Menu Bar

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Town wins court fight over standing

Decision handed down the same day as Council's Whalerock purchase decision
By Will Collette

RI Superior Court Judge Kristin Rodgers handed Charlestown one of its only Whalerock legal victories on Thursday, the same day that the Town Council voted to end the Whalerock controversy by buying most of the property for $2.1 million. 

Even though this important decision had direct bearing on the Council's deliberations, this decision was not released by the town until the day after the hearing.

Click here to read the decision.

Charlestown had been kicked out of court twice by two different judges for failure to establish that it had “standing” as an “aggrieved party” which meant that only the neighbors of the wind turbine site could object to Whalerock’s application for a special use permit before the Zoning Board of Review (ZBR).

At the beginning of the ZBR hearings, the town made the surprise announcement that it discovered reasons why it really did have standing and insisted on participating in the ZBR hearings over the objections of Whalerock’s lawyer Nick Gorham.

Not only did Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero participate in the ZBR hearings, but so did the Town’s new Special Counsel John O. Mancini, who was hired for $50,000 and represented both Charlestown and an anonymous group of private citizens – who has still never been identified, but are believed to be members of the original anti-wind power group led by Ron Areglado.

The Town’s motion to reconsider and Whalerock’s argument against it were filed in June, although the town refused to release these documents to Progressive Charlestown. That has since spawned a separate issue over the town’s compliance with the state open records law.

The Judge accepted the town's argument about standing based on this tiny
hatchet shaped sliver of land.
The Town argued that it was an abutter because it discovered a tiny lot that was right under its nose for several years – an unbuildable lot that was taken for taxes.

Despite Gorham’s strenuous objections, Judge Rodgers ruled that this new evidence, however tardy in appearing, warranted her lifting that part of her April 10, 2013 decision that dealt with the Town’s standing.

Our Town Council and Town Solicitor went into the August 22 special meeting on the Whalerock purchase knowing they had won an important legal victory earlier that day. As I see it, this legal win diminished the amount of leverage the Whalerock developers Larry LeBlanc and James Barrows had over the town, making the decision to go forward with the purchase without the benefit of a town referendum far less compelling.

However, given the gross irregularities that occurred during the ZBR hearings, including clear bias expressed by ZBR members, there was still a pretty good chance that if the ZBR turned down Whalerock’s application for a special use permit, the odds were in Whalerock’s favor of reversing such a decision in Superior Court. But those odds dropped after Judge Rodgers reversed herself on the town’s standing.

I think the Council members and Town Solicitor should have revealed this important new court decision during the August 22 hearing. Though it probably would not have changed the outcome, people have a right to have all the pertinent facts in front of them.

Now as a practical matter, the issue is, as the lawyers say, “moot.” The Council majority voted to go ahead with the Whalerock buy-out deal without a referendum with a target closing date of August 27. 

Unless someone files a lawsuit and wins a restraining order, I don’t see anything stopping the deal from going through. I can't think of anyone who would even want to file such a lawsuit despite the legitimate concerns about the whole process. All the Whalerock lawsuits are effectively over.The Zoning Board hearings on Whalerock are over. 

In my opinion, Charlestown taxpayers will end up where I had hoped we would be – the owners, at least until we give it away, of some prime, strategically located open space. I just wish we hadn't gotten to that point in such ugly fashion.

Ironically, this is one instance where it was not in the Council majority’s interests to brag about a big court victory since it would have undercut their insistence that the Whalerock buy-out deal had to be done immediately.