By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The 695 Main Street site as it currently appears.

The empty corner at First Avenue and Main Street – site of a former Sunoco station – has been an eyesore for years but that may finally be changing. At a Planning Board meeting earlier this month, applicant 20 Water Street Realty LLC brought its proposal for 695 Main Street for a pre-application review – a three-story mixed-use building with commercial spaces on the first floor, offices and apartments on the second floor and apartments on the third floor. A total of eight residential apartments are being proposed.

And, in general, the Planning Board liked what it saw.

In the seven years since Sunoco closed the station, the property has sat vacant and, at times, weed strewn. Early on, there was a move afoot to put a Walgreens on the site. That fell apart because of traffic concerns. The site is challenging. It’s not a huge parcel and it’s part of a busy intersection. A drug store would have provided more in-and-out traffic than the lot could bear.

The carwash on Second Street and First Avenue is on a separate lot and would remain.

Later, there was the possibility of a bank for that site. In theory, a bank could have worked, since banks don’t excite huge traffic, but that developer dropped out very early in the process.

More recently, it looked like the site would be home to a used car lot. But the used cars never materialized.

The proposal is similar to the Piazza Zarrella building at 652 Main St., which sits kitty-corner to 695 Main Street. That building has commercial businesses at street level (a lighting store, a photographer, a lawyer) and apartments upstairs, with parking behind. The new proposal would place the building right on the First Avenue and Main Street corner, with parking on the Second Avenue side. The carwash on Second Street and First Avenue is on a separate lot and would remain. There would be entrances to the parking area on First Avenue, Main Street and Second Street.

A pre-application review is non-binding. Rather, it’s an opportunity for a developer to show the Planning Board what it wants to do and get feedback. This was the developer’s second visit before the Planning Board and members were more favorable this time. In particular, members liked that the building was now flush with the street and provided more of a “gateway” appearance at an intersection that is considered the southern entry point to East Greenwich’s main downtown section.

The Planning Department’s staff report noted that the project would need approval from the Historic District Commission, since the property lies within the Downtown Historic District. In addition, while the parking plan seemed appropriate, if someone wanted to open a restaurant on the first floor, the report said, “the parking calculation would need to be re-examined.”

The next step for the project is Master Plan approval.