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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sturm und Drang at 7 PM

January 25th meeting agenda loaded with controversy, as usual
By Will Collette

The Planning Commission will tackle two long-running controversies, a dark sky ordinance  and the much-debated proposed town purchase of the busted out YMCA Camp on Watchaug Pond. 

They also have THREE housing development proposals on their agenda, plus the usual array of issues they plan to masticate over.

Unlike their last meeting, this time there are documents available on Clerkbase for most of the major agenda items.

Lights Out

For example, there is a new version of the Dark Sky ordinance that will come up for public hearing and likely Council approval in February.

Under this new version, all existing lighting is exempt from the new regulation. If existing lighting needs to be repaired or replaced, the new or newly repaired light must comply. In theory, our Town Building Official Joe Warner will enforce this and all other provisions of the proposed ordinance.

In recent coverage, I have noted that Planning Commissar Ruth Platner threw a hissy fit at Joe Warner and at Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero for suggesting that there were problems with the July draft ordinance. According to Platner, they raised concerns about the ordinance’s legality, enforceability and financial implications.

It is unclear whether this new version reflects a new consensus – i.e., a resolution of those concerns – but enforcement still rests with Joe Warner through means and methods that are far from clear. It disturbs me to hear Platner say that she doesn’t expect rigorous enforcement of the ordinance, or for that matter, much enforcement at all. But read the ordinance for yourself.

Personally, I love our dark sky and have been an avid astronomy buff since childhood. But the worst threats to Charlestown’s dark sky come from sources beyond the scope of this ordinance. Look at the bright glows on the horizon from the direction of South Kingstown, Westerly and even Foxwoods. Then there are the town and state facilities with their bright, unhooded lights.

The YMCA Camp Caper

The other big issue on the agenda is the drafting of an Advisory Opinion to the Town Council on the allocation of town funds for the purchase of the abandoned YMCA Camp on Watchaug Pond. I think the proposal is a rip-off – and detail why I believe that here.

I won’t repeat those arguments in this article but do draw your attention to the question of whether Planning Commissar Platner and her colleague Gordon Foer should take part in deliberations about the Y Camp caper.

Platner and Foer are founding members of the Charlestown Land Trust, and this proposal, which would involve $946,000 of mostly town and state tax money, would give title to the YMCA property to the Charlestown Land Trust.

Interestingly, the package of materials attached to the agenda item on Clerkbase DOES NOT contain the entire proposal presented to the town by the Ad Hoc Advisory Group (just the first two pages) – it omits the $946,000 total acquisition cost. Is this another example of the new CCA/Planning Commission/Town Council policy on transparency? See the full Ad Hoc committee proposal here.

I believe Platner has already violated the state Ethics Law prohibiting conflicts of interest when she was a leader in the NIMBY fight to block a proposed conservation development so the Land Trust could get the land. If she fails to fully and honestly disclose her relationship with the Land Trust and recuse herself, I believe she compounds the offense.

Indeed, I believe her actions to date have so tainted the process that I include it as one of the Ten Reasons why the Y Camp caper is a bad idea.

Gordon Foer has not, as far as I know, played an active role in the Y Camp caper, but he will be crossing the line if he participates in decisions involving this Advisory Opinion. He too should declare his interests and recuse himself.
Site plan for part of the Buckeye Brook

Tale of Three Developments

There is an application for a master plan review for a major sub-division from Phyllis Rehill of New Hampshire. She wants to build a new cluster sub-division on Buckeye Brook Road that would involve taking 37 acres that could handle 28 houses and dividing it into 14 lots, each with a new three-bedroom home.

The plan assumes this sub-division would house 43 people, some of them (gasp!) children, with a net annual economic impact of -$236,803.

There is a pre-application for a comprehensive permit for a new sub-division that would be called Greenock Village. The developer is CCAH, LLC (owner is the estate of William Babcock of Wakefield). They will be working with the Narragansett Affordable Housing Corporation. They plan to build 48 units of low and moderate income housing on 49 acres off Shannock Road, near the South Kingstown line.

Greenock Village site plan
Twelve of the 48 units would be low- and moderate-income housing. Since this is another project that would allow children (gasp!), the estimated net annual impact on Charlestown if this project goes forward is -$338,000.

Platner and her planning compaƱeros have been gearing up to fight these developments to the death for several months now.

Slightly less controversial is the proposal to revive the Edwards Lane affordable housing development for 7 units of low-income housing. This is all affordable housing to be done by non-profit developers (Church Community Housing and South County Habitat), They need an Advisory Opinion to the Town Council from Planning on their request for a $250,000 commitment of town funds from our voter-approved affordable housing bond.  

And all the rest.... 

The Planning Commission agenda also lists the need to craft an Advisory Opinion on the Capital Improvement Plan, but there is no attached Capital Improvement Plan.

They are also slated to discuss the Charter Review Board as well as a “re-write of subdivision/land development regulations & zoning ordinance.” There are no documents attached to any of these agenda items.

I predict that the Commission will spend so much time on dark skies, the Y Camp caper and three proposed housing developments and will be so exhausted that they won’t get to these items. If they do manage to stumble into the bottom part of the agenda, expect a lot of gaffes and finger-drumming on the microphones, as is usually the case when the meeting runs well past the Commissioners’ bedtimes.