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Monday, March 12, 2012

Town Council Meeting - the March episode Play-by-Play

by Tom Ferrio

The event had been promoted as two title matches with several rounds of lighter entertainment.

The two big topics on the agenda were the proposed lighting ordinance which we have covered often as it's developed and Dan Slattery's four agenda items which we have characterized as War on Ninigret Park (here and here).

This article summarizes the topics as they were discussed at the meeting. We will follow with more in-depth analysis of the most important topics.
Future articles will include links to ClerkBase video when it is available. Although live video was not available, the video will be of much higher quality than usual lately because it was recorded with a high-quality camera (what we fondly call “Ray TV”).

Hometown Hero Award

When Lisa DiBello first proposed an award with this title I expected it would be something given out once or twice a year. Arrowhead Dental received the first award in December 2011. At the February Town Council meeting DiBello nominated a second award and that was given out this month to Deborah Nigrelli and the volunteers at RICAN, the Rhode Island Center Assisting those in Need. RICAN does fine work as a safety net in South County so I’m glad that they received this recognition.

Oiling goose eggs

Geese are a major source of nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria in our salt and freshwater ponds. Our tendency to feed the geese and provide manicured lawns to the water’s edge encourages them to stay here year-round instead of just passing through. Lacking birth control pills, environmentalists look for ways to make goose eggs non-viable.

One method deemed humane is to coat the eggs with corn oil, smothering the developing embryos. The town is looking for volunteers to identify and track nesting sites and to be trained in the oiling of eggs. The town will be sending out an email with more information.

Dark Skies lighting ordinance

Council President Tom Gentz started by announcing that the recommended amendments to the posted ordinance change the ordinance sufficiently that the amended ordinance must be re-posted for public review. The hearing would be continued at the April 9 Town Council meeting.

He then read a letter from Fish and Wildlife objecting to the proposed practice field lighting that was presented by Jay Primiano at the December Council meeting. Part-way through Marge Frank questioned what this had to do with the lighting ordinance (I guess channeling my thought that this sounded like the War on Ninigret items later in the agenda). Gentz responded that we would see how it relates. After Gentz read more about the sports lighting Gregg Avedisian also objected and Gentz replied that he had the floor. He concluded the letter with the comment that sports lighting in Ninigret Park is dead, off the table.

After making his comments about sports lighting in Ninigret Park Gentz announced that he would rule out of order any further comments about sports lighting in Ninigret Park during the lighting ordinance discussion.

I intended to leave opinions out of this article but I can’t help but think the injection of this letter at this point in the agenda was bizarre, and a distraction from a productive way to discuss either the lighting ordinance or lighting of a sports practice field. And clever to give a big speech about sports lights and then ban further discussion. You will just need to wait for the ClerkBase video on this one...

Planning Commission Chair Ruth Platner spent considerable time reviewing the changes that have been proposed and discussed since the ordinance was officially posted. Some members of the audience were given copies of the ordinance as posted and Platner verbally led the audience (those with copies) through the proposed changes. Confusion reigned as people tried to follow along, mark up their copies and understand the impact of each change.

It seems that Planning made an effort to appease the majority of voters by making all the requirements voluntary for existing single family homes. For existing commercial lighting almost everything is grandfathered until the fixtures fail and must be replaced. So this is an important and urgent ordinance but almost nothing on existing buildings must change for many years, if ever.

A 2-sided sheet was passed out assuring people of that, there would really be very little impact from this ordinance.

Under questioning from Gentz, Platner stated that temporarily lighting for Ninigret Park events is not covered by the ordinance. Then she made the odd comment that some wording may have to be added to say that. It sounded like another amendment that is not quite figured out yet.

Janice Falcone spoke to say that people walk around the Traditional Village District all hours of day and night and that turning off all the lights will be dangerous. She also stated that people come and go from area hotels and motels any time of day or night and that having all lights off is dangerous and uninviting. Platner stated that hotels and motels should count like apartments which do not have lighting hours. (I have not seen why that is obvious from the wording of the ordinance.) Falcone asked if that would be placed in the ordinance and Gentz replied not to worry, that no one would be enforcing this in the middle of the night and common sense should prevail. (So what is the purpose of the lighting hours if they won’t be enforced.)

To prevent this article from becoming too long I’ll summarize with a few other points –
  • A number of business representatives spoke to express concern about the emphasis on business lighting when the vast majority of lighting in town comes from residences.
  • A number of people associated with the Frosty Drew Observatory and the Ninigret Wildlife Refuge to express strong support for the lighting ordinance. One representative from Frosty Drew made a specific point to express strong support for the Ninigret Park festivals.
  • Local businessman Lew Johnson spoke to express his support for the ordinance if some changes were made to exempt Ninigret Park and give businesspeople some relief. 
  • The town solicitor explained that extending the ordinance to residential lighting would result in excessive calls for enforcement and involvement in neighborhood disputes. And Joe Warner, our building official, didn't want all the midnight phone calls.
After the public comments were complete, the Council voted to continue the hearing until the April 9 meeting which is scheduled to be in the town hall. It is not clear exactly when the revised ordinance will be available or what it will contain.

Council comments

Dan Slattery made comments on the Ninigret Park topics that he had asked to be placed on the agenda. He explained that he received documents from Charles Vandermoer of National Fish and Wildlife outlining Charlestown’s restrictions on the use of Ninigret Park. He blamed Town Administrator Bill DiLibero for not adequately informing the Council of the obligations.

There seemed to be some valid question of why he was discussing that here instead of during those agenda items.

Lisa DiBello expressed displeasure that the sports lighting grant was submitted without Council review. She also spoke critically but vaguely of some DiLibero action relating to the police Chief. Peter Ruggerio clarified that the Chief issued a memo about the command sequence in the department, that needed clarification.

Council President Gentz reiterated his comments about sports lighting in Ninigret Park being dead now that we are clear on our requirements to Fish and Wildlife.

Ron Areglado asked to speak on that topic and said that he was amazed that there has been so much discussion about wind turbines for so long and then we just learn that wind turbines in Ninigret park are not allowed.

Town administrator report

Bill DiLibero reported that the Ninigret Pond dredging is complete ahead of schedule and below budget.

DiLibero responded to Mr. Areglado’s comments by saying that he cancelled the wind turbine grant when he learned of the park restrictions but he allowed the met tower to proceed because it would generate useful data for the larger area.

Smoking ban at the beach

The Council decided to place signs at the two beaches and beach parking lots asking people to not smoke, although this is not an enforceable ban.

War on Ninigret Park

As it was getting late in the evening, Dan Slattery offered to table his four motions until the April 9 meeting. Thank you Mr. Slattery! Now if we can just see those two mysterious documents that he was asking the Council to vote to place on ClerkBase, and evidently didn't provide the Council copies to see. They must be very secret indeed!

Ninigret Dog Park

The Council voted to rename the dog park The Robert Schiedler Dog Park at Ninigret in honor of his work to create the dog park.

Beach Fees

Dan Slattery proposed keeping the resident sticker prices unchanged ($45 and $25 senior instead of $60 and $40) while accepting the other fee increases. The point was made by several people that our use of Federal funds requires the non-resident fees to be no more than double the resident fees. ($90 and $50 senior).

They decided on that lower set of fees for the passes. They decided to accept the proposed increases in the daily entrance fees and cottage passes.

The meeting ended just before 11 pm.