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Moving Morely? Not so Surely: Pawtucket’s plan to relocate Morely Field hits legal snags

PAWTUCKET, RI: The City of Pawtucket’s latest effort to reallocate greenspace in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Pawtucket to the Oak Hill neighborhood has found some obstacles. 

Over the past several months, the Pawtucket City Council and mayoral administration has worked to allow for the expanded footprint of the Blackstone Distribution Center, a trucking center planned for construction on the foundations of the old MicroFibres building at 1 Moshassuck Street. Part of this effort is to sell Morley Field, a public park that abuts the site, to the developer to provide for additional parking. 

The initiative has met resistance. Most public response has been consistently against selling the park, with a rally of about 80 people held in September in protest, led by both District 5 Pawtucket City Councilor Clovis Gregor and District 59 State Representative-elect Jennifer Stewart (D-Pawtucket). 

“I have and will continue to listen to Woodlawn residents’ concerns about recreational and green space as the City Council process moves forward regarding both Morley Field and purchasing new green space at 724 Pleasant Street,” said Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebian in a statement. “I’m confident that moving forward, we will be able to preserve and expand green spaces in the City while also promoting new, job-creating economic development opportunities.”

Councilor Gregor, however, has concerns. He points out that the new space is a mile and a half from the existing site, removing the space from District 5. This is important because District 5 is 70% minority families, mostly with kids living in multi-family homes with no yards and no place to play, Gregor explains. Also, the replacement park is being proposed next to Max Read Field, which is already a well-invested community space. 

“This is assuming it can be moved,” Gregor adds. 

More importantly, Gregor explains that because the Morley Field site has received federal funding in the past, the city needs to have both Department of Environmental Management and National Parks Service approval to convert the space from the recreational designation to buildable. 

“The purchase and sale agreement is voided — the city never had permission to sell the field in the first place,” says Gregor. 

“The City of Pawtucket has submitted an application to DEM to alter wetlands at Morley Field. This is required because DEM regulates wetlands,” says Michael Healy, Chief Public Affairs Officer at RI DEM. “We cannot consider the City’s application complete, however, because sequentially, first the City must provide documentation that a recreational conversion plan has been approved by both DEM and the National Park Service… To date, DEM has not received this application.” 

“The environmental justice implications of this proposal are very real,” said Terrence Gray, Director of RI DEM, in an email to a concerned citizen. “My understanding is that these transfers are not just evaluating based on size, but also various criteria related to recreational value to the community.”

“The city has failed in its stewardship,” Gregor says. “The most important thing now is to convince the DEM — and more particularly the NPS — to not accept the sale of Morley Field.”

Another rally protesting the sale of Morley Field is scheduled for 4pm on November 3 at Pawtucket City Hall. 

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