A Happy Ending?

Battle over Granoff subdivision plan heads towards closure

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

To the surprise of many, it appears the confrontation over a plan to subdivide the Bridgham Estate, the three and a half acre property on the corner of Rochambeau Avenue and the Boulevard owned by the Granoff family, may be headed towards a solution that actually could work for all parties concerned. Just a few weeks ago, such an outcome would have been deemed implausible at best.

The controversy began in October when Paula and Leonard Granoff and their lawyer Thomas Moses submitted a plan to the City seeking the right to sub-divide their property into ten additional house lots while keeping the two large existing buildings intact. Moses argued that the owners had the legal right to subdivide their property as they wished as long their proposal met all the requirements proscribed by the City. While not endorsing the project, City Planning Department did agree that based on the letter of the law, the proposal seemed to be minimally in conformance.

Given just a few days warning before the October meeting the City Plan Commission, which has regulatory oversight over the issue, the neighbors scurried to protest the scale and appropriateness of the Granoff subdivision request. As it turned out, the October meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum. By November, a much-enlarged group of neighbors were ready to do battle. Armed with a petition signed by over 600 residents and a letter of support from the Providence Preservation Society, William Landry, the attorney representing nearby neighbors, objected to the proposal. He argued that the plan the Granoffs had submitted calling for up to ten new house lots wasn’t a simple property subdivision but rather a full blown major land development and as such needed to conform to a much stricter and detailed set of standards. As presented, he pointed out, the Granoff proposal provided no information about its impact on surrounding homes, existing traffic patterns, environmental and drainage issues and on the historic significance of the site itself.

The public portion of the showdown extended into the December. Over 100 neighbors packed the meeting room, many sporting stick-on badges, to demonstrate their opposition to the proposal, as speaker after speaker spoke out against the plan.

In the end, the four Plan commissioners split 2-2 on the vote, which effectively killed the proposal. By statute, the commission requires a majority vote of members in attendance for any proposal to move forward. As a result, any future submissions for the Granoff will be guided by the new citywide zoning regulations that have now gone into effect, which at the very least will increase minimum lot sizes on the Granoff property from 6,000 to 7,200 sq. ft. Harry Bilodeau and Joann Ryan, the two commissioners who voted against the plan, explained they felt the proposed subdivision “was not consistent with the prevailing sense of the adjoining neighborhood.” Board chair Christine West defended her support of the proposal. “I felt by guaranteeing the survival of the estate building itself, a compromise on the lot sizes was reasonable.”

But just weeks after the decision, things have changed dramatically. When contacted by East Side Monthly, Jim DeRentis, the Residential Property representative for the Granoffs, did acknowledge that the property is now under contract and the expectation is that the sale will close in the second quarter of the year. While he was non-committal on the specifics of the deal and would not identify the buyer, he did suggest whatever comes forward will likely be more palatable to the community.

For their part, the neighbors are hopeful but wary. Said Sharon Steele, a neighbor and real estate specialist who was part of the leadership team for the group: “When we started, frankly the odds were not in our favor. In fact many said it was impossible. We owe our success to our attorney Bill Landry who brought his brilliant legal arguments, clear vision and his passion to our cause. And I can’t say enough about our steering committee who rallied the neighborhood in such short order. This effort was born out of necessity, but it has become a labor of love in our pursuit of the fairness doctrine, the com- mon good and the preservation of our neighborhood.”

There still are a few months to go before the actual closing date. And of course there are the usual inspections and due diligence that are a part of any real estate transaction, so it’s not yet a done deal.

But it does appear the Bridgham estate will remain intact for the short term. At this point nothing is known about the potential new purchaser. The hope from the neighbors is that the manor house will remain owner-occupied by people who share a love and commitment to the neighborhood.

A neighbor expressed what to her would be the perfect happy ending of the entire situation. “Our highest hopes are that the new owners will recognize the broader cultural values of the estate and respect the historic integrity of the neighborhood by working to preserve and maintain both the estate and its distinctive landscape.”

To which over 600 signators to their petition, and much of the East Side that has been watching, add a heartfelt “Amen.”

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