R.I. Supreme Court allows couple to challenge Brown University's field hockey plans

By Chandra Lye | Jul 12, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) – The Rhode Island Supreme Court has granted a couple another chance to challenge construction plans for a field hockey space at Brown University.

The court issued its decision June 27 in favor of Stephen Key and Melanie Mitchell, who have claimed that the university’s plan for an artificial turf field hockey space - which includes other elements, such as a grandstand and electronic scoreboard - is unlawful under zoning ordinances.

The field was part of the changes the university applied to make to the Wendell R. Erickson Athletic Complex.

The couple, who live across the street from where the field hockey space will be constructed, claim the university has changed its plan and should have been questioned more thoroughly about the project. 

However, the school held several public forums to discuss its plans with neighbors but the couple did not attend, the court's opinion states. 

Following the forums, Brown University submitted an amendment to its plans, which according to the plaintiffs failed to indicate the field hockey space would include a grandstand, press box, electronic scoreboard and public address system.

There was a public hearing to discuss the plans for the university but again the couple chose not to attend or voice any dissent about the project, the opinion states. 

It wasn’t until building permits were issued that Key first met with officials on July 10, 2012, in a conference room. The next day, Key sent an email requesting another meeting on the space the field hockey area would be. 

During the second meeting, Key said he learned about the additional elements that would be added, including an electronic scoreboard. He sent a letter issuing his concern. He also sent one to the Providence City Plan Commission. 

The next day a cease-and-desist letter was sent from the plaintiffs' attorney claiming the project had been changed from what was previously presented publicly.

A few weeks later, the couple also filed a lawsuit in Superior Court. 

Summary judgment was granted for the defendants and the couple appealed.

As a result of the appeal, the previous court decision was vacated and the case has been remanded for further proceedings.

"In the case at bar, the plaintiffs allege that Brown omitted material elements of its construction project from its IMP, thereby depriving the CPC of an opportunity to review 'the true project,' the opinion says.

"As a consequence, the plaintiffs further contend, '[n]o public forums were held with respect to the [field] hockey field location, design and amenities prior to the submission or approval of the [IMP], as required.' As abutting property owners, the plaintiffs have clearly established an injury in fact."

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