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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why should Charlestown buy the Whalerock property?

Aside from the obvious
Who says wind mills aren't dangerous?
Definitely not idiot-proof.
By Will Collette

On Thursday, July 25, the Charlestown Council will hold a special Executive Session, closed to the public, to discuss “potential action to authorize a duediligence proceeding regarding the potentialland acquisition of AP 17 Lot 186 for an amount not to exceed $2.7 million.”

Translated, that means the town intends to get serious about buying the controversial 81-acre site for the unpopular Whalerock wind energy project from developer Larry LeBlanc for up to $2.7 million in town funds. The final price could be more, if OPM – “other people’s money” such as the state’s – is involved.

They will also discuss settling the lawsuit the town filed against Shelter Cove Marina over the marina’s commercial parking that it has been offering the public since the 1970s. It’s an odd lawsuit that seems to have no other purpose than to prevent Shelter Cove (see Google Earth screenshot, right) from offering parking spaces that compete with the Town Beach parking lot.

The Whalerock deal is one of Charlestown’s hottest issues as we’ve watched the series of Zoning Board of Review hearings onWhalerock’s application for a Special Use permit degenerate into quasi-farce, rather than operate as a quasi-judicial proceeding as the law requires.

In my opinion, Charlestown’s decision to go forward with a serious effort to buy the land from LeBlanc to use as open space is the right move. 

I just wish they weren’t so late in doing it, or that they weren’t doing it simply because they figured out that the town will lose if this case goes back to Superior Court.

Part of the land deal will include an apparent proposal by LeBlanc and his partners to take two 2-acre house lots out of the 81 acres before selling the land to the Town. The Planning Commission will review the request from NIN LLC at its July 24 meeting tonight.

Click here to see Town Planner Ashley Hahn’s memo on the plan. 

NIN LLC is the company created byLeBlanc’s Connecticut partner James Barrows when LeBlanc and Barrows executed a sales-leaseback agreement on December 31, 2012.

Under that deal, Barrows would pay LeBlanc $2 million by the end of this year for the 81-acres, presumably taking over LeBlanc’s proposal for a mixeddevelopment with some affordable housing

Then Barrows would lease-back however much land LeBlanc needed for the two wind turbines. LeBlanc would pay Barrows 50% of the wind turbine profits.

This deal, if carried out, would produce a housing development with two wind turbines embedded in it, much like the NK Green project currently in operation next to Wickford Junction in North Kingstown.

These two lots are apparently what Barrows would then have as buildable properties with Route One frontage. It looks to me like this might come as his compensation for investing and participating in LeBlanc’s turbine and housing project. I don't know if this side deal to carve out the two lots is a deal breaker for the town, or if it is rejected by the Planning Commission, a deal-breaker for LeBlanc and Barrows.

Ashley’s main concerns seem to involve access from the lots to either Route One or Kings Factory Road. She notes that homes with driveways leading onto Route One can be dangerous. I certainly understand what she’s talking about since our driveway leads down a slope and directly onto Route One. I wouldn’t exactly call it dangerous, as she does,but exiting onto Route One isn’t for wimps.

Areglado leads a devoted cult of followers
I wish I could be a fly on the wall for the Council’s Executive Sessions on Whalerock. They must understand by now that from a legal standpoint, the town’s resistance to LeBlanc on every use he has proposed for that land has brought us to this point. We either buy the land or watch LeBlanc get the final permit he needs to go forward with Whalerock. That, of course, presumes he can raise the $10 million minimum he will need to build it.

The anti-Whalerock legal proceedings, largely instigated by CCA sycophant Ron Areglado and hisfanatical followers, have been a disaster. 

The town and the Areglado group have lost twice in front of two different judges of the RI Superior Court. They’ve cost themselves, the town and LeBlanc a lot of money, made themselves crazy and stirred up the town over largely unproven health concerns.

Judge Kristin Rodgers sent the caseback to the Zoning Board of Review (ZBR) for a final decision on a special use permit. From the beginning of the ZBR hearings on that special use permit application, the case has been a mess.

ZBR Chair Mike Rzewuski's poor leadership has
pretty much guaranteed LeBlanc a win if the 

case goes back to Superior Court
The ZBR chair and members abandoned theiroaths to be fair and impartial. ZBR Chair Mike Rzewuski lost control of the hearings and allowed Areglado and his flock to turn theproceedings into a kangaroo court.

The Town disregarded Judge Rodgers ruling that they failed to establish standing in the case and instead, sent not only Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero into the proceedings, but also sent the town’s new $50,000 Special Counsel JohnO. Mancini in to highjack the proceedings.

After the town concocted a very shaky claim that it had discovered a reason why Judge Rodgers should reverse her own ruling, the ZBR Chair has allowed Ruggiero and Mancini to not only participate, but to jump in and interrupt Whalerock’s lawyer as he tried to present his case.

All of this is on the record – on video and transcribed by a court reporter. If this case goes to a vote by the ZBR, it is a sure bet that they will deny Whalerock’s permit application. Then it is a sure bet that Whalerock will go back to Superior Court, this time with the video and the transcript.

I think the Town realizes that if that’s what happens, the Court will overrule the Zoning Board’s decision and order the issuance of the special use permit.

Rather than allow this to happen, the Town now needs to make a deal so it might get better terms than it would if LeBlanc had the Special Use permit in his pocket.

Had Charlestown taken LeBlanc’s earlier overtures seriously, we might have gotten what I think most Charlestown residents want – the land set aside and protected forever – at a fair price. It would not have cost so many thousands of dollars in legal expenses or caused so much anguish and turmoil in this Town.

Charlestown’s desperate position became clear to me when I secured copies of the most recent legal filings in the Whalerock case. 

The Town tried to delay, if not prevent, me from getting these documents by illegally denying my routine request for the records under the state Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

One of the records the Town refused to provide – saying, unbelievably, that they don’t have it – is the filing prepared by the Town Solicitor on behalf of the town.

In a separate article, I’ll go into the Town’s on-going disdain for state laws on open government and into the details of what I found in the Whalerock filings the Town claims it doesn’t have in its possession.

But this is going to be a big week in the on-going Whalerock saga, starting first with the Planning Commission’s July 24 deliberations on the proposed carve-out of two house lots from the 81 acres, followed by the Town Council’s July 25 closed door meeting on going forward with the land deal with LeBlanc.