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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth - Part 2

One of the 15 buildings on the YMCA land today
This article is the second part of my reaction to Joanne D'Alcomo's email fighting the YMCA land use change request. You can see all of our articles on this topic including Part 1 here.

Continuing with the content of Ms. D'Alcomo's email in bold:

Nearby homeowners and others have also asked the Town Council to vote against rezoning at this time because no meaningful effort has been made to preserve the land as open space.

The testimony at the first hearing included a lot of detail on the efforts by the YMCA to explore conservation options. They approached the The Champlin Foundation, a major source of funding for preservation land purchases, long before the YMCA decided to put the land up for sale. The Champlin Foundation engaged The Nature Conservancy and Rhode Island DEM. After touring the property and evaluating it DEM had some interest but only to operate as a day camp in competition with the YMCA and not as preservation. This does not sound like “no meaningful effort.”

Joanne also omits information about the numerous nearby homeowners, those who lived with the traffic generated by the camp when it was active, who testified in support of the rezoning because they prefer the light use by a few homes on part of the land compared to the heavy use as a camp.

The Land Trust is interested in working to acquire and protect the property, but hasn’t been given the chance. The YMCA, for some inexplicable reason, never gave the Land Trust, or even abutters or nearby homeowners,  a chance to preserve the land as open space before pursuing a deal to sell it for development..     

We have heard repeatedly that the nearby homeowners did not know the land was becoming available. Another good psychological technique is to imply a conspiracy as if the YMCA only wanted to sell the land to Mr. Veazey and tried to hide it from everyone else. I have seen the For Sale sign and I doubt this was all a secret from people who were around at the time.

If the Town Council votes to rezone the property on May 9th, Charlestown will lose the chance to preserve a unique parcel of land.

My view of the truth is exactly the opposite of this statement. Mr. Veazey has proposed plans that will deed-protect the majority of the land from ever being developed while placing 10 homes in the portion of the land already crowded with buildings, roads, septic systems and even a basketball court. 

A proposal (my favorite of the three) - click to enlarge

If the request is rejected then the land can be used for a crowded campground again or put to another use permitted, without a special use permit, in OSR land – like horse stables, plant nurseries, greenhouses, farming, farm retail sales, etc. I wonder about the impact on Watchaug Pong of farming, greenhouses and horse poop.

There is no need to rush to rezone this property to (sic) that condos and homes can be built.

“Condos” is another of those great psychological trigger words, causing the mind to envision clear-cutting trees and a hundred or more units crammed among paved parking lots. The reality is that Mr. Veazey responded to the suggestions made about preserving the undeveloped part of the land, so he proposed a cluster housing approach with a mini-village look. These may technically be condos but that gives the wrong impression for a solution that permanently preserves over half of the land.

As of this past weekend, for example, there were at least 130 single-family homes and condos on the market in Charlestown.

Another statement meant to inflame people before they pause to consider the reality. Several points on this: 1) Yes times are tough in housing and one way to help things is to generate jobs for people. This project will generate jobs, 2) These houses will not appear overnight. Mr. Veazey has been warned that this hearing is only the start because he will have to get a subdivision plan approved. By the time the houses are complete we will be in better times, 3) This is a vacation property area and I have long noted that many homes are put on the market looking for a nibble, inflating the numbers, 4) My Research Assistant did search for me. Of those 130 homes for sale she wondered how many are listed with a “fresh water view”, like the proposed homes will have. The answer: 4. Hardly a glut of homes on the market on fresh water ponds.

According to the 2010 census, Rhode Island has the dubious distinction of being the second-most dense state in the country – behind only New Jersey.

I can’t believe I am reading this right. I’m to believe that we can take some state-level statistic and claim it makes some sense for Charlestown, as if this is Central Falls? What can I say?

Before Charlestown’s Town Council  rushes to change the zoning so that one person build (sic) a condo development and housing development and add to that density on a precious 27 ½ acre parcel of land on Watchaug Pond, it should at least give some time to explore the potential for the property to be preserved as open space.

Here we have a raft of trigger words and half arguments in one sentence: “rushes” (the YMCA has been trying to work something out since 2009), “condos” (clustered homes), “density” (Central Falls!), “precious” (15 buildings, 4 septic systems, paved roads, possibility of 200 teens partying all weekend in a camp, …).

Let’s face it: what makes Charlestown special is not new housing developments or condos. It’s the town’s rural character, its scenery and natural resources.

That is what convinces me that the proposal is best. It preserves the forested part of the property while converting the developed portion with decaying buildings into a cluster of homes that will produce less impact on the land and lake than the campground has.

I'll finish this series with some final thoughts in Part 3, on Thursday. 

Author: Tom Ferrio