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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Zombie is Dead: the YMCA Campground has been sold

But problems continue for former buyer Ted Veazey
By Will Collette

The Y-Gate Scandal is now over for most of Charlestown. The Westerly YMCA closed its sale of the abandoned 27.5-acre campground on Watchaug Pond to West Kingston contractor Frederick Cindrich and his wife Joanne for $525,000 on September 14.

You can read the actual deed at the end of this article.

This ends an effort led by Town Council Boss Tom Gentz (CCA) to bilk Charlestown taxpayers out of $475,000 to fund a private deal, hatched in secret and driven by lies and deceit. 

While this is great news for taxpayers, problems persist for Ted Veazey, who had worked with the YMCA on a proposal to clean up almost 20 derelict buildings and old septic systems on the old campground and then construct a 10-unit conservation development that was so nice that even the Planning Commission gave it its blessing. Veazey's proposal would have cost the taxpayers nothing.

Veazey signed a sales agreement with the Y that offered him no protection for what happened next – an onslaught of attacks and character assassination by the Sonquipaug Association, a group of largely nonresident vacation home owners just to the south of the Y camp.

This is how Ted Veazey proposed to use the old campground
Even though the Planning Commission approved the Veazey plan, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner worked behind the scenes to not only kill the Veazey proposal but also launch the now-foiled Y-Gate scheme, which would have had Charlestown give $475,000 to the Charlestown Land Trust so the Land Trust could buy and own the property.

As just about everybody in Charlestown knows, that rotten deal was blocked first by a still-unresolved lawsuit by Dr. Jack Donoghue and then by a broad popular uprising against this dirty deal fueled by the research done by the Progressive Charlestown team.

But left in the dust is Ted Veazey. Even though the Y changed horses to pair up with the Charlestown Land Trust to push the Y-Gate scheme, and then switched horses again to sell to the Cindriches, the Westerly YMCA is still holding Veazey’s security deposit.

Not only that, I have heard rumors that the YMCA has been considering legal action to compel Veazey to pay the difference between the $525,000 the Y got from the Cindriches and the over $700,000 Veazey agreed to pay on the sales contract.

While the slogan “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) applies to land deals like any other transaction, Veazey never expected to be on the receiving end of a CCA-inspired hit job. He went before the Town Council in spring 2011 in partnership with the Y and with the approval of the Planning Commission, not knowing that he had been stabbed in the back.

I don’t know what Veazey’s legal rights are, but in Charlestown, we hear the words “moral and ethical” get thrown around a lot. The YMCA has sold its property, though not for what it had hoped to get – or would have gotten had the Y-Gate scheme succeeded – but they did just fine, given the most recent appraisal of the property at $410,000 plus the fact that this land never cost the YMCA a nickel!

I say the Westerly YMCA has a “moral and ethical” obligation to give Ted Veazey his money back and to then leave the man alone. Where are our “moral and ethical” crusaders, Council Boss Tom Gentz and his sidekick Dan Slattery? Or CCA Town Council candidate Ron Areglado?

Other loose ends

What about all those donations? The Charlestown Land Trust collected at least $25,000 in donations earmarked for the purchase of the YMCA campground. That figure comes from the sworn deposition of their memory-challenged Treasurer  Russ Ricci. Will the Land Trust keep the money or offer to refund it?

What about Russ Ricci? What will the Charlestown Land Trust do to restore its once-untarnished and stellar reputation? Will they continue to allow Russ Ricci to act as Treasurer after seeing his deposition and reviewing the way he represented the Land Trust before the Town Council?

How bad a hit is Charlestown going to take when the judge in the Donoghue lawsuit rules on the final part of that lawsuit? The judge has already ruled that Charlestown violated the Open Meetings Act at the Town Council’s February meeting when they approved payment of $475,000 for the Y-Gate property.

The second half of the lawsuit deals with the way the land advisory committee created by the Council completely ignored the Open Meetings Act in its secret dealings. After the sworn testimony of Councilor Gregg Avedisian and CLT’s Russ Ricci, it’s now established that this committee never publicized its meetings or kept minutes.

What will the Sonquipaug Association and its de facto “mayor,” Joanne D’Alcomo, do now that the Y-Gate scheme has fallen apart and they won’t have the free run of the abandoned campground anymore?

The Cindriches have bought a property zoned “Open Space/Recreational.” Under Charlestown’s land use tables, there are quite a number of interesting potential uses for the property under that zoning designation.

The Cindriches could also argue that as private individuals, this property should no longer be zoned as open space-recreational, under policies that have come under scrutiny in recent months. The undoing of Ted Veazey’s conservation development was the Town Council’s refusal to change the zoning to residential, but under existing Charlestown ordinance – and if argued better – the Cindriches might succeed where Veazey failed.

Fred Cindrich has been a general contractor in southern Rhode Island for 22 years, so whatever use he and his wife plan for that property, whether it’s building a riding stable, or rebuilding the existing main building to make it habitable, he has the experience to do it.

I hope their plans for the land are at least as nice as those originally proposed by Ted Veazey. That old campground has been roughly used by generations of kids over more than half a century. It could use some gentle treatment. I also hope that instead of creating another spectacle, Charlestown treats the Cindriches to a “civil” welcome rather than treat them as alien invaders.

Here's the actual deed as filed at the Charlestown Town Clerk's office: