Menu Bar

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Charlestown for sale

This time, it looks like it will LITERALLY be for sale, thanks to the CCA Party
By Will Collette
loop animated GIF
New plan to keep rowdies off of Charlestown Town Beach
On a party-line vote, the three CCA boys who control the Charlestown Town Council (Boss Tom Gentz, Dan Slattery and George Tremblay) voted to advance a proposal from several beachfront property owners to buy a five-foot by one-thousand-foot town-owned right of way to Charlestown Town Beach and the state beach at the Breachway. 

Council members Paula Andersen (D) and Lisa DiBello (I) voted NO.

By this vote, the plan to sell this town property to these private owners now goes before a Special May 5 Town Meeting on the upcoming year’s town budget as a potential warrant item to be placed before the voters in June. Under our Town Charter, the sale of town-owned real estate requires explicit voter approval.

The town took ownership of this land when the private owner defaulted on his taxes. Rather than sell it to neighboring private owners, that owner decided to let the town take it. I don’t know the back-story that explains why the tax-delinquent owner preferred letting the town take the land, rather than sell it to the neighbors.
The battleground along Charlestown Beach Road (Google Earth)

But since then, according to neighboring beach property owners, the strip of land has been used by undesirable people who are doing undesirable things like trespassing, smoking, drinking and using bad language.

These property owners, most of whom are nonresidents, told the Council that somehow their purchase of the land would solve this problem, though they acknowledged that there is an adjacent vacant lot which the rowdies would probably use as an alternative route if the town right of way is sold to them and blocked.

I opposed – and still oppose – the sale of this right of way on general principle. Public access to the water – which is a guaranteed right under the Rhode Island Constitution -  is precious and rare as our coastline has become more and more built up. In Charlestown, as well as our neighboring coastal communities, beach property owners seem to resent anyone else using the beach, and there are constant battles over public beach and water access versus private property rights.

Whether it’s Taylor Swift’s bodyguards removing gawkers and stalkers from in front of her Watch Hill mansion or CCA Party Treasurer Leo Mainelli trying to chase quahoggers off of Ninigret and Quonochontaug Ponds (shell-fishing is another Constitutionally protected right), or who has the right of access to Foster Cove, the battle rages.

Kyle Donovan at Town Council podium
(Clerkbase screen shot)
I got a call at home from Kyle Donovan, one of the property owners, who wanted to chew me out for opposing the sale of the property. He took offense at my bad attitude toward nonresidents, a bad attitude I freely confess to having (I like their money, but wish they would simply send it, and then stay home in Connecticut or Florida or wherever).

He also claimed that he and his neighbors had no idea what the CCA is or had any connection with them and that I was wrong to imply they did.

He said his neighbors had no choice but to buy the property, that these bad people from who knows where were being dropped off by the vanload in front of the right of way where they proceeded to make a racket, engage in illegal behavior and generally wreck the place. 

Later, at the April 14 Town Council meeting, he and his neighbors seemed to acknowledge that the offensive conduct took place on the beach, at a spot away from lifeguards, and not on the actual town right of way.

However, Mr. Donovan said that on at least one occasion, one of these interlopers trespassed on his property to “relieve himself” and another time to use his shower (presumably the one outside and not inside the house).

As irritating as all this is to him and his neighbors, he seemed most upset about the bad language. I had a chance to find out how sensitive he is about bad language when I noted that we all have “shit” we have to put up as property owners and said that I’ve got gunshots from the Bradford Gun Club behind me and Route One traffic noise in front of me.”

“YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE THAT KIND OF LANGUAGE,” he said, apparently referring to my use of the word “shit.” So I’m thinking to myself that this guy has got pretty delicate ears. Plus, he was the one who called me at home. When I’m sitting at home taking an unsolicited call, I’ll say any f*#@>ing thing I want to.

Anyway, my point, which was apparently lost in Mr. Donovan’s scatological outrage, is that we know what we’re getting into, most times (Copar is a conspicuous exception). If you buy a house above the highway, as we did, you don’t have the right to demand after the fact that traffic be rerouted away somewhere. If you buy a house on a public beach, people will come to use the beach and you do not have the right to keep them away from the public areas of the beach and engaging in lawful activity.

Maybe a little concertina wire?
Unlawful conduct is a different story of course. Mr. Donovan and his neighbors say the Charlestown Police are unhelpful. Well, OK, that issue is worth looking into further. 

If people are trespassing on their property, the Police need to be called and they should respond. If there are people acting unlawfully on the beach, the Police need to be called and they should respond.

Property owners can, and should, take reasonable steps to protect their property, such as putting up fencing, installing alarm systems and security cameras or maybe even hiring a security patrol in addition to getting appropriate Police protection.  

There’s even a remedy in the Charlestown Code of Ordinances designed to protect Mr. Donovan’s delicate ears in section 162-1 which makes it unlawful to:

G. Disturb the peace of another or others by violent, indecent, offensive, hostile, boisterous or obscene conduct, language or gestures, which conduct, language or gesture is designed or calculated or likely to cause anguish or injury to another or others.

I can see some serious enforcement problems with the language of this ordinance, but hey, it’s there for the disgruntled beach property owners to use.

As Mr. Donovan’s arguments looped around for about the third time, I interrupted him to ask, “so what do you want from me?” He didn’t understand my question. I repeated it and said that obviously he must have had some point in calling me. He said, “well, a retraction would be nice.” 

To that, I said, “that’s not going to happen.” However, later on, I did go back into the offending article and toned it do a little without changing my central points about how this town panders way too much to our non-resident summer property owners.

beach animated GIFAfter talking to Mr. Donovan on the phone, and then listening to him and his neighbors speak before the Town Council, it seems the problem is less the right-of-way and more the fact that some beachgoers like to go to that part of the beach where there are no lifeguards so they can party without concern about getting busted. 

The neighbors admitted during their Council testimony that even if the town sells them the right-of-way, some of these rowdies are likely to just cut through an adjacent vacant lot. Click here for the Clerkbase video.

Unless Mr. Donovan and his neighbors install land mines or a machine gun nest – which would be wrong, by the way – in that vacant lot, summer visitors are going to get to the beach. And chances are, once there, they might engage in conduct that Mr. Donovan and his neighbors will find offensive.
Based on their own words, I think the “solution” proposed by the neighbors to buy the town right-of-way is an inadequate solution for their own problems. It's also an awful precedent for Charlestown.

Even Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, in her own way, tried to convey that message. While she could not come right out and oppose a deal her CCA Party colleagues on the Council are committed to make, she noted that the Planning Commission had not been asked to give an advisory. She also insisted that if the town does sell the land, it should be at a fair price, with the proceeds going toward some purpose that makes up for the loss of public access to the beach.

Two other town commission chairs expressed misgivings about selling up this piece of town land – Tim Quillen, chair of the Parks & Recreation Commission and Frank Glista, chair of the Economic Improvement Commission.

Mr. Donovan and his neighbors won a split 3-2 vote with the Council, but they still have at least two more major hurdles to go. This question will have to go to the May 5th Special Town Meeting and then will have to be approved by the voters at the Financial Referendum.

But going by their own testimony, if they make it through the town vote, they may have won only an empty victory since people are going to go to the beach, one way or the other.

In case you’re wondering, if the question of selling this town right-of-way goes to a town vote, I’m voting NO.