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Monday, December 9, 2013

Blow-by-blow of the Charlestown Town Council monthly meeting

Town Council meets. Can you stand the excitement?
On the agenda - CCA Party plans for new mandates on business
regarding shrubbery, mulch, parking and more
By Will Collette

Quick meeting tonight. Adjourned at 8:39 PM.

I had such a good time last month taking on my colleague Tom Ferrio's usual live-blog of the Council meeting that I couldn't wait to do it again. 

Not. Actually, Tom is tied up so here I am. I'll be doing a blow-by-blow as up to the minute as possible, so bear with me on the typos.  

As I noted in my preview, the Council is due to hold a continuation of its public hearings on proposed Ordinance #359 on shrubbery and mulch, and Ordinance #360 on parking.

Even though the Town Council claims our ordinances do not give the town the power to regulate bad quarry operations, and the Town Police say there is no town ordinance protecting people from gunfire from aircraft, clearly these issues must wait in line while the Council decides how to regulate the depth and color of mulch used on business properties.

And so it goes it in Bizarro Charlestown. Read on for the blow-by-blow.

7:00 PM. OK, here they go, right on time!


1.  CALL TO ORDER, Moment of Silence, Pledge of Allegiance. 


Motion to move items 7a, 15c, 12, 9a and 9b to be heard next on the Agenda


a.      Discussion and potential action regarding the presentation of the Hometown Hero Award to the Charlestown Historical Society - President Pam Lyons and several Board members accepted the award. Pam has laryngitis (hope you get better!)


c.      Discussion and potential action regarding the presentation of a Proclamation for Joshua Alan Hedin in recognition of his attaining the rank of Eagle Scout - bumped until next month since he is out of town at a track meet.


All items marked with “CA” are to be considered consent agenda
Motion to accept, approve and place on file the following as the consent agenda: 8a, 11a, 11b, 13a, 13b, 17a, 17b, 18a, and 18b. As usual, Councilor DiBello wanted an item pulled, and unsurprisingly, it's #11b, a Parks & Recreation recommendation to approve the permit for next summer's Rhythm & Roots Festival. DiBello says not all the proper paperwork is in. Council Boss Tom Gentz asked if DiBello wanted the item bumped to next month. She said yes, and with the other Council members' approval, Rhythm & Roots is bumped to January.

Everything else - all the "CA" items below - were approved on a single, unanimous vote.


“CA” a. Discussion and potential action regarding the placement of the Affordable Housing questionnaire from the RI League of Cities and Towns and the answers provided by the Town on the Town's website and authorization for the Town Administrator to facilitate future requests from Councilors for information to be placed on the Town’s website


“CA” a. Discussion and potential action regarding the approval of a retail firearms dealer’s license

for the following businesses, subject to receipt of all required Local approvals and State and Federal licenses:
1.      Carolina Consultants, 110 Carolina Back Road
2.      Brad’s Guns, 4203 S County Trail 

NOTE: Owner Raymond Bradley describes the business as "Firearms Internet Sales" being sold from an R-40 zoned dwelling. I wonder how much ammunition he has stored on site.

Bradley is one of the organizers of "We the People of Exeter," the group composed largely of people NOT from Exeter, who petitioned to force the December 14th recall election of four of the five members of the Exeter Town Council.

“CA” b. Discussion and potential action regarding the approval of the following events at Ninigret Park with a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Commission, subject to review of contracts by the Town Solicitor, receipt of all applicable paperwork and insurance and that all event details are satisfactorily met by the Parks and Recreation Director:

2. Event: Rhythm & Roots
Park Reservation (Setup): August 23 – September 4, 2014
Event Dates: August 29 – 31, 2014
Camping: 1,500 Max Campers
Insurance: $2 Million General Liability; $2 Million Liquor Liability
Fee: $9,000.00 - This item is deferred until next month. See event fee debate, below.


“CA” a. Town Council Minutes:

November 6; November 12 (Executive and Regular)

“CA” b. Reports:

Building Official – November 2013; Police Chief – November 2013; Public Works Director – November 2013; Town Clerk – November 2013; Treasurer – October 2013; Wastewater Manager – November 2013


“CA” a. Discussion and potential action regarding the acceptance of the resignationwith regret, of David Provancha from the Zoning Board of Review as Alternate #1.

NOTE: Provancha was re-appointed just last October 7. His resignation means CCA Party pundit Mike Chambers, who was given a political patronage appointment to the ZBR as Alternate #3, moves up a notch. And it creates another slot for the CCA Party Town Council Majority to give out another patronage appointment to one of their supporters. Is there anyone else among Ron Arglado’s flock who hasn’t gotten a patronage appointment? Or some other CCA Party notable? Hey, how about Cliffie Vanover?

“CA” b. Appointment of Donna M. Deyorio

to the Parks and Recreation Commission, term to expire in January of 2016


“CA” a. Discussion and potential action regarding the award of the Heavy Duty Pickup Truck bid to Flood Ford of East Greenwich for a Ford F-350HD with radio, plow and frame for the net bid price of $37,400 through a lease-purchase agreement as budgeted through line item 990-9916, and authorization of the Town Administrator and Town Treasurer, each, to take any and all such actions, and execute and deliver such certificates, receipts or other documents as may be necessary to carry into effect the foregoing

“     CA” b. Discussion and potential action regarding the award of the Rubberized Asphalt Chip Seal bid to be placed on Shannock Road and other Town roads (in the Spring of 2014 as funds remain available) to All States Asphalt, Inc. in the amount of $4.55/square yard, not to exceed $109,260, as budgeted from line item 01.990.9961, and authorization of the Town Administrator and Town Treasurer, each, to take any and all such actions, and execute and deliver such certificates, receipts or other documents as may be necessary to carry into effect the foregoing.  

NOTE: this is a relatively big contract (for Charlestown) and instead of awarding it to a Rhode Island contractor, it went to one located in Sunderland, MA.  

Even though Charlestown unemployment recently dropped from 9.1% in August to 7.7% in October, that's still too damned high to be awarding contracts to out of state companies. Because All-State was the only bidder, Charlestown should have re-bid this job. 

9.      PUBLIC HEARINGS - opening discussion at 7:07 PM. 

a.      Continuation of the public hearing and potential action regarding #359 amending Chapter 218-74 Zoning, Landscaping. 

Charlestown's new shrubbery police
The re-draft lightens up on the mandates, converting some of them into "recommendations." I am still amazed that we have so much detailed regulation on shrubbery and mulch. 

      b.      Continuation of the public hearing and potential action regarding #360 amending Chapters 218–56 through 218-61 - Zoning, Parking. 

So there are some changes made to this ordinance and illustrated in handouts given to the Council, but not available on-line. The new proposal re-jiggers the maximum allowable parking spaces for new multi-family homes, keeping them as tight as possible. Bicycle parking spaces are now "encouraged" not required.

A hybrid issue is the required amount of shrubbery required at businesses that have double-rows of parking. The language is changed.

Re: tree canopy cover of parking areas - acknowledgement that this should not be an enforcement issue, but rather a matter best handled in the architectural planning process.
Beth at the podium

COMMENTS from Beth Richardson. Said she drove all over town trying to see what great public problems these ordinances address. Couldn't find them. Noted that it would be nice if the town was full of shade trees or some of the other features. "It would also be nice to own a Mercedes." 

But, she noted, these things come at a cost. She said one hidden cost are the businesses that look at Charlestown's "nit-picky" regulations and decide not to come to Charlestown. 

Objects to the restriction on the working people not being allowed to park their work vehicles at home. Noted the "complaint-driven" aspects of the law create opportunities for neighbor feuds, specifically citing the fight with a neighbor over a sandwich board that drove the Thrifty Sister consignment shop out of town. "Hate to think that our ordinances are based on what a neighbor might think is obnoxious." 

Thank you, Beth!

Building Official Joe Warner responded to the "complaint-driven" aspect of Charlestown ordinances. He said that "if I were to enforce all of Charlestown's ordinances the way they are written, I'd never make it down the road" because almost every other property would be in violation. He said it was a policy question for the Council to decide, but uniform enforcement of the town's zoning ordinance is presently impossible. 

Frank Glista, on behalf of the Economic Improvement Commission, said there hasn't been a lot of business reaction to these ordinances (or to the changes since the October meeting). 

Planning Commissar Ruth Platner testified that most of the negative comments deal with issues that were actually already in the town zoning ordinance. She says those issues were not part of their charge and doesn't think it would be part of the discussion. Platner says the cost issues that Beth Richardson challenged have been addressed by reducing the minimum number of parking spaces required at new developments.

They really went all out on the xmas decorations
Councilor DiBello challenged Platner, saying that since there are issues with the existing sections of the law and Planning is doing such a major re-write, why not fix the problems with the existing law? Platner passed the buck to Joe Warner. Actually, Platner didn't just pass the buck, but suggested Joe Warner go back and do a bunch of research and come back sometime in the far, distant future with answers to all the objections about the existing ordinance.

Councilor Slattery noted that there must have been some reason in the past for this ordinance language perhaps drawn from urban experience. 

Councilor Paula Andersen noted that Charlestown seems to "over-regulated to death" and that the ordinances are not enforced.

Councilor Tremblay suggested that the discussion should stop, but that the matter of commercial vehicle parking needs to be addressed. 

Councilor Slattery thinks there shouldn't be any changes that deprive some citizens of their rights "to make a valid complaint" in order to accommodate other people's interests.

Beth Richardson returned to the podium to also suggest that a reconsideration of parking should include parking of boats, too. 

Both Ordinances #359 and 360 were approved on identical 4 to 1 votes, with Councilor DiBello voting NO on both. Based on their comments during the hearing discussion, it almost seemed like Councilors Tremblay and Andersen might have considered voting NO as well, but in the end, they both voted YES. 

As much as it pains me to say this, thank you, Lisa.

3.      PUBLIC COMMENT for items not on the Agenda

4.      COUNCIL COMMENTS  Paula had a nicely scripted holiday greeting presentation (check it out when the Clerkbase video is available).



a.      Town Administrator

b.      Town Solicitor - Peter Ruggiero expressed thanks to people for their expressions of sympathy on the passing of his father.

      c.      Commission Reports - Peter Ogle (Wastewater Commission) reported on the problems of high nitrate levels that showed up in the voluntary survey they conducted. Contact Matt Dowling at Town Hall for a tip sheet if you think you have a problem. 

     Planning Commissar Ruth Platner said that Frosty Drew Observatory says the lighting conditions have been improving, perhaps due to some businesses improving their lighting. Maybe the town should acknowledge them.


       b.      Discussion and potential action regarding a management plan for the Charlestown Moraine Preserve, to be constructed by the Conservation Commission in coordination with the Town Planner and the Planning Commission with the goal of creating open space in perpetuity, through one or more conservation easements, to be returned to the Council for a formal vote before being given to the voters at a Financial Referendum 

8:15 PM: This is a motion to give the Conservation Commission the charge to begin collaborating with the other named parties to come up with a plan. They may or may not come back with a recommendation to grant an easement. The Council could then accept or reject their recommendation. The first step is to make an assessment of what is on the land that is worth preserving.

Councilor Tremblay raised again the spectre of some future, presumably non-CCA Party controlled town government, taking the property and doing something terrible with it. Solicitor Ruggeiro explained how that would work.


b.      Discussion and potential action regarding the Ninigret Park event fee schedule and the request of an advisory opinion from the Parks and Recreation Commission

Yet another opportunity for Slattery to go on the attack
Councilor Slattery wants this item postponed until there is a more comprehensive review and debate of event fees. He used Rhythm & Roots as an example of a promoter ripping off the town. NOW we see why Rhythm and Roots was taken off the agenda and postponed till next month! 

Slattery wants the town to get a bigger share of the gate. He calculates that currently we get a little more than 1% and thinks it should be more like 5%. 

But I think this is a continuation of Slattery's on-going efforts to curb human activity in Ninigret Park, starting with ending the big summer events, especially Rhythm & Roots. Anyway, that's my opinion based on this and this and this and this and this.

Slattery wants Parks & Rec to study the fee question. Expect fireworks if they don't go his way and help him get rid of events by pricing Charlestown out of the market.

Councilor DiBello said she agreed with most of what Slattery says, but thinks that eventually, the town should hire professionals to counsel the Town on how to craft a fair and practical fee structure. That assumes that the Town (or should I say Councilor Slattery) really wants a fair and practical fee structure.

Motion to tell Parks & Rec to get to work on this, passed unanimously.


Cliff Vanover - next in line for a CCA
political patronage appointment?


a.      Board and Commission vacancies

NOTE: the buzz is that CCA Party leader Cliffie Vanover is applying for the Zoning Board vacancy created by David Provancha’s resignation (see #17A, above). Gee, I wonder what his chances are in getting the votes of CCA Party Town Councilors Boss Gentz, Deputy Dan Slattery and George Tremblay? To the victors go the spoils.


a.      Introduction and first reading of Ordinance #361 amending Chapter 158-4.1, Friends of Ninigret Park - Establishment and membership, to be advertised for public hearing on January 13, 2014. 

This ordinance would fix a flaw in the Town's construction of Friends of Ninigret Park to allow them to expand from a maximum of three members to five. The motion is to advertise the ordinance for a public hearing in January. Passed unanimously.

b.      Discussion and potential action regarding a resolution in support of Newport Pell Bridge Safety. The Town Council unanimously supports proposed safety improvements on the Pell Bridge.


19.    LEGAL MATTERS – None

20.    ADJOURNMENT - Meeting adjourned at 8:39 PM