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Sunday, August 21, 2022

On Monday, CCA will make third attempt to pass comprehensive exclusionary zoning ordinance

UPDATE: CCA's defense from criticism has been to focus on red herring, not the real issues for tonight's hearing.

By Will Collette

Platner told us 11 years ago what to expect
Tonight, Monday August 22 at 7 PM in the auditorium at Charlestown Elementary, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) will take a 3rd shot at passing a new zoning ordinance that will effectively ban multi-family developments.

Long a dream of Platner's, the ordinance will give her more power over land use than the Town Council and create conditions so onerous that no one is likely to even try to seek a permit for a new development. 

It also will almost certainly lead to long and costly litigation.

Rather than offer a plausible rebuttal to these concerns, Platner and her CCA cohorts have focused on a passage in a critique by Steve Williams' letter to the Westerly Sun where he asserted the ordinance would reduce the number of buildable lots. It was a minor point in Williams' letter and a trivial one compared to the monumental problems Platner's plan will cause.

But that's classic Ruthie: find a minor point you can chew on and hope it will distract from the far more serious issues. It's a variation on the "straw man defense" and I hope Charlestown residents can see through it for what it is. 

Here's my original article which ran last week:

Dressed up in the language of conservation, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) will make its third attempt on Monday to replace Charlestown’s existing zoning rules for a set of barriers against multi-family developments that might attract families with children or worse, “people from Providence.”

The new plan will henceforth allow only “conservation developments,” and under terms and conditions that are so onerous and complex that no developer in their right mind would even try to get a permit.

Included in the plan is a remarkable power grab that essentially gives the Planning Commission ultimate power, greater than that of the Town Council. That’s a pretty bold stroke given that, under RI General Laws, the Planning Commission is supposed to be appointed – Charlestown is the only municipality in the state that still elects its planning board.

Among the most onerous conditions, cited repeatedly throughout in the ordinance, is the Planning Commission’s power to alter, adjust, modify etc., any detail within the conservation development application to suit the whims and purposes of Platner and the Planning Commission, whatever they may be at any given moment in time.

The technique is the tried-and-true method of creating conditions impossible to meet, as the CCA did when it effectively blocked ALL residential wind power by creating so many complex and expensive conditions that not one single person has gotten a residential wind turbine permit in Charlestown since the ordinance was passed a decade ago.

One of the attractions of the impossible-to-meet approach is the CCA can say with a straight face that “we’re not against wind power, we just want it to be responsible” when that’s a lie.

What you need to wear while in a
conservation development.  
Loewe via Vogue
With this “conservation development” scheme, the CCA can claim that “we’re not racist or anti-family, we just want ‘responsible’ development.” That also is a lie.

In 2011, the CCA had a chance to approve a beautifully designed 10-unit “conservation development” that was proposed by Ted Veazey, in cooperation with the Westerly YMCA that offered the added benefit of cleaning the derelict campground abandoned by the Westerly YMCA. Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and her compliant Commissioners stomped Ted Veazey’s dream flat. That was the CCA’s first major scandal, “Y-Gate,” after seizing full control of town government.

But I guess Ruthie filed away the name “conservation development” to be used in the future when it suited her agenda of blocking all development in Charlestown. And, I'm sure she hoped no one would remember what she did during the Y-Gate Scandal.

If Ruthie had cooperated with Veazey instead of screwing him, we’d have an 11 year old template for how to do this kind of development right.

But instead, we have Ruthie’s dystopian version that, in the words of Steve Williams in his letter to the Westerly Sun means the CCA is rapidly converting Charlestown into the equivalent of a gated town.”

This is not theoretical as Williams described Platner’s proposal in real world terms:

“Ten years ago my brother and I inherited a 68-acre parcel of land in Charlestown our family had owned for over 60 years. I hired a surveyor to calculate how many buildable lots could be developed on the parcel, which had a half-mile road frontage. He came up with only nine buildable lots in the yield plan based on the planning and zoning rules at that time. We did not subdivide.

This calculation only included 40% open space. Proposed ordinance 397 with open space set at 70% would have had the town or a “legally constituted organization” controlling 48 of our 68 acres....

By use of the planning and zoning commissions I believe the intent of the CCA is to make it too expensive and complex for an average-size house to be built; that was my conclusion 10 years ago. Now, ordinance 397 will make matters even worse. There is nothing creative or beneficial about it, as claimed by Councilor Bonnie Van Slyke. It just hinders normal progress while causing landowners to suffer loss of control of their land, therefore loss of money, while allowing the town to gain possession of the land.”

When Platner’s Plan first came before the Town Council on July 11, so many people turned out at the public hearing that the CCA 3-2 council majority* could not get a vote taken because too many people still wanted to speak.

* Technically, the CCA lost its 3-2 edge when ex-Eagle Scout Cody Clarkin moved out of Charlestown and is no longer legally eligible to serve. We’ll see what Cody cares about most: following the law, honoring his Boy Scout oath or obeying Ruth Platner’s orders not to say anything.

So they rescheduled a continuation for the earliest legal date later that week, July 14. So many people showed up that the meeting could not be held due to Fire Marshal occupancy rules.

Now this third hearing scheduled for Monday August 22 will be held in the auditorium of Charlestown Elementary at 7 PM where, presumably, there will be enough space for the anticipated crowd.

Platner is scared and did what she usually does when she’s scared: she wrote a ridiculously complex defense of her proposal and posted it on the CCA website. She needed, can you believe it, 30 sections to compare what she called “lies” opposing her scheme with what she called “facts.” Read it for yourself HERE.

The Westerly Sun heavily redacted it before running it as a letter to the editor. Despite their need to fill the paper, even this was too much. You can read Ruth’s abbreviated tome HERE.

Her 30 theses stand as proof of my own criticism of the scheme: it is so complex and cumbersome that no one will be able to ever get a permit.

I think Steve Williams’ letter really got to Ruthie because she inserted what might be a tongue-in-reply although I doubt Ruth has a sense of humor. To the left is her paraphrasing of the punchline in Williams' letter and to the right, her rebuttal:

Conservation Development will create gated communities.

Roads in a Conservation Development are required to be public roads. You cannot gate a public road.

Maybe she’s trying to be cute, but I think Ruth, as usual, is missing the entire point.

Charlestown remains one of the worst towns in the state for affordable housing. It is also one of the worst towns for the high price of homes. According to HousingWorks RI, it has NO affordable rentals.

A recent survey puts Typical home value at $613,397.”

According to Charlestown’s Comprehensive Plan (Chapter 9), not coincidentally written by Ruth Platner, the only business growth anticipated is in tourist services and hospitality, two industries with low wages and benefits. We do not have housing for these workers.

CCA approved transportation
Getting to work to clean and serve seasonal visitors will be problematic because, again citing Platner’s Comprehensive Plan (Chapter 8), Charlestown has no RIPTA service and, according to Platner, doesn’t want any. I guess workers are supposed to ride bicycles to get to their minimum wage jobs. Or take Uber. That’s also in Chapter 8 of Ruthie’s plan. Seriously.

The Comprehensive Plan (Chapter 10) considers the most likely new source of any new affordable housing to be the Narragansett Indian Tribe. Yet Charlestown, using its Indian-fighting lawyer Joe Larisa on a $25,000 a year retainer, has harassed and blocked just about every endeavor by the Tribe to better itself INCLUDING affordable housing.

And now this new ordinance completes Charlestown's virtual lock-out of undesirables such as families with children and "people from Providence."

Incidentally, if you want to read the ordinance in its entirety, CLICK HERE. What struck me is that it begins by striking out the entire existing two and a half page ordinance and replaces it with the proposed eight and a half page proposal.

On the CCA website, Ruthie’s polemic is followed by the usual comments from the usual sycophants hailing her brilliance. The comment I most enjoyed came from the CCA’s resident stable genius Mike Chambers who wrote:

“Qui bone? Who benefits from the disinformation? The people spreading it. Who is spreading the disinformation? Attend the Town Council meeting and you will easily see who is spreading the disinformation. By the way, it is the same people who spread disinformation when the town was considering a conservation easement on the Moraine Preserve. But the Moraine Preserve was already open space and not to be developed.”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Mikey’s opening “Qui bone?” you may be more familiar with its actual spelling “cui bono?”

Meet "Que Bone," Mikey's muse
“Que bone” seems to be some dog with a page on Facebook. “Cui bono” is Latin for “who benefits?” and is often used in law to identity the most likely suspect in a crime, as in the expression “look first at the one who has the most to gain.”

Mikey makes a historically inaccurate reference to the shady 2014 Moraine Preserve scheme where the CCA decided it would give land the town purchased for $2.1 million to save Mikey and his neighbors from a wind turbine to the Charlestown Land Trust. Charlestown voters thoroughly trashed that proposal. Mikey seems to have never gotten over it.

But if Mikey really did mean to ask “who benefits” from this proposed ordinance, it’s actually a damned good question that has a very simple answer: Ruth Platner. The ordinance would officially make Platner the most powerful person in Charlestown and would cement her legacy as the driver of Charlestown’s exclusionary, if not racist, zoning practices.