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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Cross Mills fire station to open soon

The fire station Ruth Platner tried to kill
By Will Collette

On Sunday, the Westerly Sun ran a page one, top of the fold story on the new Cross Mills Fire Station on Route 1a, slated to open soon.  But if Sun reporter Michael  Souza had a little more experience with Charlestown, he might have made it a much more interesting story by putting it in context.

For instance, one thing Souza's story doesn't tell you is that if Ruth Platner and the Charlestown Planning Commission had its way, this station would never have been built.

How Ruth Platner sees firefighting equipment
Many Charlestown residents will remember that the Planning Commission did everything it could to kill this project and this fire station almost didn’t get built. 

It was strongly opposed – indeed, it was rejected – by Ruth Platner and her merry band of Planning Commissioners. Their grievance: the station didn’t fit their idea of what the “traditional village district” concept should be.

The Planning Commission didn’t like the idea that the fire station used brick, plus they thought it was way too big. Instead, they said the fire district should come back with a plan that used a number of small buildings made from traditional materials. They turned down the plan in April, 2009

Firefighting equipment as it is -
Engine 814 stationed at Cross Mills
The fire district explained that the Planning Commission’s recommendations were not practical, given the size of modern fire equipment. Perhaps if the firefighters used the kind of horse-drawn pumpers that were standard equipment in the 1800s, the small building approach would work, but not with modern apparatus.

The Zoning Board overruled Planning in a June 2009 smack-down decision. They noted that in Charlestown’s zoning ordinance (the same document at the core of the Platner Principle), brick is not only an “allowed” building material, it is a “preferred” material. The Zoning Board enthusiastically supported the project, and the firefighters and overrode the Planning Commission’s denial of the project with a strong rebuke to them for presenting no justification for their denial.

In July 2009, the Planning Commission reluctantly gave its pro forma approval, saying that they still stood by their original objections.

Ruth Platner: "Build your fire station
out of straw and sticks!
Planning Commissar Ruth Platner told Sun reporter Liz Abbott, "For myself, I would say it still doesn't comply," 

The Planning Commission also insisted that the Fire District get a special use permit from Zoning, but said they would not make a positive recommendation that they actually get it. Said Commissar Platner, Since I can't change my findings, it's hard for me to give you a positive recommendation on that,"

In the on-going sparring over the brick work, Platner dressed down the building’s architect, "You testified you didn't know that we didn't want brick. Just to be very clear, we wanted you to use less brick… We'd be happy to have you use more hardiboard."

Zoning granted the special use permit and necessary variances to allow this project to go forward – no thanks to the Planning Commission - and the station will soon open.

The outrageous campaign by the Planning Commission against this fire station delayed the project by at least a year.

As for the Sun’s story last Sunday, it would have been nice if reporter Michael  Souza had checked the Sun’s own coverage of this project to provide some important history about why this station is opening in 2011, rather than 2010.