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Monday, November 1, 2021

The Muddy Genesis of the CCSPAA

Decade-Old Charlestown Citizens/Sachem Passage Alliance Association Emerges From The Mud Hole

By Robert Yarnall 

In small towns, it is easy for small decisions and big mistakes, local squabbles and petty rivalries to become the business of everyone. This is the story of how one neighborhood’s disputes can have a major effect on everyone, residents and town employees alike. 

Part 1 The Worm Turns

On the evening of September 16, at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Sachem Passage Association, newly appointed SPA “Resource  for Finance and Real Estate” and current Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) Steering Committee member Joseph Quadrato rose from his seat in Saint Andrew Lutheran Church to update the status of a proposed SPA property sale to the Town of Charlestown. 

The topic under discussion was a vacant lot owned by the SPA and acquired over twenty years ago at no cost from Doug Randall, owner of Randall Realty. It is accessible only by Oyster Drive, a rutted gravel road adjacent to the east side of the abandoned Bestway convenience store on Route 1. 

The SPA wanted to sell the vacant lot they had obtained at no cost to the town for $426,000, a stark contrast to the fair market valuation of $61,900 on file at the Charlestown Tax Assessor’s office. 

In attendance were 31 SPA members, I among them, representing about 20% of the 100 properties comprising the neighborhood.

Most notable among us was Charlestown Town Councilor Susan Cooper, a retired attorney who served on the SPA Board of Directors until she resigned to run as a CCA-endorsed candidate in the 2020 election. Ms. Cooper had also served on the Charlestown Zoning Board with Mr. Quadrato. She, and I assume everyone else, had no idea what was about to surface. 

Mr. Quadrato began his presentation. 

"Now, I have two contacts at Town Hall. They have told me that one individual, who I will not name, is not cooperating with us...”

Mr. Quadrato went on to describe his bewilderment as to how anyone could not recognize the reliability and validity of the appraisal developed by Gerald Fournier of Andolfo Appraisal Associates of Providence. The SPA appraisal listed a fair market value of $426,000 for the Oyster Drive property our association had acquired at no cost in September of 2000. 

What Mr. Quadrato had conveniently omitted during his presentation was that Mr. Fournier had attached the following disclaimer to his appraisal, indicating that the $426,000 fair market value was based on a “Hypothetical Condition” leading to the “Extraordinary Assumption” that the lot was buildable:

If you want to read the ENTIRE appraisal for yourself, just click HERE.

Meanwhile, back at Town Hall, on June 10, 2020, a full 463 days before Mr. Quadrato’s September 16, 2021 update to his neighborhood association, Charlestown Tax Assessor Ken Swain had sent this email to Town Planner Jane Weidman, detailing the basis for his appraisal of $61,900:

I raised my hand to challenge Mr. Quadrato’s pronouncement and was accorded the floor by outgoing President Paul Fraiche.  I stated that Mr. Quadrato’s reference to “ individual, who I will not name...” was tax assessor Ken Swain. Neither Mr. Quadrato nor anyone else contested my assertion. 

I explained that the SPA and the Town of Charlestown had agreed to seek an independent third party appraisal. Tax assessor Ken Swain had assigned a value of $61,900 to the SPA’s Oyster Drive property. The third party appraisal, developed by Newport Appraisal Group, came in at $75,000.

Subsequently, the town council decided to take “no action” on the SPA’s proposal. You can read Progressive Charlestown’s extensive overview of this episode, along with supporting documentation, here. 

Another important research tool is the Providence Public Library Journal archive (CLICK HERE) since there was a time when the Projo actually maintained a South County Bureau You need to get a Library Card.

Sitting two rows in front of me were Joseph Quadrato and John Kaptinski. Mr. Kaptinski, a long time SPA member and arguably the driving force behind the acquisition of the Oyster Drive property, has been an uncompromising advocate of developing the vacant lot as both a real estate and life style asset for current and future generations of Sachem Passage Association property owners. 

At each counterpoint in my presentation, Messrs. Quadrato and Kaptinski slowly shook their heads back and forth in unison, punctuating their disagreement of my assessment. 

Our discord opened the proverbial can of worms. Several members related varied concerns they had with respect to any proposed sale of our property, let alone a sale to the Town of Charlestown.

In the midst of new voices coming into the debate, it became clear that a lot had happened under the surface. Select former and current SPA board members had private conversations with town staff and SPA attorney Nick Gorham, but had excluded current SPA President Paul Raiche. He had to shoehorn his reaction into the debate – “This is the first time I have heard any of this.” 

It was an uncomfortable and disconcerting moment for both Mr. Raiche and every other person in attendance. Several more such moments followed soon thereafter, each one eliciting a background rebuke from  the outgoing President: “This is the first time I have heard of any of this...” 

It was a crystal clear revelation that indicated just how muddy the waters had become at our Oyster Drive vacant lot that the SPA acquired at no cost a lucky 21 years ago. 

So there it is. And so here we are - a good time to pause and let the sediment settle until next time, when that can of worms can be sorted and tagged prior to being returned to their rightful home in a mud hole.