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Monday, November 21, 2022

Interesting end to another CCA land deal

Another large parcel changes hands

By Will Collette

Starting some months back, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and its de facto leader Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, made another big push using taxpayer money to buy another large parcel of land as open space. 

When first introduced, the plan called for the town to write a proposal to DEM for state funding but without disclosing the location of the land, the owner’s name or the asking price.  

The then CCA Council majority saw nothing wrong with this and on a 3-2 vote directed Platner’s minion, Town Planner Jane Weidman, to write the proposal. 

When DEM ok’d the proposal for $400,000, we finally learned the parcel is 100 acres adjacent to Narragansett Tribal lands and owned by the Richard family for a price to be determined. 

We also learned that the land is already designated open space and that the Richard family had been getting a handsome property tax break under the Farm, Forest, and Open Space program. 

The Richards family had been getting that tax break for over a decade and did not seem to have any plans for the land other than leaving it untouched.  

Nonetheless, Platner and the CCA Councilors insisted the land was a necessary acquisition because unless the town locked up all remaining undeveloped land, anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 units of housing might be built, according to now ex-Councilor Bonnita Van Slyke. 

Side note: I’ve written before that Van Slyke has been trying to sell off her pondside estate in Arnolda. Her starting price was $2,995,000 and then dropped to $2,750,000 and almost sold at $2,395,000 last July. She finally managed to unload the property at $2,050,000, two-thirds of her original asking price. Previous sales promotions for the house suggested the buyer might want to tear down the house to develop the land. 

But to move the deal forward, the town first had to pay for an appraisal. Non-CCA Councilors Deb Carney and Grace Klinger objected to the appraisal on the grounds the town already had tons of open space that it could not afford to manage. 

Because of a surprise recusal by ex-CCA Councilor Cody Clarkin, the vote to pay for an appraisal failed on a 2 to 2 vote. 

Ruth Platner almost had a stroke but recovered and turned this vote into “proof” that Carney and Klinger and the rest of Charlestown Residents United (CRU) were anti-open space, indeed anti-conservation. This was a recurring theme throughout the CCA’s unsuccessful effort to maintain its control over the Council. 

One of the last acts of the lame duck Council was to approve a novel resolution to the Richard property issue. The Charlestown Land Trust had worked a private deal with DEM to set up a transfer of the DEM grant from the Town to the Land Trust. The Land Trust would use private money to match DEM’s to complete the purchase.  

With the stipulation that the Land Trust would be solely responsible for the maintenance and security of the property, The Council signed over the DEM grant to the Land Trust. You can read the relevant documents HERE and HERE and HERE. 

Add another 100 acres to the brown bits. Map source: Charlestown
GIS specialist Steve McCandless
Acquiring this land will still involve up to $400,000 in taxpayer money from the state and will remove the property from Charlestown’s tax rolls. The tax loss to the town will only be between $2500 and $4000 because the land was already designated open space. 

Since the property was already open space, this deal doesn’t change the overall amount of land – almost 60% - in Charlestown devoted to open space. It does however shift the land from taxed to untaxed. 

The Town is relieved of all maintenance costs and liability but the question of how Charlestown will manage the land it already owns is unanswered. And Ruth Platner’s insatiable appetite for expanding open space means more such deals in the future.  

Except, at least for the next two years, the CCA no longer controls the Town Council meaning no more open line of credit for Ruthie.