for Jim Jahnz on Lincoln’s Town Council. Lincoln High School welcomed a new leadership team as the school campus began to drastically change with construction picking up. The project brought both celebrations and headaches.

Other projects across town include a new hotel on Route 116, and an extensive mill renovation in Saylesville. There are more developments on deck for 2020, including two condo projects and two apartment projects.

The typically quiet community saw its fair share of controversy in 2019, from a myriad of issues at Twin River Casino to Lincoln’s longtime town clerk resigning over an issue with legal notices.

Albion residents who haven’t had a post office since 2017 were doubly frustrated when the Albion Bridges closed for four months for construction.

Many residents protested the town’s decision to abandon ownership of the Valentine Whitman Jr. House, which will be turned over to Preserve Rhode Island in 2020.

At the end of the year, the community is rallying against convicted child molester Richard Gardner, who moved to Lincoln from Cranston.

In positive news, Lincoln celebrated another successful Memorial Day Parade and post-parade food truck event at Chase Farm. Lincoln High School’s AP scores topped the state. In addition, residents made headlines for achievements such as donating a lifesize portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the town’s namesake, to Town Hall (done by Peter Campbell), and being named Woman Veteran of the Year (Ret. U.S. Army Major Michele Diamond).

Scout members in Lincoln’s Troop 1, led by Eagle candidate Matthew Riendeau, built a veterans memorial for the Columbus Club, and later helped rebuild the nonprofit club’s horseshoe pits in an Eagle project led by Joseph Volpe.

The town completed a $400,000 overhaul of Fairlawn Park this year, installing new basketball and pickleball courts, renovating the baseball diamond, refurbishing and expanding the restroom and concession facilities and adding off-street parking. The state also began fixing the Blackstone Valley Bikeway after The Breeze reported a series of stories detailing the frustrations of bikers who were injured because of the path’s dilapidated state.

Town and school officials are now working ahead of budget season to determine what capital improvements they’ll pursue in 2020.

Here are our top 10 storylines out of Lincoln this year:

LHS rising up

The middle section of the high school, called the “connecter,” was demolished to make way for a two-story, state-of-the-art addition that will house classrooms, the principal’s office and the media/dining commons.

Students, faculty and staff have tolerated the distractions of construction in anticipation of the newly constructed and renovated school campus. They’re scheduled to move into the new addition in February, marking the end of this phase of construction.

The project has had plenty of headaches, especially concerning its budget. At the end of the year, it is running more than $2 million over budget and dipping deeply into the pockets of a contingency fund.

Twin River security, IGT issues

Twin River Casino made headlines for a variety of reasons in 2019.

This summer, members of the Lincoln Police Department stopped showing up for detail duty at Twin River when casino officials cut officers’ hours back by 16 hours on Mondays and Tuesdays. In response, officers refused to show up to all detail shifts at the casino, only responding to emergency calls.

Twin River is not legally obligated to hire police details to help with security. The casino has an internal security and surveillance team of 130 professionals

After several weeks of refusing to fill the voluntary shifts, officers returned to detail duty.

On the heels of that saga, Twin River Worldwide Holdings announced a series of layoffs thanks to increased competition in Massachusetts. Profits fell 57 percent in the third quarter compared to last year.

The bad news continued for Twin River when in the fall it entered a battle over the state’s gaming contract.

Gov. Gina Raimondo blasted casino leaders after they added additional gaming partners in an effort to sway the contract away from current provider IGT. Raimondo said she had “serious concerns about the management at Twin River and the ability to run their business.”

IGT was up for a no-bid, 20 year deal, and threatened to move its 1,100 workers out of Providence if the contract went up for bid.

The casino was also fined after it exceeded the amount of debt it is granted under its agreement with the state – agreeing to pay the lottery $180,000 and investing $7 million into the Lincoln facility.

Then, this month, a casino vendor, high-level Twin River executive Michael Barlow and an associate were charged with 30 felony counts in an indictment stemming from an investigation into bribery, obtaining property under false pretenses and tax evasion.

Vine & Tap scandal

A new restaurant opening in Albion seemed innocuous enough at first.

Michael McAteer submitted plans to open Vine & Tap, a tapas restaurant at 119 Main St. in Albion, and was granted a liquor license. Neighbors said they never received notice that a bar was opening.

The law requires that property owners within a 200-foot radius of the proposed license/establishment be notified when the owner pursues a liquor license.

It wasn’t until the owner of the house at 121 Main St., Mike Napolitano, noticed Jack Daniels posters being installed on an entrance to the restaurant that he questioned whether a bar was set to open next door.

A dozen or so property owners abutting 119 Main St. signed legal affidavits claiming they, too, never received notice.

Along with the affidavits came allegations that the applicant lied about having a criminal record on his license application. A background check was not completed.

The lack of notice and incorrect application triggered a new public hearing, and Vine & Tap’s liquor license was withheld. Ultimately, the application was withdrawn and the restaurant never opened.

Those actions also triggered the resignation of longtime Town Clerk Karen Allen, who had been placed on leave from her job amid questions about how her office handled sending notice on liquor license applications.

Allen resigned in March from the position she held for more than 15 years.

New developments

This year was one of growth in Lincoln, with a number of developments moving forward, including a new hotel on Route 116.

It was also a year of planning ahead for an array of projects in 2020.

Across from Kirkbrae Country Club, a developer plans to build a 55-and-older condo complex at the former Highridge Swim and Tennis Club.

The anticipated Whipple Cullen Farmland project is coming before the Planning Board in January, calling for 158 age-restricted condo units across from Lincoln Town Hall.

Work began this year to transform vacant space at the Sayles Mill into apartments. Dakota Partners kicked off construction at 90 Industrial Circle, where the company is building 45 affordable apartments. The company has also submitted plans for an additional 22 apartments at 60 Industrial Circle.

Nearby, another developer is seeking the town’s approval to rehabilitate 40 Walker St. and adjacent mill buildings into loft-style apartments.

Community rallies against Gardner

Outrage began the minute residents of the Knowles Street neighborhood heard that a convicted sex offender had moved there.

The new neighbor’s name was Richard Gardner, a man who admitted in the 1980s to kidnapping and sexually assaulting multiple young children. He served 30 years in prison, but was released in 2016.

Despite his sex offender status, Gardner’s new address in Lincoln could not be disclosed by police because his case predates the law that requires police departments to notify the neighborhood when a sex offender moves in.

Despite that, residents found out who was settling into town and agreed to protest nightly with hope that Gardner and his wife will pack up and leave.

Albion bridges over 
troubled water

State and town officials completed a number of infrastructure improvements this year, paving roads and repairing bridges throughout Lincoln.

Most significantly, at the inconvenience of local residents and business owners, the state rehabilitated the historic steel trusses of the Albion Bridges, which carry School Street over the river near the Highland Falls condos. The two bridges closed from April to August, rerouting people several miles to cross the Blackstone River and canal.

Local businesses, including those in Cumberland’s Seabra plaza on the far side of the river, struggled immensely during the closure.

Other state infrastructure improvements in Lincoln include rehabbing the Blackstone River Bikeway, which began this fall and is expected to continue into next spring. The project includes the removal and replacement of damaged sections of the path, select tree cutting and root pruning to hinder further root intrusion and damage. In the spring, an asphalt emulsion, a type of durable pavement sealer, will be placed along a 6.3-mile stretch of the bike path.

New school leaders

In a surprise ceremony in the spring, Lincoln High School principal Kevin McNamara was named Rhode Island Principal of the Year by the Rhode Island Association of School Principals.

“You’re my pride and joy,” he told the students in attendance. He began his career in 1999 as an English teacher, moving on to serve as a coach, club adviser, athletic director and assistant principal.

In June, McNamara was promoted to the first assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Lincoln School Department.

A month later, the Lincoln School Committee accepted the appointment of Robert Mezzanotte as the high school’s new principal. Mezzanotte had most recently served as principal of South Kingstown High School, previously filling that role in North Smithfield from 2009 to 2015.

For the role of assistant principal to replace the outgoing Kim LaLiberte, they hired Shivali Finkelstein, who worked alongside Mezzanotte in South Kingstown.

Businesses open up

The Lincoln Mall sold for nearly $56 million this summer. It was purchased by New York-based Acadia Realty Trust, which has since rebranded the property at 622 George Washington Highway to the Lincoln Commons.

The campus was altered this year with stores coming and going. Dress Barn and Payless ShoeSource closed their doors in 2019, but the first Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop in the state opened. Chipotle Mexican Grill and IHOP also celebrated their first year in service at the mall.

Inside, Cinemaworld got the green light to serve alcohol to movie theater patrons and began doing so via a new bar space in November.

Across town, the R1 Indoor Karting campus announced plans to expand again with a new arcade and a one-of-a-kind challenge room area. This year, R1 introduced a brand new axe-throwing bar, which has had a wait list for weekends since opening.

New chapter for 
Valentine Whitman

After three decades, the town is relinquishing ownership of one of its historical properties to a local nonprofit, in hopes of saving the circa-1694 stone-ender from further deterioration.

The decision to pass the Historic Valentine Whitman Jr. House over to Preserve Rhode Island was met with protest from residents who believe the town should have retained ownership of the home and rehabilitate it.

Pat Choiniere, who served as the property’s caretaker for more than 30 years, said a piece of the town’s history would be lost, and “once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Town officials said the town’s coffers didn’t have the money to make the more than $300,000 in needed repairs on the property.

Still no post office

Another year has gone by without an Albion Post Office.

Roughly 500 residents in the village of Albion have gone without a post office, or home mail delivery, since a fire destroyed it in February 2017.

Albion residents have traveled to the Manville Post Office to retrieve their mail since the fire, often passing by the empty building at the corner of School and Main Streets where work always appeared to be at a stand-still.

For a time, a scarecrow sat at the center of the roundabout near the construction site with a sign that read: “If you give me a brain, I’ll build you a post office.”

Lincoln Councilor Pamela Azar peered inside the unfinished Albion Post Office at the corner of Main and School streets in September. (Breeze file photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)
Erin Fredricks, of Lincoln, led Rita the cow, of Butterfly Farm, as they marched in the Lincoln Memorial Day Parade in May. (Breeze file photo by Bill Murphy)

Comments

The Whitman house was willing to raise money to repair the home. The town could’ve easily assisted. The town is at fault for neglecting the property for so many years. Preserve Rhode Island is going to chop up the building and it will never be the same. This iconic 1600s building was Smithfield Townhall.