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Thursday, March 17, 2022

Charlestown mystery land deal identified

Another CCA deal looks to overcharge taxpayers for purchase of open space

By Will Collette

This is the photo used in the tax assessor database to represent the property
(assessed at $312,800) that the CCA wants to buy at a likely price in
excess of $800,000
Just a few days ago, I reported on the award of a $400,000 DEM open space grant to Charlestown to buy some more open space. DEM grants split the costs 50-50 up to a maximum of $400,000. You can reasonably conclude the purchase price for this land will be at least $800,000

What makes this land deal shadier than usual is that the authority to seek the funding was granted last October on a party line vote of 3-2, with all CCA-sponsored Councilors voting yes, even though the name of the seller, the location of the land and the actual asking price was deliberately withheld from the public.

The CCA has pushed Charlestown deeper and deeper into secret government. We have decisions for the Council made by the CCA Steering Committee which meets in secret. We have systematic hiding of public records by Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz. But I have never seen a land deal like this one that is so cloaked in secrecy.

Now we have winkled out the location of the land – Charlestown Map 25, Lot 10 – and with that information we can now reveal the seller’s name and the town’s assessed value for the property.

The property is owned by Carl E. Richard of Shannock and is located at 66 Carolina Back Road. The assessed value of this property is $312,800.

There is a garage on the property that was assessed at $110,900 in 2011 but is now assessed at only $9,000. The photo of the property posted on the town’s Tax Assessor website shows what looks to me like a paved vacant lot with a pile of junk (photo, above left).

The assessed value of the land alone only went up modestly in the past decade from $299,500 in 2011 to $303,800 in 2020. Most of us who live north of Route 1 have seen our land assessments climb sharply, but not this land.

The total assessed value of this property declined from $410,400 in 2011 to $312,800 making this land we are about to buy for $800,000-plus one of the few in Charlestown to see a significant drop in value.

The land is zoned R40 Open Space. Thus, it's unlikely the CCA/town can claim the lot is buildable. However, we might yet see another bogus appraisal that values the land as if a development could be built on it, the falsehood at the heart of the SPA-Gate scandal and the Tucker Estates rip-off.

We're still waiting to see the proposal the CCA/Town Planner submitted to DEM and what fantasy they concocted to justify a $400,000 grant on a $800,000+ purchase price for this property worth only $312,800.

The total property is 102 acres but the DEM news release about the grant says the town plans to acquire only 90 acres. That raises the question: what happens to the other 12 acres?

The last piece of the puzzle is the actual asking price for the land.

But it seems pretty certain that Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and the CCA Town Council majority are determined to rip off Charlestown taxpayers again.

If you have any doubts about my analysis, read on to see screenshots from the Tax Assessors database the shows you all the detail and more.

From Charlestown’s Tax Assessor’s database:

If Charlestown submitted the application that led to the $400,000 grant award from the state and knowingly misrepresented the land value as anything other than what these facts indicate, that could lead to legal jeopardy under this section of the Rhode Island General Laws:

§ 11-18-1 Giving false document to agent, employee, or public official. – (a) No person shall knowingly give to any agent, employee, servant in public or private employ, or public official any receipt, account, or other document in respect of which the principal, master, or employer, or state, city, or town of which he or she is an official is interested, which contains any statement which is false or erroneous, or defective in any important particular, and which, to his or her knowledge, is intended to mislead the principal, master, employer, or state, city, or town of which he or she is an official.

(b) Any person who violates any of the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for a term not exceeding one year or be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000).