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The fight over Metacomet Golf Course isn’t over, just delayed until after the primary



Though Marshall presented a request for a 60 day continuance as a means to refine their plans and engage better with the community, the new date also pushes any potential city council decisions until after the Democratic Primary, where East Providence State Senator William Conley is facing a progressive challenge from Cynthia Mendes.

Over a dozen people from Keep Metacomet Green, a group opposed to the current plan to develop East Providence‘s Metacomet Golf Club as a mixed-use residential, retail and office complex, lined Pawtucket Avenue near Cumberland Farms to bring their message to more residents of the city. Passing cars honked their horns in support o the groups efforts.

Since the special meeting of the East Providence City Council, where public comment was heard on the proposal, the situation has evolved. Marshall Development still needs the council to approve a zoning change and a change to the city’s comprehensive plan before moving ahead with the project, but they recently “requested a 60-day continuance of this matter to continue our dialogue with the community and further evaluate the feedback we heard during the first council meeting.”

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Though Marshall presented this continuance as a means to refine their plans and engage better with the community, the new date also pushes any potential city council decisions until after the Democratic Primary, where East Providence State Senator William Conley (Democrat, District 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) is facing a progressive challenge from Cynthia Mendes.

Conley, seeking his fifth two-year term in office, is facing criticism for being one of the attorneys representing Marshall on this project. Conley denies that there is any conflict of interest and the Metacomet Golf Course is not in his district. But Conley has a lot of political connections is East Providence. His son, Dylan Conley, works with his father in their East Providence law office and serves as assistant city solicitor for the City of East Providence. Conley’s brother, Timothy Conley, is Vice Chairman of the East Providence Waterfront Commission, the commission that will oversee the project if the City Council approves the zoning and comprehensive plan changes.

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Further, the development has been granted federal and state level tax savings through Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which allowed for the development of 25 “opportunity zones” throughout the state. The lead sponsor for the state level opportunity zone legislation in the Senate was Conley.

Strangely, Conley denied his involvement with the opportunity zone legislation during a debate with Cynthia Mendes. “The process for opportunity zones begins with the federal government, that was federal legislation,” said Conley. “The agency charged, in the State of Rhode Island, for applying to those opportunity zones, for the cities and towns, was the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation. It had nothing to do with legislation in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Anything to the contrary is simply not accurate.”

Here’s the legislation regarding opportunity zones, sponsored by Conley, that passed the General Assembly.

Over in the House, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) was the lead sponsor of the state level opportunity zone legislation. Marshall Development also hired on Shekarchi for their project.

Jim Hummel, in the Providence Journal, reported:

Shekarchi told The Hummel Report he was brought on because of his extensive experience as a land-use attorney, adding that he has been a part of most major projects in Warwick and Johnston and is working on a $40-million project right now on Newport Avenue in East Providence. Shekarchi added that he has worked with Marshall’s lead attorney, Zach Darrow, on a number of projects, but this is his first for Marshall.

Yet Shekarchi had some sort of relationship with Marshall Properties previous to his employment. In April 2019 he received a $1000 contribution from Lianne Marshall of Marshall Properties who is leading the charge on this development.

Despite the request for a continuance, Marshall Properties is still committed to developing the property, writing to the city council that the “continuance will not impact our ability to close on the property with the current ownership group in September, as the zoning change is not a condition of closing. We look forward to reconvening with the council after the continuance as the new owners of the property.”

Meanwhile, Keep Metacomet Green plans to keep opposing the zoning and comprehensive plan changes. “We’re protesting around the city to get our message out to people who might not know about this plan,” said Candy Seel, one of the group’s organizers standing on the sidewalk on Sunday morning.

Others I talked to agree; the fight’s not over.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.