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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Smith Blasts Platner Putsch

Evelyn Smith files objections with the Town Council
Evelyn Smith
[Editor’s note: the following comments were handed in by Evelyn Smith as an individual, not in her role as Affordable Housing Commission chair, when the public hearing on Ordinance #349 – click here to read more – was suspended on June 11. That hearing is slated to resume on June 25]

Tonight I speak in opposition to the adoption of Ordinance No. 349 in its present form, in that it appears that it:
·        Exceeds authority granted by the state in RIGL 45-24-49 (Zoning) to conduct development plan review of applications for uses requiring a special-use permit, a variance, a zoning ordinance amendment and/or a zoning map change, in that state law requires that in these instances, development plan review by the planning commission “shall be advisory to the Zoning Board of Review.”  The proposed ordinance would confer upon the Planning Commission permitting authority which is currently vested by state law in the Zoning Board of Review.

·        Exceeds authority granted by the state in RIGL 45-24-49 (Zoning) to conduct development plan review of applications for uses permitted by right, in that state law requires that such review “shall only be based on specific and objective guidelines which must be stated in the zoning ordinance.”  The proposed ordinance includes standards for review of some applications by the Town Planner, but does not apply those standards to development plan reviews conducted by the Planning Commission.  The proposed ordinance instead directs that Planning Commission reviews be guided by standards contained in the Subdivision Regulations, and further directs that uses reviewed by the Town Planner shall also be required to meet the standards contained in the Subdivision Regulations.   The proposed ordinance would confer upon the Planning Commission legislative authority to enact development plan review guidelines, which is currently vested by state law in the Town Council through the adoption of the local zoning ordinance. 
·        Exceeds authority granted by the state in RIGL 45-23-27 to make local subdivision regulations applicable in all cases of development plan review  “as provided for in (RIGL) 45-24-49 of the Zoning Enabling Act of 1991, where a municipality has established, within their zoning ordinance, the procedures for planning board review of applications,” in that the proposed ordinance does not comply with RIGL 45-24-49 as previously discussed, and that the proposed ordinance does not establish within the zoning ordinance the procedures for planning board development plan review, including the fees for same. 
·        Is in conflict with its own definition of Land Development Project  (which is, as required by state law, consistent with the definition of same in RIGL 45-24), in that it sends to the Planning Commission, for their review as Major Land Development Projects, projects that do not meet the definition:  “a project in which one or more lots, tracts, or parcels of land are to be developed or redeveloped as a coordinated site for a complex of uses, units, or structures, including, but not limited to, planned development and cluster development for residential, commercial, institutional, industrial, recreational, open space, and/or mixed uses as is permitted by this Ordinance.” (218-5) 
·        Exceeds authority granted by the state in RIGL 45-24-49 (Zoning) by attempting to exercise the authority granted by the state in RIGL 45-24.1 (Historic Area Zoning) in a manner inconsistent with the statutory requirements of 45-24.1, which vests in an appointed Historic District Commission the authority to review the appropriateness of “the general design, arrangement, texture, materials, and siting” of  applications to construct, alter, repair, move or demolish structures within the historic district.  The proposed ordinance would confer upon the Planning Commission historic district review authority currently vested by state law in an Historic District Commission, which the Town has yet to appoint in order to be able to exercise the authority it sought by the creation of Historic Village Overlay Districts.
I also am opposed to the adoption of Ordinance No. 349 in its present form because:

·        It fails to list items which are currently exempted from development plan review, namely, the “construction of one or two family dwellings, ordinary accessory structures and related activities;” and “alterations or additions to an existing residential structure which do not change its nature or use;” These activities should remain clearly exempt from development plan review and not be subject to the possible interpretation by officials or complainants that permitted accessory uses or accessory structures constitute a “non-residential activity.”

·        It also fails to continue to exempt “interior alterations that do not change the nature of use in a commercial or industrial structure.”  This change would prohibit the issuance of a building permit for innocuous modifications to existing business establishments until they have received development plan approvals.  Such an intrusionary position puts our business community and our nonresidential institutions at risk of needless delay and expense, when a quick response to perceived needs may be the difference between survival and extinction.

·        New language, including numerous references to standards contained in the Subdivision Regulations is not identified as a change to the existing ordinance.  An entire section, 218-71E, has been included with no specific notice of its addition.  This section subjects development review by the Planner, remaining in the Zoning Ordinance, to all requirements contained in the Subdivision Regulations.

·        The published ordinance fails to give adequate notice of the nature of the changes to the existing zoning ordinance, and of the impact of removing Planning Commission review to the jurisdiction of the Subdivision Regulations, not the least of which is the difference in fees that would be charged.

For these reasons, I urge the Council not to adopt Ordinance No. 349 as it is presently constituted. 

Respectfully submitted,
Evelyn J. Smith


  1. You GO GIRL__lol

  2. Give 'em hell Evelyn. Only concerns would be: will the TC/PC listen to your objection? Will the TC/PC understand your objections? Does the TC/PC really care what you or anyone else in town thinks?


    1. The TC and PC only listen to those they feel inclined to listen to. Speaking at a public hearing and putting a message in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean have about the same effect, from what I've seen.

    2. Iron Lady: Such is the truth!

    3. I don't know what this Council's reaction will be, but the last Council, including Greg Avedisian and Marge Frank, refused to enact a virtually identical ordinance two years ago, in July and August 2010, at another set of contentious public hearings. (For a full appreciation of the deja-vu here, check out the council minutes on clerk-base.)

      It was submitted by the PC as a companion to the ordinance that reorganized the language of the zoning ordinance into the format it has today. Supposedly a language-neutral reorganization, that ordinance had embedded in it the development plan review changes (by accident? or in the expectation that both ordinances 326 and 327 would be passed without argument?) and there was no information to state what changes had been made in the rewrite. Maggie Hogan and I brought these concerns to the Council's attention at the public hearing. The Council continued the rewrite ordinance to August, and directed that the old language for DPR be re-included and the new DPR language be removed, and that a chart showing where the old language ended up in the new ordinance be provided. They passed the now neutral - as promised - reorganized zoning ordinance into law and opened the public hearing on the development plan review ordinance.
      I presented them the same arguments I am presenting now, with the result that the Council demanded to have a clear explanation of what authority was being given to the PC, and continued the hearing to September 2010. The explanation never came at any subsequent council meeting, and the ordinance just got dropped, never coming back.

      In November, 2010, the present town council took office. And now, the PC has brought back the same proposal, because they're getting ready to finish updating the Subdivision Regulations, and they want to put all the DPR into the Regs that they adopt, and take them out of the zoning ordinance.

      I hope that this bit of deja-vu has the same ending as last time, because when the town acts outside of state-granted authority it places itself at risk of being unable to exercise the authority that it should have.

  3. As a successful business woman, Evelyn Smith's experience dealing with planning and zoning issues in Charlestown spanes more than 35 years. The town's business community and residents owe her a debt of gratitude for dedicating her time and energy reviewing the proposed amendment and for attending the public hearing to expose its flaws to the town council.
    Ruth Platner has been on the town's planning commission for more that 20 years and once again her ineptness has been exposed. What most people are not aware of is the number of lawsuits that the town has lost, at taxpayer's expense, because of her "power hungry" demagoguery. However, a review of the public records in the town's building official's office reveal that she doesn't apply the same standards that she attempts to set for others to herself. Platner and her husband Cliff Vanover have had an "open building permit" and have failed to obtain a "Certificate of Ocupancy,"(CO) for an addition on their house for over 12 years. I guess she spends so much time trying to tell others how to live that she can't find time to tend to her own business.

  4. Maureen Lussier: Place Ordinance # 349 where it the trash. It won't happen though because certain members of the Council (namely the guy who sits dead center) will continue to push Platner's agenda. November is coming...get rid of these people...Amen!!!

  5. One would think legal action required against the town be required to ensure Ordinance and Charter is complied with;perhaps a citizens legal fund solicited on line would help prevent selective power abuse.No need to get off the couch and protest in the streets, or at Town hall,media event.

  6. Is it legally possible to take A VOTE of NO CONFIDENCE in our current TC? Why wait until November? Presently there are several issues on the table which scream "blaintant abuse of power".

  7. Neither state law or Charlestown's Home Rule Charter provides for a vote of no confidence in the town council before the November elections. However, if someone has the intestinal fortitude, a taxpayer's petition could be circulated calling for Tom Gentz and Dan Slattery to resign from the town council and for Ruth Platner and Linda Frabre to resign from the planning commission. A non partisan petition drive would certainly get the attention of town residents who normally wouldn't get involved until the elections.

  8. How many signatures would be required on a Taxpayers Petition to be valid?

    1. Rhode Island does not have such a provision in its General Laws. You may be thinking of the Massachusetts provision for a "Ten Taxpayer Suit," a petition by, as you might guess, ten tax payers.

      While I don't disagree with Mr. Mageau's suggestion about a petition drive calling for some Council and PC resignations, I suggest the main focus needs to be on November, and holding our elected officials accountable for their records. The most important "petition" of all happens on November 6.

  9. A petion drive would not have any legal standing. However, its significance is that it could be introduced and coordinated by someone who is not a candidate for public office. Its intent would be to draw attention to the irresponsibility of the CCA and its minions on the town council. It could also be used to expose the number of lawsuits that the town is involved with. That will show how often the state's Superior Court has had to get involved with governing Charlestown because of the decisions made by an inept planning commission and town council. Since it would have no legal standing, (it could not be used to force anyone to resign)and would not be an endorsement of any candidates running for public office, it would not be subject to the state's campaign finance laws. No one should make the mistake of believing that everyone in Charlestown is familiar with all of the important issues facing the taspayers. A well co-ordinated petition drive would certainly get everyone's attention and it would not be dismissed as campaign rhetoric.


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