Pawtucket approves deal to pave most of Morley Field, legality remains in question
Mayor of Pawtucket Donald Grebien and the Pawtucket City Council released a misleading press release the Thursday following Wednesday night’s board vote approving the sale of 60% of Morley Fieldthe only public green space in the predominantly low-income, primarily BIPOC community of Woodlawn neighborhoodto the private promoter J.K. Actions, to be transformed into parking. One word used in the press release was “compromise,” a word that even city council members who helped broker the deal weren’t quite accurate during Wednesday night’s hearing.
The city council originally agreed to sell the entirety of Morley Field as a parking lot, but after determining the sale was illegal under state law, the sale was renegotiated and approved to sell only 60% of green spaces.
“We really needed green spaces in [District 5]”, Michael Araujo, Pawtucket City Council Member in a long and rambling defense of the sale at Wednesday’s city council meeting. “That’s why I think it’s – I thought it was a trade-off, at least from my perspective because I was totally, well, let’s throw the jobs out then…may Maybe we can reverse these poverty numbers.”
The ‘compromise’ was only reached after being shown by the member of the city council Clovis Gregor that the sale of on any of the two lots that make up Morley Field was illegal, since that part of the green space had been donated to the city. There was never a consideration of a “compromise” before this point.
Council member Araujo’s assertion that the venture planned by JK Equity will create jobs in the neighborhood is also questionable. After Wednesday night’s board meeting, Araujo admitted, in conversation with Pat Ford of Coalition Radio, that under the terms of the agreement with JK Equity, the company will give “first priority” to the employment of Pawtucket residents. There is no guarantee other than good faith that the Company will hire Pawtucket residents. There is no penalty the city can impose if JK Equities does not hire Pawtucket residents.
During the Pawtucket City Council Property Committee Meetingheld shortly before the full council meeting, the agreement between the town of Pawtucket and JK Equities was called a Private public partnership, although it is unclear how the public will benefit from a partnership that brings no guarantee to the city in terms of jobs. At the same property committee hearing it was noted that JK Equities were paying the same price for 60% of Morley Field that they were prepared to pay for 100% of the field under the previous deal, this which suggests that the company might have offered more for the land than the city initially settled on.
Completion of the sale depends on National Park Service (NPS) approval. Since NPS gave the city the money to create Morley Field in the first place, NPS will need to be satisfied that the City of Pawtucket has created viable green space replacements for Morley Field of equal or greater value. At present, the city has made no effort to create a similar or better public green space in the Woodlawn neighborhood, but has reached an agreement to double the size of a green space in a nearby, whiter and brighter community. easier. Whether NPS will consider the environmental racism inherent in the sale and destruction of Morley Field remains to be seen. Pawtucket Planning Director Bianca Policastro estimates that the decision of the NPS can take 1 to 2 years.
Director Poilicastro also said that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is “agreeing” with the sale and paving of Morley Field, a statement that Michael Healey, DEM’s head of public affairs, called “an inaccurate depiction of DEM’s role and position in this process… To be as clear as possible, the only thing DEM agrees with is following the correct process to the letter of the law.
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DEM went on to say:
“We are involved in this issue in three ways: recreational conversion, wetlands and soil quality.
“The Town of Pawtucket submitted an application to the DEM to alter the Morley Field wetlands. This is necessary because the DEM regulates wetlands. However, we cannot consider the City’s application complete, as sequentially the City must first provide documentation that a Recreational Conversion Plan has been approved by both the DEM and the National Park Service ( NPS) (please see attached letter). As Uprise RI accurately reported, Morley Field was built in part with US Department of the Interior Land and Water Conservation Fund [doi.gov] obtained by DEM for outdoor recreational purposes. Therefore, under the current designation of the property, DEM is responsible for ensuring Morley Field remains in use for outdoor recreation. Before DEM Freshwater Wetlands Program begins any technical review of the City’s change application, the City must submit a Recreational Conversion Application which must be approved by DEM and NPS. To date, DEM has not received this request.
“Re: Soil quality: The proponent’s environmental consultant took soil samples, had them tested, the report showed contamination, and this process involved the DEM. The site is now part of DEM’s site remediation program.
“Under the rules of the Land and Water Conservation Act, DEM must ask the NPS to review the application for conversion. Obviously, the City must first provide DEM with a variety of documents explaining why a conversion is warranted.
“We never saw the City’s P+S agreement, and we shouldn’t have seen it. Our only concern is the use of the property. On this point, we do not have in hand the City’s proposal justifying the conversion and we will not process any request for permits or other regulatory approvals based on a use of the site other than for recreational purposes until the NPS will not have approved the conversion of this property, which implies the approval of a suitable replacement.“
The whole Morley Field issue could have been settled at the Pawtucket City Council hearing on Wednesday night if an additional member had voted against the sale. The vote at the end was 5-4 in favor. Four of the votes in favor came from those loyal to Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien: Council Chairman david moran (District 1) and council members Terrence Mercier (District 3), Michael Araujo (in general) and Marc Wildehaim (District 2). Four votes against the development came from people more concerned about the residents of Woodlawn, i.e. members of council Clovis Gregor (District 5), Melissa Da Rosa (in general), Alexis Schuette (District 4) and Elena Vasquez (in general).
The decisive vote was cast by Council member Marlena Martins Stachowiak (District 6). For many meetings, councilwoman Stachowiak, a relatively new member of the council, said she was innocent of voting to sell Morley Field.
“I wasn’t here for the original vote, the original proposal,” council member Stachowiak said at Wednesday’s meeting, repeating something she’s said in many meetings. During the hearing, Councilor Stachowiak spoke about her commitment to creating jobs in Pawtucket, but she also seemed moved by Councilor DaRosa’s argument for basing her decision on whether or not she would willing to get rid of the only green space in the 6th arrondissement. , represented by Council Member Stachowiak. Based on her vote, council member Stachowiak would have no problem paving green spaces in her district or anywhere else in Pawtucket. When it came time for Council Member Stachowiak to vote, she thought for 15 seconds before saying “Yes”.
Had Councilman Stachowiak voted ‘No’, Morley Field would have been spared destruction. Instead, the fate of Morley Field now rests with the National Park Service.
11 people testified publicly against the sale of Morley Field. No one testified in favor of destroying the green space.
You can watch the entire Pawtucket City Council discussion here.
Those wondering why Pawtucket Administration Mayor Donald Grebien is so enthusiastic about selling Morley Field should look at his campaign donations:
More Morley Field coverage: