Looking Back at Another Big Development – High Hawk

by | Jul 25, 2023

The first major housing development west of Route 2 was initially greeted with hostility

 With the Planning Board weighing the largest development in EG history – 410 units on an 80-acre parcel in the northwest corner of town on Division Road – EG News decided to look at the first time a large development was built west of Route 2. That was High Hawk, which was approved in the early 1970s and built in phases over the next 20-plus years. High Hawk and the “Division Road Neighborhood” project are very different, with the newer proposal calling for a mix of single family houses, duplexes, triplexes, and smaller and larger apartment buildings versus High Hawk’s all single-family houses. But some of the sentiment from residents today echoes concerns 40 and 50 years ago about the loss of open space and wildlife, as well as a deleterious increase in traffic and potential runoff problems. 

For John Murphy, the High Hawk development represented a new life for his young family. He and his wife, Grace, moved from Providence’s Fox Point to High Hawk Road in 1977 with three sons in tow – their fourth son born after the move. The Murphys were the second owner of their house – the first only lived there a couple of years – and there were only maybe 20 houses in High Hawk at that point. 

“It was all young families on my street,” said John. “Loads of young kids in the neighborhood.”

The developer of High Hawk came to East Greenwich in the late 1960s with a plan to build 180 to 190 single-family houses on a 250-acre parcel on Frenchtown Road. By then, the town had already seen extraordinary growth. 

East Greenwich grew by 57 percent from 1960 to 1970 – from 6,100 people to 9,577 – by far the largest population increase in the town’s history. Houses had been built all over on land between downtown and Route 2 – the Lillibridge tract, Meadowbrook, River Farm, Cindy Ann, Tanglewood, Queen’s Grant, etc. It’s no wonder the town built four schools between 1958 and 1969 (Hanaford in ‘58, Frenchtown in ‘64, EGHS in ‘67, and Meadowbrook in ‘69).

High Hawk was the first proposed development west of Route 2 and EG residents, especially those who lived in the Frenchtown area, were not enthusiastic, according to articles from the time published in the Rhode Island Pendulum (known today as the East Greenwich Pendulum).

High Hawk is such a fixed part of the East Greenwich landscape now that it’s interesting to hear the Rhode Island Pendulum in its March 5, 1970 edition write that the developer was “intent on bringing ‘civilization’ to the far reaches of Frenchtown.” Yet, it makes some sense when you realize just how rural Frenchtown still was in 1970 – farms and more farms, with some houses.

The Aug. 20, 1970, Pendulum features an article about a petition signed by 276 residents “of the Frenchtown area” who wanted the Town Council to require 2-acre zoning there. The area was zoned farmland, which required one acre. One quote from the petition: “We hate to see the countryside built up by developers – for a profit – then have them leave us with their problems.”

There was a competing petition from other area residents with 136 signatures saying they were against 2-acre zone change. The Town Council had been leaning toward a 2-acre zone because of possible well water limitations but then Kent County Water Authority started building out its water pipe infrastructure, making that issue moot. (High Hawk is on KCWA water.) 

The houses were built in phases. By the mid-1970s, people were living there and at least one High Hawk homeowner took exception to how the development’s residents were being treated by the Pendulum’s editorial page. In the Jan. 25, 1978, Pendulum, Mrs. William Sturgeon wrote a letter decrying the Pendulum’s editorial two weeks earlier urging residents to clip out postcards from the paper demanding a public hearing on the construction of tennis courts on Frenchtown Road. “Are we or are we not residents of East Greenwich?” she wrote. In 1980, the tennis courts were approved and stand today. Those and the very basic playground behind the Parks & Rec building on Frenchtown Road were the only recreational facilities west of Route 2 until the town built a playground and ball field off Middle Road at The Woods development 20 or so years ago. 

Some efforts to slow or change what was being built continued at least until 1980, when Tillinghast Road resident Jonathan Feinstein urged the town to limit the number of houses to be built on and around Arrowhead Way, the road linking High Hawk to Tillinghast. In a Pendulum article dated May 21, 1980, Feinstein argued the development “could pollute a nearby brook and harm wildlife and vegetation.” 

The arrival of High Hawk was followed by the developments of Signal Ridge and Stone Ridge between Division Road and Middle Road in the 1980s and developments like The Woods off Middle and Westfield Farms off Division Road in the 1990s and 2000s. 

Of course, all those new houses added to the town’s population. East Greenwich grew by 3,371 – to 12,948 people – between 1970 and 2000. By 2020, the town had added another 1,364 people, for a total of 14,312, according to the U.S. Census. 

Forty-six years after John Murphy moved to East Greenwich, he has no regrets.

“I love the town. I’d invest money in this town all day long,” Murphy said. “Quality of life is great, measuring East Greenwich to any other town. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

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July 26, 2023 6:10 am

I think it’s great to link the old concerns to a terrific neighborhood in the community. It helps show that any development can be viewed askew. Great idea for an article!

July 26, 2023 6:48 am

There’s a big difference between 190 homes on 250 acres and 410 units on a mere 80 acres of land.

Gregory Dantas
Gregory Dantas
July 26, 2023 6:55 am

I’m a Proud lifelong 3rd generation EG resident. 1840-Present. In 1997, I brought some friends home from Ft Bragg for Thanksgiving and they said, “Dantas your town is 90210.“ ☺️ I replied, “t’s a Great Place To Live.” 🏡🖼️

July 26, 2023 7:00 am

I don’t think anyone would complain if the proposal was one house per an acre like high hawk, or even a house per half acre but it’s 5 per acre.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson
July 26, 2023 9:27 am

Wayback Machine rides are always so interesting!

Geoffrey DeVinney
Geoffrey DeVinney
July 26, 2023 10:05 am

I lived in the corner of Frenchtown and High Hawk when development began. It was so sad to see apple orchard and surrounding wilderness destroyed. I was just a kid at the time and remember having to go to the emergency room after burning my foot playing in the area where they had burned trees and stumps weeks before and left smoldering.

July 26, 2023 11:34 am

I see the general idea here, to highlight how change can be good, but there is a drastic difference in density and the amount of land not paved over between these two developments. In many ways High Hawk is what this developer should be striving for- building a beautiful neighborhood, where kids have yards to play in, and can safely ride bikes on the street. Even better that 25%+ would be affordable housing so families can afford it.

That is NOT what Ned Capozzi is trying to build on Division road.

The huge population increase outlined above is also why we see such traffic issues already on Rt. 2, Rt.4, and Division Road. By just building more and adding another 10% to our town population, without first identifying the infrastructure to support it, we will face a hard reality in the next 5-10 years. Also, the Division Development isn’t even on EG sewer- it can’t support it – so it’s being rented from West Warwick and Coventry.

I also highlight that we have learned A LOT about the impacts of deforestation and over development to the environment since the 1970’s. As we stand at an environmental crossroads we should not be making more messes for our children and their children to attempt to clean up for us. Rather, we should be listening to the experts and seeing the signs within our own town and choosing to protect more land.

I appreciate this idea here, but the only way this development can be as successful as High Hawk is with at least 50% less density than currently proposed, larger park/green space area, and perhaps some neighborhood shops – ice cream shop, coffee shop, deli, etc.. Even if that brings some people in, it becomes more of a neighborhood.

July 26, 2023 1:45 pm

People will always push back on big developments. No one ever wants their part of town to change. But change is inevitable and many families cannot afford the traditional single family home. More condos and mixed housing styles are needed in EG and the location of the proposed development allows for this.

July 28, 2023 10:58 am
Reply to  Heather

This! Development isn’t what it was 40 years ago, and the lack of affordable housing in EG and statewide makes it a moral imperative that we do something to increase supply. We have the land, we have the capacity, and we’ve actually been growing even as other municipalities have been shrinking and closing schools. It’s obvious that no matter what this development looked like – single-family homes or condos or something else – there would be a slew of objections that amounted to “change nothing.” That’s not an option and never has been. Let’s share our amazing town with more residents, increase the tax base, and hopefully offer affordable housing to those in need.

July 27, 2023 1:09 pm

This project can not support septic systems, because of the density. If I am not mistaken, the development will need to use another town’s sewer system. How much will this cost per year for the town? Back in the 1970s many towns in RI mandated 2 acre lots to save our wildlife and nature. We need single and duplex homes that this area on 1 acre lots.

July 27, 2023 2:03 pm

Do you know if there any “guarantees” that this development will always have access to West Warwick/Coventry sewers? Can anyone here imagine if 10 years from now that access stops? Or if it becomes ridiculously expensive? That seems like a potential disaster on several levels – one that EG hopefully doesn’t end up on the hook for.

Justin Cahir
Justin Cahir
July 28, 2023 10:36 am

I can imagine 10 years ago some may have said no one can “make us” add a 410 unit development to our already strained school and safety systems. But here we are!

Paul Capozzoli
Paul Capozzoli
July 28, 2023 11:49 am

That was the “fancy” part of town when I was growing up (EGHS Class of ’78). I have been in Virginia since then and what I am seeing is these four story town home developments. Very little single family homes are being constructed, if any they are on postage stamp lots. They stress roads and schools. Ah to go back to the days of “big developments” being like High Hawk.

Lori Fairhurst
Lori Fairhurst
July 29, 2023 4:49 pm

I believe my father and his brother’s built those houses in the 70’s. S. A. Andreozzi & Sons.

July 30, 2023 8:39 am

Moral to this story:

Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed,
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loitered o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene!
How often have I paused on every charm,
The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made!
How often have I blest the coming day, ……..

In all my wanderings round this world of care,
In all my griefs—and God has given my share—
I still had hopes, my latest hours to crown,
Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down;

Deserted Village – O. Goldsmith


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