More than a month after Balise Motor Sales Co., one of the largest retailers of new and used automobiles in New England, announced hopes of investing $8 million in the city of Warwick to expand their business, the City Council unanimously approved first passage to a zone change allowing the family-owned company to knock down four existing buildings at 1400 Post Road and construct two new ones.
Additionally, the council unanimously approved a resolution to reopen Meadowview Avenue as a bicycle and walking path, which would come at no cost to taxpayers, and denied a resolution that would have changed legislation that requires municipalities to provide suitable transportation for pupils who attend private and parochial schools.
At Monday’s council meeting, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, whose ward the Balise showrooms reside in, said she continues to be impressed with the professional and considerate manner in which Balise conducts business.
“Balise has already reached out to the neighborhood and there is no indication that the neighbors are fighting this. They are in favor of it,” said Vella-Wilkinson, also chair of the Economic Development Committee. “Balise Motors stepped up to the plate and this is the type of neighbor, this is the type of business, this is the type of leader we like to see in Warwick.”
Balise attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi said the expansion will not only result in a significant increase in tax revenue, but also will create 50 new high-paying, high-tech jobs, as well as at least 200 temporary construction jobs. When possible, Shekarchi said, Balise uses local labor.
In fact, he said more than 30 percent of the people who worked on revamping the Toyota facility, which is owned and operated by the Balise family, were from Warwick. With this project, they hope to match or beat that.
“Every effort will be made to hire Warwick people,” said Shekarchi.
Further, Shekarchi said the expansion will be done in two phases, with the first involving construction of a new Nissan facility beginning in late June or early July, and the second involving a new Chevrolet facility that will commence as soon as the Nissan building is completed. He said he anticipates phase one will be complete by winter, with phase two beginning immediately afterward.
Hopefully, said Shekarchi, the project will be finished by 2014. No matter, the handicap assessable facility will be open to the public during construction for customer convenience.
“This is more than just a car dealership and Mr. Balise is more than just a landowner looking for economic gain,” Sherkarchi said. “He is a member of our community and uses the facility for the local little league to do Saturday signups [and] PTA meetings. He’s a good, corporate citizen.”
Council President Bruce Place, Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono and Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon agreed. They each called it an asset to the city.
“The Balise family is a very honorable group that goes back generations in this business and the only way you can last from generation to generation is to be a person of good character that sticks to your word,” Solomon said. “I welcome the Balise operation for any other projects because they keep their word.”
In terms of the resolution concerning the path at Meadowview Avenue, which was sponsored by Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice, the quarter-mile long road that formerly connected Palmer Avenue and Warwick Neck Avenue will be repaved and reopened as a 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path by the end of the summer or early autumn.
With the roadbed and drainage still in place, Meadowview Avenue will again reunite the Warwick Neck neighborhood with Highland Beach and Meadowview residents. It will allow easier access for bicycles and pedestrian traffic to get from the Warwick Neck side to Rocky Point and enable Highland Beach and Meadowview residents access to the marinas and the expanded Harbor Light Marina.
While DelGiudice said the cost of the project is about $25,000, the path will come at no cost to taxpayers, as the city already identified $18,000 from fees in lieu of open space, a fund with revenue paid to the city as a requirement for the development of properties. The funds are used for recreational improvements to the city.
“We are also seeking alternate financing so we don’t have to use as much of that money,” DelGiudice said. “We may be able to get some grant money.”
As for the resolution in support of legislation that would no longer require cities and towns to provide transportation to and from school for pupils who attend private schools, the council voted against it because they felt it would have a negative impact on families who send their children to private schools. The bill would give cities and towns the option of providing the transportation.
In other business, a resolution to the General Assembly to commission a health study using data compiled from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s air quality monitoring program was withdrawn on a 7-2 vote, with Solomon and Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan voting against withdrawal.