Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Platner’s Planners Plot Power Plunder

New Ordinance #349 proposes more Planning Commission authority over town businesses

By Will Collette

"You Will OBEY"
The Charlestown Town Council proposes one of its biggest power grabs ever since Planning Commissar Ruth Platner made herself Charlestown’s most powerful political figure.

With the dull, innocuous title, “An Ordinance Amending Chapter 218 Zoning, Historic Village District and Development Plan Review,” Platner hopes to assume sweeping powers not only of the area on and around Route 1A, but over non-residential property all over Charlestown.

If you are an owner of “non-residential property,” such as a small business or non-profit (e.g. church, Grange, Fire District), you need to pay careful attention to Ordinance #349, since it will subject you to microscopic, agonizing scrutiny over the future use of your property.

This ordinance is long and detailed, too much to analyze in one sitting, so this is the first of several parts. 

Read the entire proposed Ordinance #349 here. .It comes up for a public hearing and possible Town Council vote on June 11..

In this first installment, we'll cover the section that deals with the "Historic Village District," the area on and around Route 1A, Old Post Road

The new design for Route 1A
There was a funny moment at the May 14 Town Council meeting. Town Clerk Amy Weinreich had asked to have an agenda item that reviewed the town's official procedure for introducing ordinances.

The Town Council had not been following the rules, as Council Boss Tom Gentz observed. The rules require that on first reading, the sponsor of the ordinance should read the title of it into the record and then explain what the ordinance is all about.

The first item after this "clarification" of the rules was the introduction of Ordinance #349 with Tom Gentz as the sponsor. He botched the process that he had just covered and then, when it was time for him to explain his own ordinance - he couldn't do it. He had only the vaguest idea of what was in it, and of course, he had to call on Planning Commissar to step to the microphone and give her grossly misleading description of the proposed new law.

Through Ordinance #349, the Planning Commission usurps authority over the Historic Village District that would normally be performed by a Historic Village District Commission.

Charlestown doesn’t actually have a Historic Village District Commission because, under state law (RIGL 45-24.1), such a Commission must be appointed by the Town Council. But the Planning Commission can’t be it because they are electedCharlestown is the only hold-out that has not complied with state law that requires planning bodies to be appointed, not elected.

Less expensive than sending them to Chariho
State law specifies how cities and towns are permitted to intervene in the protection of historic resources, that is, by appointing a Historic District Commission of 7 qualified residents, which must publish standards, identify historic sites within the districts, require all exterior alterations and new construction to apply for approval (including residential) and decide on applications within 45 days.

Ordinance #349 and any decisions stemming from it could lead to costly litigation against Charlestown – and the town will probably lose - because of Ordinance #349’s evident conflict with state law.

During their May 3 meeting, Platner and her plucky planners wanted to make it clear that they understood the legal problems with their actions as the Historic Village District Commission. But they still wanted to make damned sure they had the power, if not the title.

They also discussed how they wanted to try to “spin” this new ordinance as really an old ordinance that has simply been rearranged. Lipstick on a pig, Ruth.

Read the ordinance (click here).

If you are a local business owner, ask yourself if you’ve ever seen any of this before. This ordinance expresses the Planning Commission’s sheer contempt toward businesses along what is really Charlestown’s central business district in a manner that is simply chilling.

Make sure your roof shingles are selected from the Planning
Commission's officially approved shingle sample books
Read Section D’s language on signs or on drains and downspouts for examples of the Planning Commission’s intent to torture businesses along Route 1A to death.

The Planning Commission will assume the authority to determine the appropriateness of any and all design elements for any alterations or changes to buildings in the district, applying its unique brand of colonial sensibility. Just like they did when they approved the design for Pat’s Power while torturing the Cross Mills Fire District over their choice of brick for recently opened – but long delayed – fire station on Old Post Road.

Look – I think it would be nice if Route 1A looked like Sturbridge Village. But to accomplish that, we would have to tear down just about every business along the Old Post Road. Bye-bye Pat’s Power. Bye-bye Mini-Mart. Bye-bye Washington Trust, Dunkin Donuts, Cumberland Farms, US Post Office, The Cove, Ocean Pharmacy and on and on.

Our important historic buildings must, of course, be protected. I would start with supporting Janice Falcone’s efforts to save the General Stanton Inn, make sure the Charlestown Historic Society gets what it needs to complete its building work, and help to ensure that historic building owners can maintain their properties.

But Route 1A, Old Post Road, has not been a rural cow path in well over a century. It’s not Colonial Williamsburg or the Mystic Seaport.

Torturing town businesses will not restore Charlestown to its rustic colonial splendor no matter how much Ruth Platner may wish it to be so.

Read the ordinance. Then take a stand.