Mayor, Merolla interested in ‘scent’ of Cowesett open space
Although a source of funding hasn’t been identified and questions have been raised over its purchase, Mayor Scott Avedisian is exploring city acquisition of 20 prime Cowesett acres as open space.
About two weeks ago, DeFelice Realtors listed a portion of the Little Rhody Beagle Club off Cowesett Road, just west of Sparrows Point housing complex, for sale. The price is $1.4 million. The land includes a large field with low shrubs, where club members take their dogs to track rabbits. The objective, as explained by club members more than eight years ago when the property was initially listed, is for the dog to pick up the scent and lead the handler to the rabbit. At that point, the dog is judged on its performance and the rabbit remains free.
Developers have been on the scent, so to speak, of the Beagle Club for years. The 94-acre property is one of the few large developable single-family housing tracts in the city. It is easily accessible from Route 2 and it’s close to Route 95 as well as the Robert Shapiro Educational Complex at Toll Gate and Scott and Cedar Hill elementary schools.
According to Peter Izzi, who is the agent handling the sale for DeFelice, as many as 24 houses could be built on the property and, if sewers were brought to the site and proper zoning, 36 to 40 homes could be built.
If the property is so desirable, why hasn’t it already been developed?
“It was previously under contract and it fell apart,” Izzi said.
But there’s more to it. Izzi explained that developer Steve Lynch retains a first refusal to buy the land. He said that Lynch gained that option when the site was priced at about twice its current listing. In addition, he said, Lynch has done a lot of work on the design of a development.
In 2006, the city Planning Board approved a subdivision of the property for 36 units on a 19-acre parcel to be accessed from Blue Ridge Road. The plan was one of two proposed by Cowesett Farm LLC, the company created by Lynch.
Lynch had also proposed a cluster development of the site that would put homes on 12,000-square-foot lots, rather than the 15,000 square feet required by zoning. Under the cluster plan, the smaller lots would have allowed for the remaining land to be kept as open space.
Neighboring residents, however, feared a cluster development would depreciate their property values, and, hence, the planning board went ahead with the conventional development.
“It would be a great preservation win for us,” Mayor Avedisian said last week.
But, he adds, there is still an option on the property and, to date, there haven’t been any conversations with the Beagle Club.
There is also the issue of money. The city does not have any open space bonding funds and, if the city were to proceed, the mayor suggested private funding, such as foundation grants and conservation groups.
In 1998 the city preserved 63 Cowesett acres, almost directly across Cowesett Road from the entrance to the Beagle Club when it bought a portion of the former Dawley Farm for $430,000. The wooded tract has a few trails but remains largely untouched.
In terms of the Beagle Club, Avedisian views the option as an impediment.
According to a realtor, who asked not to be identified, “The deal has hair on it.”
Apparently at issue is that Lynch is looking to be reimbursed what he has already spent on his option, an as yet unspecified amount that would likely drive up the price significantly.
Club members reached Tuesday confirmed that Lynch never closed on the property, although they estimated he has spent close to $1 million on developing plans and monthly payments to retain an option. They said he has a right of first refusal.
Also, the members, who also did not want to be identified, said the club intends to stay and that the sale of the land would provide needed revenues for the remaining 70 acres of the club.
Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla said he has a fondness for the property because it once was part of the Gardner Dairy Farm, which his wife’s family operated. He said the farm was broken up with the construction of Route 95, which cut through the property.
Merolla said he would support the mayor’s efforts to acquire the 20 acres, suggesting that state funds might be a means of financing it.
Remarking on the cost of putting students through the schools, he said, “If you put houses in there, it could cost more to the city than purchasing it for open space.”
Neither Lynch, nor Jack Revens, who acted as his attorney in 2006, returned calls. Bill Forwaid, president of the Beagle Club could not be reached.