Developer suggests athletic complex on Pine Swamp

Developer suggests athletic complex on Pine Swamp

A town map shows the property on Pine Swamp Road targeted for a new athletic complex. The areas shaded darker are wetlands.

CUMBERLAND – The owner of a large-scale property in a rural section of northern Cumberland is telling neighbors that he’d like to build a state-of-the-art athletic facility there.

Steve Giarrusso, in a letter to residents identifying himself as the owner of 53 acres at 200 Pine Swamp Road, said he owns the property behind the recipients’ homes and has been “approached by an ambitious, knowledgeable group interested in developing a state-of-the-art athletic facility in the area.”

According to Giarrusso, the complex being proposed would provide local athletes with a top-notch indoor and outdoor space to practice and compete, and would have a positive impact on the community and local businesses.

“Your feedback on this project is very important to us and the town of Cumberland in determining the feasibility and approval of this project,” he wrote.

But Cumberland officials say not so fast. Director of Planning and Community Development Jonathan Stevens said the town heard from Giarrusso about a year ago with his idea, but had not heard from him since after they had a “theoretical” discussion and told him to “go out and figure it out.” He said Mayor Jeff Mutter was not given the courtesy of being made aware of the letter that was being sent to residents.

In his letter, dated Dec. 21, Giarrusso calls his writing “a respectful preliminary gesture” and asks residents to provide feedback to him or to town officials. He said the mayor and zoning officials were aware of his outreach, “as we all feel your opinion is important.”

A quick analysis of Giarrusso’s proposal as presented to abutters indicates some serious problems, said Stevens, including that the proposed 5-acre indoor facility that would be located next to outdoor turf fields and parking areas would not be allowed in an A1 agricultural zone.

Of the 53 acres, Giarrusso, who could not immediately be reached for comment this week, is suggesting that he’d use 15-20 acres for the project, leaving plenty of open space, giving the complex the balance of being seen from the main road but having a substantial buffer between surrounding homes and the community.

Stevens said Giarrusso is already talking about lights, parking and traffic without submitting a proposal to the town. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said. Just his suggestion of an impervious parking lot would likely trigger the need for a stormwater permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, he said, and the town would also have to analyze traffic and other potential impacts.

According to Giarrusso, the entrance and exit would be on Pine Swamp Road, with free-flowing traffic and no bottlenecks created.


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Stevens said the property in question doesn’t “have a lot of developability,” with some 22 acres of an actual 52 acres covered in wetlands.

“There are 50-something acres, but a lot is wet,” he said.

There is also a utility easement for a power line, making access questionable, he said.

An outdoor recreation project in an agricultural zone would need to be approved by the Zoning Board for a special use permit among several hoops, said Stevens. It may also need to go to the Planning Board.

After turning left from Diamond Hill Road onto Pine Swamp Road (which later turns back into Diamond Hill), the property is located in that large wooded area near Grants Mill Road.

The highest and best use for the targeted property appears to be one or perhaps two house lots, said Stevens, with long driveways to the interior, assuming the utility easement is not an issue.

Comments

Should add an ice rink too.

After living in Cumberland, my adopted "Hometown", for 55-years, most of it in and around Diamond Hill and the Reservoir, I have watched the steady erosion of Open Space and Agricultural Farm Land go the way of the Dodo Bird.

Gamesmanship, the often circumventing of Zoning and Planning, has become a fine art...often involving developets, and their attorneys (No Names Mentioned) have mastered and made a speciality of doing so.

Worse, a number of years ago legislation was 'Rammed' though our Legislature that broadened what could be done by 'So-Called Farmers' on 'Agriculturally Zoned Land'. In many instances, by pushing the proverbial envelope, Commercial Operations began taking place...a few right here in Cumberland.

Now in a part of our Town, that was once almost all agricultural, and slowly became more and more residential we, once again, have 'Gamesmanship' in the making. And it being done using the technique known as: "Pulling Heart Strings"!

In this case the developer using the excuse of a need for a 'Commercial Venture' on Agriculturally Zoned Land...that 'Commercial Venture' being the fulfilling of 'Recreational Needs'. This to be accomplished via rezoning or the awarding of a variance...the likes of which, historically, over time, and the engaging of an attorney, will come back and, 99% of the time, bite you know where.

What with the plans for Diamond Hill Park, and the dollars to be spent enhancing and creating more recreational usage, this proposal for a private, money making, Commercial Facility IS NOT needed.

Add to that the 200 (+ or -) acres that the Town and Land Trust obtained from Mt. St. Rita (Mercywoods), right around the corner, where a goodly portion is being set aside for recreation, ball fields, soccer fields, etc....this proposal should not be even given the time of day.

Tom Letourneau
Old Reservoir Road

I suspect you are right Tom. I saw the letter, as I live in the area (if anyone wants to see if for themselves go here: https://ibb.co/NmsY3W5), and though it seems well intentioned I emailed Giarrusso with a bunch of questions and he never replied back, so I suspect it was more for show.