WYOMING — Driving along Route 138 here, there is no evidence that construction on Richmond Commons, the largest project in the town’s history and one of the largest in the state, has finally begun.
But right off the two-lane highway, just a short distance down a dirt road, is a major excavation. The work began in July as soon as the Richmond Planning Board gave the project its final approval.
Copar Quarries is the contractor responsible for the blasting and excavation of the site for Richmond Realty Associates LLC.
“Copar is taking the surplus rock out that we have to remove for doing the site work,” said John Aiello Jr. of North Providence, managing partner of Richmond Realty.
There is a great deal of rock to be removed, including the imposing wall that towers over the work site.
“This rock here, there’s roughly 40-, 50-foot high rock that has to be taken out of there so we can get at the grades we need to start the buildings,” Aiello said.
The north side of the property, the location of the proposed residential component of the development, is currently 150 feet above Route 138 and will be excavated to an elevation of 60 feet. Aiello said the stone will be used on the site.
“We need a lot of stone for the drainage. We’ve got big drainage systems going in here. We need a lot of processed gravel. For this site, not to bring cement trucks coming in over the road, we’re going to be using all the materials for our own cement for all the buildings. We’re going to put up a little portable plant so we can just batch out cement here and be able to use it on site,” he said.
Once completed, Richmond Commons would have 399 residential units and 700,000 square feet of commercial space, but it is likely that Aiello will no longer be the owner.
“It is for sale. For sale or lease,” he said.
Aiello’s attorney, Anthony Gallone, said, “We’re trying to attract a national developer to come in and purchase the whole project.”
Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish said that whoever buys the property will have to obtain approval from the Town Council if they want to make any changes to the plan.
“I know there’s been some challenges with Copar in another part of the state,” Reddish said, referring to the company’s disputes with neighbors of its quarry in Bradford. But, he added, “This land is under a comprehensive plan. It’s under an approved plan. So there’s only one thing that can happen on this land, which is Richmond Commons. No matter what goes forward in the future, it will be Richmond Commons, unless they come back to the town of Richmond.”
During the lengthy approval process, the town required that the development be divided into two distinct parcels: commercial and residential. The commercial buildings will go up first, but it will be a while before that construction begins. On a project so large that it will have its own wastewater treatment plant, Aiello said that the first phase, completion of infrastructure including roads and drainage, will take two or three years. The commercial buildings will be next, with the residential component last.
“We’ve got to put in all the infrastructure. We’ve got to put in a sewage plant. And we can phase the sewage treatment plant as we go along. And the residential, we’re going to start near Meadow Brook,” he said. The land is across the road from the Meadow Brook public golf course.
Aiello described the plan for the commercial part of the development as extensive, with several restaurants, a medical office building, an assisted living facility, day care, hotel, supermarket, and stores that could range from large retailers to smaller shops. A separate road will lead to the residential part of the development, which will have its own recreation center, gymnasium and swimming pool, and will overlook the commercial area.
Aiello has also donated 49 acres to the town for a recreation center and to be preserved as open space.
“It fits with the personality of Richmond, keeping the natural look,” Reddish said of the donated property. “When we do get a recreation-community center facility, it will be very nice for the residents to be able to walk outside and really enjoy the naturalness of the area.”
Gallone, who has represented Aiello since he proposed the development 12 years ago, says he is not surprised it took this long to get the project underway.
“This project has gone through at least five or six different town councils,” Gallone says. “The project was so immense and it required such significant state approvals that it needed the time because of all the infrastructure needs and permitting that was unique to this location.... It’s very gratifying to see that it’s come to fruition.”
Reddish, an enthusiastic backer of the development, says it will enhance Richmond’s status as the “gateway to Rhode Island.”
“It will add to Richmond’s target of, really, we’re the gateway to Rhode Island right now, and everybody comes through here to get to Newport and Narragansett and to Providence,” he said. “ We want to make sure that Richmond sets the pace, sets the tone for what to expect in a visit to Rhode Island.”