Traffic topped the list of concerns as Lakeshore Drive neighborhood residents got to see for the first time plans to relocate the Winslow Park playing fields to an area cleared of homes by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC).
After several meetings with RIAC, city planners and Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, officials from the Apponaug Girls Softball League and Warwick Firefighters Soccer Club are in basic agreement with the proposal to build six softball and three soccer fields on the site. Assuming the abandonment of city streets in the area, Department of Transportation approvals for a signalized intersection on Airport Road and other permits, work could start in 2014 and the fields could be ready for play in the following year.
But given the tenor of an informational meeting, which quickly was labeled a workshop, at the Buttonwoods Community Center on Tuesday, the neighbors aren’t ready to put their stamp of approval on the project.
Residents questioned why they weren’t included with talks with the leagues; how 15 percent of the design could be done without their input; and whether they could trust the promises made by the airport.
“The biggest investment someone will make is in their home and I think that trumps the leagues,” said one resident airing his frustration.
“We didn’t want to come here with nothing to show,” said Paul McDonough, RIAC vice president of engineering. “You can chase your tail forever.”
According to the proposal, all vehicular traffic would enter and exit the site via the extension of a service road off Airport Road to the airport maintenance garage. That would require a signalized intersection at Airport Road.
The intent, explained Peter Frazier, interim RIAC CEO and president, is to make such a convenient access that league parents and spectators wouldn’t consider using Lakeshore Drive and cutting through the neighborhood to reach the fields.
Christopher Ougheltree of Rowe Avenue doesn’t see that happening.
He said parents in a rush to get their children to a game and to avoid delays at Hoxsie Four Corners would cut through the neighborhood. The plan seemed to further unravel when Michael Faris of the LDD Collaborative, consultants for RIAC, said that Wells Avenue would remain open, although reduced to a single lane, as an emergency road and to provide access to the single home within the park site. Ougheltree, Thomas Kennedy and others surmised the emergency route would quickly become an established shortcut.
Warwick Police Lt. Michael Gilbert said options to preventing that from happening have been discussed. One suggestion was for a gate that could be operated with a code that would be provided to residents.
The park has been designed to give the neighborhood a 100-foot buffer to the playing fields. A walking path has been incorporated within the buffer area for neighborhood use.
“Is that our little carrot?” Oughetree scoffed. He was surprised to learn that there would be no fence separating the neighborhood from the park.
Vella-Wilkinson said the neighborhood uses the land now and wanted access.
“We’re a community,” she said. “It is your backyard.”
Even so, some residents questioned why the leagues would want to relocate to the site abutting the airport. They said the air “stinks,” especially in the mornings.
“This isn’t our choice,” said Chuck McCaughey of the Apponaug Girls Softball.
The Lakeshore site was the default location under a memorandum of agreement reached between RIAC and the City Council that ended any attempt of the council to stop the extension of the main runway to 8,700 feet. The city explored relocating Winslow Park that is in direct line with the longer runway to the Knight Campus of CCRI. As it turned out, the college was not prepared to provide the land for six fields.
There were questions, too, as to whether RIAC would follow through with its proposal.
“There’s been promises and its just BS and that’s why we’re a little gun shy,” said one resident.
In response to how long the city could be guaranteed that the land remained for playing fields, Frazier said the maximum lease is 30 years, but he believed with legislative action it could be extended.
“There will be no chicanery, no bait and switch,” he promised. “It’s very important that we do this right.”
McDonough talked of returning with a plan considering issues raised, but did not offer a date of when that might be.
“We need to huddle up and come back,” he said.
Preston Pelkey, who said he has lived in the neighborhood since before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, quizzed the planners on exactly where the access road would go. He concluded after nearly two hours of discussion, “It’s a pretty good plan.”
Frazier said yesterday that RIAC would proceed with retaining the architectural firm to design the park plans. He said an effort would be made to incorporate as many suggestions as possible and that plan would be shared with the neighborhood.
City Planner William DePasquale, who attended the meeting, applauded RIAC “for really coming up with solutions.” He said the city doesn’t want people dropping off their children in the neighborhood to walk through to the playing fields, yet he thought fencing off the park area would be a mistake as it would prohibit its use by area residents. He said the city would be looking for solutions.