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The Beaver River Valley Community Association was founded in 2018 by concerned property owners and residents for the purpose of protecting the rural character and historic and natural resources that define our community.  Read more...

Our beautiful town is being threatened by the encroachment of industrial-scale, commercial solar installations by developers.   We must work together to protect our scenic vistas, open fields, farmlands and cultural landscapes.  Read more...

IMPORTANT UPDATE!

Council Divided on Retail Cannabis

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

December 2nd 2023

RICHMOND – The pressing need for economic development is the subject of discussion and debate at most Town Council meetings. New businesses would ease the property tax burden, which has been described by many residents as unsustainable, but the town has struggled to attract commercial development.

To make things worse, just up the road, another town is enjoying a substantial boost in commercial tax revenue. A retail cannabis store in the Town of Exeter has generated nearly $204,000 in tax revenue in 2023. That tax revenue is from a 3% “local tax” on retail cannabis sales.

Plant Based Compassionate Care Inc. operates the Sweetspot Dispensary, at 560 South County Trail in Exeter. It is the only cannabis retail store in South County, and the sixth outlet to receive a state license since retail recreational cannabis sales were approved in Dec. 2022. The licenses for the dispensaries were awarded in a state lottery, and up to 33 retail licenses could be awarded by the recently-formed Cannabis Control Commission.

In 2022, Rhode Island communities were given the option of asking residents to vote on whether to allow recreational cannabis sales or prohibit retail cannabis sales entirely. In towns like Exeter that did not hold a referendum, retail recreational cannabis sales are automatically permitted.

In the Richmond referendum, voters approved recreational cannabis sales in the town by a margin of 2,098 or 58.1% in favor to 1,513 0r 41.9% opposed.

 

Will Retail Recreational Cannabis Come to Richmond?

 

It is not known when or even if Richmond might be in the running for a recreational cannabis store.

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said the new Cannabis Control Commission is still getting its bearings.

“The new law has not yet fully taken effect, because it’s going to be under the control of the new Cannabis Control Commission, and that commission has not yet promulgated regulations to the best of my knowledge,” she said. “So, the only places that are selling retail cannabis now are the places that were already in existence before the state law was changed. … Right now, they’re not issuing any new licenses, because the commission is just getting started.”

 

Differing Opinions on Town Council

 

At the Sept. 19 Town Council meeting, council members discussed zoning ordinance amendments that would designate areas in town where recreational cannabis can be sold.

The council approved two new use codes, “cannabis business” and “cannabis retailer.”

Retail cannabis sales will be permitted in several zones: general business, light industrial, industrial, planned development, planned unit development-village center and, by special use permit, in the neighborhood business zone.

Voting in favor of the amendments were council President Mark Trimmer, and councilors Samantha Wilcox and Helen Sheehan. Council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Michael Colasante remained opposed to retail cannabis sales. Sheehan, who supports Colasante on most issues, voted in favor of the amendments, saying she felt she had to respect the will of the voters.

Nassaney said, in a recent interview, that his opposition was as strong as ever.

“It’s not about the tax dollars, it’s about the safety of our children of our children and our police officers and the public in general,” he said. “It’s a safety issue for me, and a moral standard. Our children are bombarded with far too many things. There’s no need for them to be subject to more drugs. We have enough drugs in our town, from opioids to alcohol. Why add another one? It’s not about tax dollars. It has never been about tax dollars for me.”

For Trimmer, however, it IS all about tax dollars – revenue that’s being generated in a neighboring town, and customers driving right through Richmond on their way to Exeter.

“In my personal opinion, and I’m only speaking for myself, I believe that retail marijuana is the same as retail alcohol, and if there was a retail marijuana facility right next to Wyoming Liquors, I wouldn’t complain,” he said. “I think that would be great. I’d probably shop there. I shop at Sweetspot in Exeter.”

Asked how he felt having to travel to Exeter to purchase cannabis, Trimmer said,

“It does drive me crazy and it drives me crazy that they’re eating our lunch and they didn’t even have to vote on it.”

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DEM Approves Solar Project Modifications

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 29th 2023

RICHMOND – As construction continues on a commercial-scale solar energy project at 172 Beaver River Road, the owner of the property, William Stamp Jr., and the developer, GD Beaver River I LLC, have received authorization to change several components of the approved site plan.

Nancy Freeman, an environmental scientist in the Freshwater Wetlands program of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, notified Stamp in a letter dated Nov. 10 that the proposed alterations to the plan, submitted to DEM on Sept. 15, had been approved.

Chuck Horbert, DEM’s Deputy Administrator, Groundwater and Wetlands Protection, responded to questions about the approved changes in the following emailed statement:

“- Access roads and equipment pads were reduced in footprint and relocated further to the west, farther away from the Beaver River and associated wetlands;

-The solar array footprint was reduced in size to allow for a larger buffer between the array and Beaver River Road to the west.

-A temporary irrigation well was included to facilitate quick vegetative stabilization of the site after construction;

-The portion of the interconnection that was originally to be located underground was revised to use poles and overhead wires.”

The most noteworthy of the changes is the use of overhead wires and poles instead of the underground utilities that were specified in the plan.

Freeman states in her letter to Stamp that given the “Wild and Scenic” designation of the Beaver River, the agency hopes that the developer will find a way to make the poles and wires less visible.

“The Beaver River is a designated Wild and Scenic River,” she writes. “Although the revised interconnection meets the Exempt Activities per the Rules for new utility work, any efforts or design configurations to avoid an overhead wire and poles in this location are encouraged [that would not result in further impacts to freshwater wetlands.]”

 

Some History

 

The solar array is being built on a 41-acre property, owned by William Stamp Jr., located in the Beaver River Valley, which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition, the Beaver River was one of the river segments designated Wild and Scenic under the federal Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic River Act.

Neither of those formal acknowledgments of the historic and natural qualities of the Beaver River Valley, and the river itself, could prevent the conversion of the field to a commercial solar array.

Nor did the Town of Richmond’s repeated denials of a special use permit, which was required because the parcel is in a residential zone where such a use is not permitted.

When both the Planning and Zoning Boards denied the application, the developer appealed to the Rhode Island Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board, which again denied the special use permit.

The developer filed another court appeal, challenging the reasons for the denial and this time, the court ruled in its favor. Justice Sarah Taft-Carter stated in her March 31 decision that board’s reasons for denying the application were “factually or legally unsupported,” and ordered the Zoning Board to issue the special use permit.

Once the permit was issued, construction at the site began immediately.

 

More Legal Decisions Pending

 

In a final attempt to stop the project, the town and abutting property owner John Peixinho, have each petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court for a “writ of certiorari,” an order to review the decision by the lower court.

Richmond Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said she had not heard any news regarding the petition she submitted last June on behalf of the town.

“We’re still waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether to grant the petition,” she said.

Peixinho’s attorney, Thomas Dickinson, said he was not expecting any news until after the holidays.

“It’s still pending, and I wouldn’t expect to hear much for another month or so,” he said.

Such petitions, however, are granted only rarely, and as the project’s opponents await news from the Supreme Court, construction continues, the developer seemingly confident that the court will once again rule in his favor.

​Human Services to Offer Student Financial Aid Workshops

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 25th 2023

RICHMOND – The Richmond Department of Human Services will offer the first in a series of “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or FAFSA, workshops on Nov. 28.

The workshops, which are free and open to residents of the three Chariho towns, will take place before the 2024-25 FAFSA application period opens in December to students who are planning to go to college or career training.x

Richmond Human Services Director Kate Schimmel explained that the workshops are funded by Gov. Dan McKee’s Learn365 program.

“We are very excited to be able to offer these workshops to our community through the Governor’s Learn365 grant,” Schimmel said. “Our hope is that they provide additional learning opportunities and resources locally for our community members. We encourage students, parents, and adult learners who are interested in post-secondary education, including career training, job-based learning and two and four - year degrees to participate. All are welcome join one or all the workshops offered.”

The United States Congress approved a new version of FAFSA, known as “Better FAFSA,” in 2020. Co-authored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the new student aid program streamlines the application process and makes it accessible to more students.

FAFSA is available for a wide range of post-secondary learning programs, from job and career training to two and four-year college degrees, but completing the FAFSA application is a requirement in order to qualify for federal student aid.

Education consultant Geoff Decker, author of the FAFSA guide “Understanding FAFSA & Financial Aid: Your Guide to Paying for College” will be facilitating the workshops.

"Filling out the FAFSA is often an overlooked piece of the college application puzzle,” Decker said. “Yet if you want money to level-up your skills and education beyond high school, the FAFSA is the gateway to investing in your future. These free public workshops raise awareness and share important information about financial aid. I'm honored to be able to work with local municipalities like Richmond to get the word out." 

The first workshop, on Nov. 28, will show participants how to create a student aid account and explain the differences between the types of student aid, such as grants, scholarships and loans.

The workshop will take place at 6 p.m. at the Arcadia branch of the Ocean Community YMCA. Space is limited, but participants can reserve a spot at  FASFA sign-up.

There will also be a virtual workshop on Dec. 5. The registration form for the virtual event can be completed at:  https://lu.ma/chariho-fafsa

The workshops are part of a regional initiative to connect with all three Chariho communities.

"These educational workshops are one of the ways that we bring community members together to discuss and learn about issues and topics that are relevant to them," Schimmel said. "We're thrilled to sponsor these important programs to expand learning opportunities for our community." 

Sheehan, Colasante Oppose Reynolds Reappointment

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 22nd 2023

RICHMOND – In a meeting that lasted only half an hour, Town Council members disagreed on the reappointment of Mark Reynolds to the Tax Assessment Board of Review. They also noted, but did not discuss, a report that the council had requested from the Economic Development Commission.

 

The Reynolds Reappointment

 

Before the council voted on the appointment of Mark Reynolds to the Tax Assessment Board of Review, which he chairs, councilor Helen Sheehan read a statement listing the reasons why she would not support the reappointment.

Sheehan said she would not vote to reappoint Reynolds, because “he does not have the best interests of the Richmond taxpayers in his heart.”

Sheehan provided several reasons for her opposition:

Firstly, an Open Meetings Act complaint, which the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office denied, against Sheehan, Michael Colasante and Mark Trimmer.

“It cost the taxpayers over $2,000 to defend us,” she said.

Second, Sheehan believes that Reynolds, who is running for a seat on the Town Council, was attempting to convince Richmond residents that Sheehan, Colasante and Trimmer are unethical.

Reynolds has also accused Trimmer, Colasante and Sheehan of costing the taxpayers $20,000 in legal fees when the three councilors appointed Clay Johnson to the Chariho School Committee.

“We were depicted as doing something unlawful, however, our Town Solicitor had given us a legal, written opinion that if it came to being a court case, that the court would probably say that the Chariho Act would take precedence over the town charter,” Sheehan said. “The Supreme Court did not agree, so Jessica [Purcell] now has the School Committee position.”

Sheehan’s third item was the ill-fated “Tri Town Committee,” an effort spearheaded by Colasante to get the three Chariho towns together to oppose unfunded state government mandates. (Charlestown never joined the committee.)

“Mike and I wanted the three Chariho Town Councils to get together to write legislation to require the state to fund any future mandates. Mark Reynolds was part of the group of people who misrepresented our goal as something nefarious,” she said.

Sheehan also accused Reynolds of having a personal bias against The Preserve.

“The Preserve is one of the biggest taxpayers in town,” she said. “I have some concern that Marks’ decisions on the Tax Assessment Board of Review might be influenced by his emotional bias against The Preserve.”

Finally, Sheehan said that the Richmond Community Alliance, a newly-formed political action Committee chaired by Reynolds, “criticizes Republicans on the Town Council.”

“The message that comes through in their written material is that the ethical group are the members of the alliance, while the unethical people are mostly Mike Colasante and me,” she said.

Colasante supported Sheehan’s assertions, adding that members of town boards and commissions should be required to work with the council as a whole.

 

Reynolds Responds

 

Asked if he wished to comment on Sheehan’s statement, Reynolds had plenty to say.

“There’s a lot of discussion recently about people’s First Amendment rights, and their rights to criticize, particularly, the government,” he said. “It’s a very important aspect of the First Amendment, yet, I’m being criticized by Ms. Sheehan, who I have never criticized in any newsletter or on social media. I’m being criticized because I come here and I tell you what I think.”

Reynolds also noted that he had served on the Tax Assessment Board of Review for three years, before he ran for a council seat.

“… to say that this is some campaign strategy that I have somehow concocted is absurd,” he said.

Reynolds then explained that most of the tax appeals heard by the board were made by The Preserve, which has contested almost every tax assessment.

“We would make decisions based upon evidence, and the evidence supports the assessments that the town has made against The Preserve, and we have upheld them, so in that respect, we are saving the taxpayers money, because we’re making sure The Preserve is paying its fair share of taxes just like everybody else in this room does,” he said.

Reynolds also noted that The Preserve is costing the town legal fees because it is suing the town on its tax assessments.

With Sheehan and Colasante opposed, council President Mark Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox approved the reappointment.

 

The EDC

 

In a response to a request from the Town Council for a report on the activities of the Economic Development Commission, EDC President Bryan Lebeau sent a single-page letter, which was attached to the council agenda. Lebeau did not attend the council meeting.

The letter states that the commission put forward six action items last April, and had received feedback on only two of them.

“We trust that you will approach this matter with the seriousness it deserves,” the letter states. “Your proactive efforts in embracing economic development initiatives and responding to the Economic Development Commission’s recommendations will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our town’s growth and prosperity. It’s time to put a stake in the ground and for our council to put their money where their mouth is.”

Trimmer described the letter as “disappointing.”

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New Citizens’ Group Aims to Restore “Civility” to Richmond

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 18th 2023

RICHMOND –Town Council meetings have been lacking in civility in recent months, exposing deep divisions and animosity between the five council members and residents.

Concerned with the direction in which the town is heading, the founders of the new Richmond Community Alliance, or RCA, have pledged to restore decorum and respect to council meetings.

The non - partisan political action committee has a steering committee of six, which includes three unsuccessful Town Council candidates:

Attorney Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Tax Assessment Board of Review, is the group’s President. Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick and former council Vice President Jim Palmisciano also serve on the committee.

The three remaining committee members are Joyce Flanagan, the group’s Treasurer, and members Jaime Marland and Jeff Noble.

Reynolds said RCA’s founders wanted the name of their group to reflect its objectives.

“We wanted something inclusive and community oriented,” he said. “Also recognizing the different viewpoints. We’re non-partisan, so we have Democrats, we have Republicans, we have Independents. The ‘Alliance’ part, it’s everybody working for the common good.”

After losing his bid for a council seat in 2022, Reynolds, an attorney, said he wanted to remain involved in town politics.

“I knew after the election that I wanted to stay involved and monitor and keep an eye on things and be a counterpoint and push back on things that I didn’t think were being done appropriately, and I think Jim Palmisciano and I both kind of talked about that right after the election,” he said.

The group formed during a time when council meetings were becoming increasingly contentious.

“There was a bit of an uproar and people started kind of meeting in their own little separate factions, I guess, and a group of us started talking and ultimately became this Richmond Community Alliance,” Reynolds said.

The “non-partisan” description of the RCA is more of a reflection of the diverse political affiliations of its members and does not prevent them from weighing in on town discussions.

“We’re not going to take a position on something simply because of the party of the person who’s acting,” Reynolds said. “So, we’re going to call out Democrats, we’re going to call out Republicans, we’re going to call out Independents. Basically, we’re going to call out behavior, so, in that regard we’re non-partisan, but we will be partisan with our opinions – sure.”

The RCA published its first newsletter in September and already has more than 125 subscribers.

Dan Madnick said he hoped the RCA would help restore unity in the town.

“How do we get a sense of community back in our town, where we can actually act like neighbors and help each other out and be able to have open dialogue and share our thoughts in a meeting where you won’t get ridiculed and you’ll actually help the town move forward,” he said.

Madnick, a supervising engineer at Electric Boat, and Planning Board member since 2019, believes that everyone has something to contribute and that disagreements are necessary to the process of moving forward.

“We need to have differing opinions, but it has to be done respectfully and we just haven’t had that for a long time,” he said. “I think, putting all those things together, it helps form the basis of the values of the RCA and what we’re trying to accomplish in the town.”

Madnick said residents appeared to be responding positively to the RCA.

“We’ve got some really good feedback,” he said. “People are really pleased to have people who are actually providing factual information in a positive light and also pointing out things where there may be mistakes happening, or something that we think is wrong.”

RCA Treasurer Joyce Flanagan said she had heard positive reactions from residents to the new group.

“From them, I hear very positive things,” she said. “They feel it’s been a good source of fact clarification and it’s been a good source in terms of being another strong voice in the community.”

Flanagan said she hoped the divisions in the town would begin to heal.

“I think it’s just so important that everyone listen to each other, learn from each other, plan for each other and take care of each other,” she said.

 

Jeff Noble, a commercial airline pilot, moved to Richmond with his family eight years ago, but only recently became engaged in town politics. Noble travels too much to serve on a town board or the Chariho School Committee, but he believes the RCA can be a positive influence in the town.

A strong supporter of the public school system, Noble said he realized the value of good public schools when he attended the Air Force Academy and saw the differences between students who had attended well-funded schools and those who had gone to struggling public schools. (All three Noble children attend Chariho schools.)

“You could see where people had great public school support, versus not so much,” he said. “Now, fast forward to after COVID, because things were moving along fairly well for Richmond. I didn’t have any problem with taxes or school or whatever. Along came a movement that says the spending on the schools is ridiculous, using national headlines to say that things in our public schools are going badly. And quite honestly, it’s just not true. … I thought the unreasonableness of the approach that everything is out of control is wrong, and the only way I could do that was to become more politically active.”

The RCA, Noble said, will back candidates who will be positive influences in the town.

“I think, for the group, a slate of reasonable candidates, candidates that are willing to follow the rules and not break norms and I believe that our candidates would be fiscally responsive, follow the comprehensive plan,” he said.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he welcomed the RCA.

“It would be great to have a group that cared about the town instead of politics and went about things in a tactful, diplomatic and neighborly way,” he said. “I appreciate thoughtful commentary over personal insults at any time.”

The only Democrat on the Town Council, Samantha Wilcox, said,

“I think it’s good that somebody is holding councilors accountable, and they’ve been very receptive to feedback that I’ve sent about their newsletter,” she said. “I thought it was really cool that they were kind about that feedback.”

The Richmond Community Alliance website, and its newsletters, are on the RCA website: https://richmondcommunityalliance.com/

More Good Financial News for Richmond

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 15th 2023

RICHMOND – After learning that Richmond’s property taxes are not, as one Town Council member has continued to claim, the second-highest in Rhode Island, the BRVCA looked at other indicators of the town’s fiscal health and how Richmond compares to other cities and towns.

The BRVCA explored several data sets in a report by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the nonprofit research organization frequently cited by councilor Michael Colasante.

We also looked at federal census data and spoke with the Executive Director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. The consensus is that Richmond is in sound fiscal health and is doing a good job of keeping expenses low.

 

On the Rocks?

 

At the July 21 special Town Council meeting to vote on hiring Town Planner Talia Jalette, Colasante argued that council members should be more involved in hiring town employees and criticized the manner in which the town was running.

“I just don’t know how the Town Hall’s been operating like this for the last 10 years,” he said. “That’s why I ran, to try and straighten some of these things out. Because again, like I said, the ship is going to rocks along the shore because we’re the Number Two taxed town in the state and it’s the policies of this town that are bringing that ship to the rocks and I want to see it stopped.”

At the Aug. 15 Town Council meeting, Finance Director Laura Kenyon attempted to counter Colasante’s assertion that Richmond’s tax burden is the state’s second-highest in Rhode Island.

Referring to the RIPEC report, Kenyon said,

“I took the RIPEC property taxation report and only for the residential rate, because we have one rate and a lot of cities and towns have three to five different tax rates,” she said.

“We were 11th in Fiscal year 2022, 7th in ’23 and now, we also called every city and town for their ’23 and ’24 and we’re 17th. We’re actually tied for 16th, but we only have one tax rate that ties with East Providence, which has three tax rates.”

Kenyon took the opportunity to caution councilors against citing figures without fully understanding their context.

 “…when you’re using metrics of states and cities and towns, you have to understand the calculation and the discrepancies that could happen,” she said. “You have to understand what other towns have, three- tiered or two-tier. You have to understand if they’ve been revaluated for tax levies. There are many things that go into the consideration, so as we state statistics, we should understand what we’re stating as well.”

 

The RIPEC Report

 

RIPEC Research Manager Justine Oliva talked about the sources of data and how the report is prepared.

“RIPEC produced a report on property tax using the most recent available data a few years ago,” Oliva said. “We put that out on January 25th, 2022. The most recent available property tax data that we had was in regard to tax year 2021 at that point, I believe. Since then, two separate tax rate changes have been applied, and so, you see changes in cities and towns not only in their tax rates but cities and towns have enacted other changes in regard to their property tax structure. They’re seeing revaluations, so in a lot of ways, the data in that report is old.”

Richmond did have a revaluation in 2023, which reduced the property tax rate substantially, from $20.58 to $14.76.

Colasante has described the property tax burden as a combination of several factors.

“The tax rate is just that, the rate at which we’re being taxed,” he told Kenyon at the Aug. 15 council meeting. “You’re correct when you said that we were 11th. The tax burden adds the evaluations to the equation, which makes Richmond the second-highest burdened tax town in the state.”

The data for RIPEC’s residential property tax burden chart do show Richmond as having the second-highest in the state. However, those calculations are based on a median home value of $319,000 in Fiscal Year 2022, which, Kenyon said, is higher than the median home value in Richmond.

“The chart refers to the tax burden on a home in Fiscal [Year] ’22 for an assessment of $319,000,” she said. “It’s one assessment times the tax rate. They’ve used that schedule as what they consider to be the median assessed value of a home. … I checked with the assessor, and…the median household was $287,000 in Richmond, and understanding what is in a report and what is being referred to, you have to look and understand our median household assessment wasn’t the $319,000.”

Oliva noted that RIPEC is planning to update the information in its report when the state releases its latest figures.

“We are talking about, practically, what are you, as a resident homeowner, actually paying, so that’s why we use this example where we pick the median price home from that period,” she said. “…We do plan to revisit this report this winter, when the new data is released,” she said. “The new data – the Division of Municipal Finance will be releasing the data for the current year soon.”

 

Administrative Expenses

 

The RIPEC report contains a chart, prepared in 2021, that ranks municipalities’ administration costs. Those costs include police, administration, public works and parks and recreation.

Richmond’s municipal per capita expenditures, not including education, were $792, the second-lowest in the state. Only Exeter had lower expenses.

BRVCA asked Ernie Almonte the former Auditor General for the State of Rhode Island, to comment on Richmond’s ranking in the report. Almonte currently serves as the Executive Director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

“If I was the leader of that community, I’d be proud that my expenditures were that low and near the bottom of costs of running an efficient community,” he said.

 

The Census

There is more good financial news for Richmond: The U.S. Census Bureau shows the median household income in Rhode Island, from 2017 to 2021, was $74,489. In Richmond, the median household income was $104,493, putting the town 10th from the top on a list ranking 39 communities in the state. In addition, the per capita income, $44,904, puts Richmond in 13th place on the list.

Richmond Tax Rate NOT the Second-Highest in R.I.

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 10th 2023

RICHMOND – In familiar refrain, Town Council member Michael Colasante continues to state that Richmond’s property tax rate is the second-highest in Rhode Island. But research conducted independently for this article (with current 2023 data from each city and town’s official website) shows that when compared to the taxes in other cities and towns, Richmond’s tax rate is, in fact, closer to the middle than to the top.

As recently as the Nov. 6 Town Council meeting, Colasante repeated his tax burden claim, objecting to the council’s rejection of his proposal to re-open bidding for the Town Hall emergency generator after the bidding had taken place and the winning company had been announced.

Colasante repeated his assertion twice.

“Unfortunately, we’re the second-highest burdened tax town in the state, and it’s always my idea to try and save the taxpayers money,” he said.

About four minutes later, still referring to the generator bid, he stated,

“That’s why we’re the second-highest property burden town in the state.”

Colasante appears to be basing his assertion on a 2022 study, using data from 2021, by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC). On page 33 of the study, there is a table showing the “tax burden for homeowners with $319,000 in assessed property value,” and Richmond, with a rate of $20.58, is indeed second on that list, with West Warwick at the top.

But that was two years ago, and the tax rate is lower now.

When The Rhode Island Department of Revenue did not provide an updated list of cities’ and towns’ property tax rates, BRVCA was left to do its own research, surveying every municipality in the state to determine their 2023 property tax rates. The result of that research is the table included in this story, and it shows that Richmond, with a tax rate of $14.76, is not even close to having the second-highest tax rate, coming in 16th on the list of 39.

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Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the repeated use of out-of-date figures was an attempt by the opposition to create a scenario that would anger taxpayers.

“I feel that the angry Republicans had tried to create a false narrative regarding Richmond taxes to keep people angry and unhappy with the town and its services, and I think it’s great that someone took the time to do the research to determine that it was a false narrative and hopefully, it puts the false narrative to rest,” he said.

Trimmer also noted that he felt that the taxes on his Richmond home are not excessive.

“The taxes on my home are very reasonable, I feel, much more reasonable than when I lived in East Greenwich or Warwick, and it’s a much better quality of life and to me, this is good news and just reinforces why I moved to Richmond,” he said.

Mark Reynolds, who chairs Richmond’s Board of Tax Assessment Review, said the newest figures showed Richmond’s property taxes are reasonable compared to those in other municipalities.

“We are not out of line with other cities and towns,” he said. “No one likes taxes. Everyone wants their taxes lower, but those statistics show that we are doing our best to keep the taxes reasonable for people.”

Council Disruptions Continue

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 8th 2023

RICHMOND – The acrimony continued at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting with four agenda items introduced by councilor Michael Colasante, as he had promised to do on the Oct. 25 edition of the “#InTheDugout” radio program.

Colasante, told program host Mike Stenhouse that he had filed complaints with the ACLU and the office of the Rhode Island Attorney General regarding his treatment at the Oct. 17 council meeting, during which council President Mark Trimmer would not let him finish a statement he was reading from the podium normally used during the public forum.

Contrary to his promises to “hit the reset button” and work with his fellow council members, Colasante told Stenhouse that he was already preparing for Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Do you expect to do or say anything there in furtherance of this situation, Michael, or are you just going to wait for the ACLU?” Stenhouse asked.

Colasante replied,

“No, I’m going to put it on the agenda that I notified the ACLU and there’re going to be a few other things on the agenda too, concerning these issues.”

 

Colasante added four items to the council agenda:

The road work bond approved by voters in 2022,

The bid for a generator for the Town Hall,

Fees charged by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth for Open Meetings Act complaints made by council member Samantha Wilcox and attorney Mark Reynolds,

and

A discussion of the accounting of revenue from the Beaver River solar project.

 

The Roadwork Bond

 

This was not the first time Colasante had proposed that the amount of the road bond, for which voters approved up to $2.5 million, could be reduced if the town used state funding.

“We can use the windfall of the road grant, save the taxpayers money,” he said Tuesday. “We go out to bond for $2.1 million and use the road grants to fill the gap of the $2.5 million and that would be actually more in line with what the voters voted for.”

Colasante made a motion, seconded by councilor Helen Sheehan, that the town go out to bond for $2.1 million and use state grants for the remaining $400,000.

Karen Ellsworth asked,

“Isn‘t that what the Finance Director already said to try and do?”

Finance Director Laura Kenyon was not present at the meeting, and Ellsworth suggested the council wait for her to return before making a decision.

Colasante made a motion to put the item on the next meeting agenda, but it was decided that the council would wait for the next meeting where Kenyon was present.

The council approved the motion, with councilor Samantha Wilcox voting against it, because, she said, the matter had already been discussed.

 

The Generator

The town went out to bid for an emergency generator for the Town Hall and announced the winning bid, $99,234, on Oct. 3.

Colasante had previously mentioned that he had reached out to a company that had not bid on the contract but could do the job for $73,000.  Since the project is not an emergency, he urged the council to delay the work and consider the lower bid.

Trimmer pointed out that the bid from the firm Colasante had contacted did not include site work.

“You got a bid for a commodity, a generator,” he said. “The bid we got for the town, which was $98,000, was not only for the commodity, but for the extensive site work to run the conduit from the pad, through the pad, under the ground –

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney added,

“and re-wire the entire building.”

Colasante said he was trying to save the taxpayers money, but Nassaney warned that circumventing a legal bidding process would end up in a costly lawsuit.

“If we want to save our taxpayers any money, we don’t even entertain this, because the contractor that was awarded the bid would turn around in a heartbeat and sue the town for breach of contract,” he said.

 

Town Solicitor Fees

 

Colasante asked what Ellsworth had been paid for defending the town against complaints of Open Meetings Act violations filed by Samantha Wilcox and Mark Reynolds.

“They both were denied and there was no OMA violation, so I would like to know how much it cost the town,” Colasante said.Ellsworth replied that the same request had already been made by Raymond Pouliot, a Colasante ally.

“I think it was about $1,500 and the second one was $2,052,” she said.

Colasante reminded the council that Wilcox had wanted to know what attorney Joseph Larisa had been paid to defend the town and Clay Johnson before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a case that the town lost. Larisa was paid $22,242.

“Mr. President, the only reason why I brought this up was because councilor Wilcox wanted to know how much the fee was for attorney Joe Larisa, so, what’s good for you is not good for somebody else,” he said.

 

Beaver River Solar Revenue

 

Colasante’s fourth item pertained to the revenue from the Beaver River Solar project.

Since Finance Director Laura Kenyon was not at the meeting, Colasante made a motion, seconded by Sheehan, to postpone the discussion until she returned.

However, Wilcox said she had wanted to discuss it Tuesday, because of a quote from Colasante in the meeting packet, stating that Town Administrator Karen Pinch had said that the fee the developer had paid to the town in June had been “spent around town.”

Wilcox said,

“The quote was misquoted. What was said was, typically those revenues are accounted for in the budget process to be spent on whatever other town services.”

Wilcox suggested Colasante could get the information he was looking for by filing an Access to Public Records Act, or APRA request.

With Wilcox, Trimmer and Nassaney voting against Colasante’s motion, it was defeated.

 

License Renewals

 

A considerable portion of Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to victualling and holiday sales license renewals for businesses in the town.

In the case of The Preserve, the license renewals were contingent upon the payment of local taxes. In theory, the town could refuse to renew a business license because of unpaid taxes, however, it has never done so.

The Preserve did end up paying its tax bill on Tuesday afternoon, $37,069.45, and an additional town water bill of $11,543.36.

No “Reset Button”: Colasante Escalates Council Discord, Seeks ACLU Opinion

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 3rd 2023

RICHMOND – Appearing on the Oct. 25 edition of the talk radio show “#InTheDugout,” Town Councilor Michael Colasante, accompanied by political ally Louise Dinsmore, doubled down on Colasante’s behavior at the Oct. 17 Town Council meeting and told host Mike Stenhouse that he had requested an opinion from the American Civil Liberties Union on whether his rights had been violated by council President Mark Trimmer.

 

The Oct. 17 Council Meeting

 

During the public forum of the council meeting, Colasante recused himself from the council and walked to the podium. Trimmer told Colasante he had three minutes to speak, but when he began to attack fellow councilor Samantha Wilcox, Trimmer stopped him. Colasante initially refused to leave the podium, even when asked to step down by Police Chief Elwood Johnson, however, he eventually stepped away, handing his written statement to his wife, Kathryn Colasante, who read the rest of it.

 

In a response to a story about the meeting on the Beaver River Valley Community Association Facebook page, Colasante posted the text of his statement, in which he said he wanted to “reset” the discussion and work with his fellow councilors, a position he reiterated on the radio show.

“I just basically wanted everybody just to hit the re-start button. The reset button,” he told Stenhouse.

However, after expressing his desire for reconciliation, Colasante recounted a litany of grievances against council Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and Wilcox.

 

Dinsmore added her own comments.

On Nassaney:

“He was endorsed as a Republican, however circumstances were such that he was, you know, a chameleon, in that he was claiming to be part of our slate and part of our values, but in reality, he was working against our slate.”

On Wilcox:

She aligns herself with people like Megan Cotter and Jessica Purcell and Uprise Rhode Island.”

Stenhouse interjected,

“So pretty far left, then,”

Dinsmore:

“Yes.”

 

Efforts to stimulate economic development, Colasante alleged, have been repeatedly stymied by left-leaning conservationists, who support the preservation of open space, increasing the burden on taxpayers.

“The town is actually going out to bond that the average taxpayer now is on the hook for to buy this land to take it off the tax roll, so we use our hard-earned money to buy the land, then it’s off the tax roll. Now it’s tax exempt,” he said, in a rambling narrative.

 

Were Colasante’s Rights violated?

 

Stenhouse played a recording of the portion of the council meeting during which Colasante claims his right to speak was denied.

But Colasante’s argument is disputed by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth in a legal opinion requested by Trimmer and sent to council members on Oct. 20.

In an interview on Friday, Ellsworth stated that Colasante could recuse himself from a vote, but not from the council.

“He said ‘I want to recuse myself,’ but that’s not what ‘recuse’ means,” she said. “Recuse means not voting. What was he going to vote on?”

Ellsworth also noted that Trimmer had not been acting improperly when he asked Colasante to step down.

“The person presiding over the meeting was in his rights to ask the police chief to escort him from the room,” she said.

Insisting, during the radio interview, that as a councilor he had a right to speak in public forum, Colasante accused Ellsworth of intimidation.

“I’ve been dealing with attorneys for decades and decades now, and they like to intimidate people,” Colasante told Stenhouse. “The bottom line is, when they say ‘this is my opinion,’ my famous line is ‘you’re correct. It’s just your opinion.’ … “It’s just her opinion, and she’s going to side with the Town Council because she feels that the other two councilors are in her court, and it allows her to keep ringing the cash register for herself.”

Asked about Chief Johnson’s request that he leave the podium, Colasante said he had been in communication with the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, in addition to the ACLU, regarding the role of the police.

“The first step is seeing what the ACLU has to say, and I think it’s going to be in our favor, and then actually, going to the Attorney General’s office and actually getting some of our state reps to maybe propose legislation, all right? that will finally, all right? take care of this issue and address it.”

Reached two days after the council meeting, Johnson said,

“My role at those meetings is that I’m a police officer, there to keep the peace. I make sure there are no disruptions. During that meeting, the President asked a person to stop speaking.”

However, Stenhouse saw the incident differently, suggesting that the ACLU sue the Richmond police, “so that we can force a judgment. I’m not trying to be mean here, but it’s two things: can people be denied their First Amendment rights, as Louise [Dinsmore] said, and can police be complicit in that when there is no disturbing of the peace?”

Johnson noted that it had not been necessary to escort Colasante from the council chambers.

“We didn’t have to go there, because the person returned to their seat. I treat people civilly,” he said.

But in the radio interview, Colasante described an exchange he had with Johnson in the Town Hall parking lot after the meeting.

“Before the chief got into his cruiser, he came up to me and he actually shook my hand and he said, ‘Mike, thank you very much for being such a gentleman in the way you handled that.’ And I just said to him, ‘well, you know, Chief, look, I didn’t want to be contentious, I am a gentleman, I wanted to handle it appropriately, but the next time it’s not going to go that way. I’m telling you right now.’ I said ‘so I’m giving you a heads up, all right? that it will not go the way it went this time around, so you’re going to have to make a decision beforehand as to what you’re going to do.’”

 

Will There be More Disruptions? Probably.

 

“I don’t think that there’s anything anyone can do about behavior that is not civil,” Ellsworth said. “The incivility is going on, on a regular basis, and not just from one person, and I think that’s the basis of the problem.”

Trimmer also seemed resigned to dealing with continued incidents, all planned, he said, as part of a coordinated effort that he called “Operation Disruption,” to interfere with Town Council business.

“I don’t believe anything will change as a result of a legal decision on the solicitor’s part,” he said. “This was all part of Operation Disruption, part of a plan to get reelected. … It’s a planned operation to disrupt and discredit anyone on the council who isn’t them.”

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Veterans Appreciation Lunch

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

November 2nd 2023

RICHMOND – The annual Veterans Appreciation Luncheon will take place on Saturday, Nov. 11 this year, coinciding with Veterans Day.

The event, which first took place in 2010, has become an annual tradition in Richmond.

Senior Center Director and Army veteran Dennis McGinity explained that the event usually attracts about 35 veterans and their families.

“We don’t get an awful lot of people come, but we have a good group, so I have to make sure I have enough food,” he said.

McGinity and Senior Center volunteers began planning the event in September.

“Around the middle of September, we start getting things organized,” he said. “We start looking at volunteers and all the display items and flags. We get everything assembled and we have it here, ready to go.”

In addition to a light lunch, there will be a flag display and a display of photographs of veterans. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs will also have an information booth, and participating for the first time will be Operation Made, a Warwick-based business that markets veteran-made handcrafted products.

“It’s a nice, social event, where people can come in and see, not only the flag display that we put up, but meet some of the seniors, who are ex-military, who are veterans that will be here,” McGinity said. “When we first started this, we said ‘let’s not forget anybody, because every person who served in the service deserves to have a display flag,’ so we have put all the display flags in that we could get – regular Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard. We also have a POW flag.”

A particularly poignant component of the event is the Missing Man Table, which is set for those who served and never came home.

“It can be an emotional thing, especially to some of us older people,” McGinity said. “People who’ve been in the service, we’ve lost fellow soldiers and sailors and Marines and WACs and WAVEs, you know, there are so many people that are lost and it’s very important for us to remember that not all of them came back to flags and parades. A lot of them are still missing, have never been recovered.”

The volunteers organizing the event are determined, McGinity said, that veterans are never forgotten.

“We all feel the same way, that it’s very, very important for the Town of Richmond and the surrounding communities not to forget. It’s so important not to forget our veterans, people who have lost their lives and those who served honorably for a couple of years, or many years…I know from experience that they really appreciate it. They really do.”

Town Council President Mark Trimmer commended McGinity for his commitment to organizing the event.

“I think Dennis is really an asset to the town and the fact that he does that for the people who served our town is really important,” he said.

McGinity added,

“We know that people have seen a lot of this display before, [but] a lot of people haven’t. Our point is, we’re a representative of the Town of Richmond, and we are making sure that this celebration of veterans does not go away, not in the Town of Richmond or the surrounding areas. I know we have a lot of people come from Hopkinton and Charlestown and Exeter. … We’re not forgetting. If only one person comes, we’re not forgetting, and that’s the important thing.”

 

The open house and luncheon will take place from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Richmond Senior Center, 1168 Main Street. (Above the Police Department)

The event is free and open to everyone.

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Barber to Retire from Richmond DPW

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 27th 2023

RICHMOND – Scott Barber, the longtime Director of Richmond’s Department of Public Works, announced at the Oct. 3 Town Council meeting that he would be retiring on Feb. 1. Barber will continue to serve as Richmond Carolina Fire Chief.

It is probably safe to say that Barber knows more than anyone about Richmond, its history, and its quirks. At the DPW building on a recent morning, in a conference room that he and his employees had renovated themselves, Barber looked back on his career with the town.

 

A Lifetime of Service

 

Barber took over as DPW Director 24 years ago. Before coming to Richmond, he worked for 10 years for the State of Rhode Island at the Department of Transportation and in the forestry division, and then worked in Hopkinton, where he was a DPW Foreman for five years. But Barber had always called Richmond home, and in 1999, he became the town’s Public Works Director.

“It was the town I grew up in and the town that I was most familiar with,” he said.

Richmond’s DPW, like the town itself, was a lot smaller in those days.

 “I was a 35-year-old kid that was ready to take on the world,” Barber said. “Back then, I believe there were only five of us total, including me.”

As the town grew, the duties of the DPW became more diverse. The department now has 11 employees.

“The whole direction of the public works department has changed over the years,” Barber said. “We’re the catch-all. We do buildings and grounds, manage the transfer station, and there’s a lot more public need out there – the phone calls, the requests for service, it’s just grown immensely.”

There are more regulations, too, and residents have become increasingly demanding.

“There’s so much exposure now, the increase in traffic and hazards on the roadside,” Barber said. “When you get into winter operations, the expectation of the public is that they want the roads cleared within a very short time period, and that’s a challenge.”

One of the department’s ongoing projects has been repairing and maintaining the roads, a job that Barber said has been a constant challenge to keep up with.

“There’s a long list of roads that need to be done, and there’s only so many funds available to do it, to keep the tax rate and the town budget manageable, and some of the projects get pushed out further than we’d like to see,” he said. “I mean, there’s roads that I did over 20 years ago that are already needing to be re-done, and we have roads that have never been done, so that’s frustrating.”

 

The Public Works Department “Lifestyle”

 

“The public works job itself, it’s a lifestyle,” Barber said. “It’s not a job. Your life revolves around the weather. Everything is impacted by what the weather does and every incident, whether it’s a windstorm, snowstorm, rainstorm, there’s some type of impact that you get affected by. It’s a mindset, you know? You’re going to have to go to work. You’re going to have to leave family behind and go to work, and a lot of people can’t do it.”

Barber became Fire Chief the same year he took over the DPW, and he admits that the two jobs consumed him.

“It was a struggle,” he said. “It had a huge impact on my home life, obviously. I probably put work at the Fire Department ahead of family when I shouldn’t have.”

Barber is divorced, and his son, Seth, lives with his family in the house next door. That means Barber gets to spend lots of time with his two grandsons, Sam, 4, and Jase, who was born last summer.

“They bring me so much joy and innocent love, you know?” he said. “When your grandson reaches for your hand and wants to be with Gramp, that’s always the best.”

Sam has already shown an interest in the one hobby Barber has made time for: collecting old tractors and tractor-pulling.

Growing up on his grandfather’s dairy farm, Barber developed a love for tractors, especially older models. He now has twelve farm tractors and “eight or ten” modified garden tractors.

“That’s probably the only real enjoyment that I get that’s not work,” he said.

 

Anecdotes and Accolades from Colleagues and Friends

 

Town Council President Mark Trimmer described Barber as “old school.”

“He has dedicated his professional life to the town and taking care of the people of the town,” he said. “He is truly a servant- leader, and it’s biblical. There’s nothing more revered than a servant-leader. His kindness, his level-headedness, his lack of demeaning people. He’s a gentleman. He’s an old school gentleman.”

Town Administrator Karen Pinch recalled that when she began working for the town, Barber took her on the most complete guided tour, ever.

“Like he does with everyone, the first thing he did was offer to take me around the whole town, which takes a very long time,” she said. “You would never expect it, but it does. He drove me around every road in town and pointed out all of the high points and things that he thought that I should know.”

Keith Place, one of Barber’s closest friends, was First Deputy Fire Chief for 40 years and also served as Richmond’s Town Moderator. Place retired in 2021 and moved to Florida, but the two old friends have stayed in touch.

“You could talk to him and he’d help you out, and if you had any problems, you could go and talk to him,” Place said. “I think he’s a great guy. He’s done a lot for the town, and I think the town’s going to miss him.”

The DPW employees will probably miss Barber the most. Gary Robar and Cody Caswell, both of whom started as truck driver-laborers, are now superintendents.

“I’ve never had an issue with Scott, never,” Robar said. “He has the answers. He’s got a knowledge…  not only for public works but beyond, for laws and certain things.”

Asked if he had any special insights into his boss, Caswell joked,

“He always knows what he’s eating next. He knows what he’s having for dinner, or for lunch. He always makes sure he’s got something in the works for food.”

Then he added,

“As Swap Yankee as a Swamp Yankee can get. Down to earth, level headed – you treat him fair, he treats you fair.”

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Carpenter Takes Nassaney Feud to News Media

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October 21st 2023

CRANSTON – Former Richmond Town Council President Nell Carpenter took to television news Friday evening to discuss complaints she has made to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission regarding Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney.

Carpenter’s interview was included in a report on Channel 10 during the 6 o’clock broadcast.

 

The complaints were filed in September. The Ethics Commission is conducting full investigations into both, which it has 180 days from the day of filing to complete.

Reached in Pennsylvania where he was traveling on business, Nassaney said he would not comment on the complaints because the investigations are ongoing.

 

The Complaints

 

Filed on Sept. 14, the document introduces both complaints by stating that Nassaney “has acted in violation of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.”

 

The first violation, Carpenter states, took place at a special Town Council meeting on Aug. 29, 2023, during which the Washington Pomona Grange, which runs the Washington County Fair, had complained to the town about the comportment of the town’s newly-appointed Electrical Inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt.

Nassaney, who sells his brand of sauce, “Rich’s Sweet Heat” at the Washington County Fair, recused himself from the discussion, citing that business relationship.

However, Carpenter charges that Nassaney nevertheless participated in that meeting, because,

“…after Councilman [Michael] Colasante obtained the floor and was speaking, Vice President Nassaney intentionally distracted the President by tapping him on his left arm. The Vice President effectively influences and gains the attention of the President in this action as evident in the video. As a result, The [sic] Council President then says ‘Hold on” and interrupts Councilman Colasante mid-sentence. At this time, Vice President Nassaney having commandeered the floor with this action, directs the President’s attention to the Administrator with two [2] finger points in her direction to his left. At that point, the Administrator interjects.”

 

The Second Violation

 

Carpenter states that on June 6, 2023, in an executive session that was closed to the public, councilors discussed the job performance of Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt and a complaint about Vaillancourt’s behavior made to the town by Pasquale Farms.

Nassaney, whose sauce is sold at Pasquale Farms, recused himself from the discussion.

Carpenter states that Nassaney nevertheless “participated in the closed session and upon resuming open session, Vice President Nassaney spoke extensively regarding the electrical inspectors [sic] job performance and behavior relating to his business associate, ‘Pasquale Farms.’ He additionally voted to take disciplinary action against the electrical inspector.”

 

Carpenter’s apparent knowledge of the details of a discussion that took place during the closed session has raised some eyebrows. Once the minutes of those Executive Session minutes are sealed, councilors are not to publicly discuss their contents, but Carpenter, who is not even on the council, seems to have a thorough knowledge of what transpired at the second “closed session” meeting.

 

The WJAR report appeared to take a slightly satirical view of the situation, framing it as a small-town, political dust-up over hot sauce.

In the first of several sauce-related puns, the reporter says,

“It’s not just a condiment, but an ingredient in a heated political climate in Richmond that’s getting messy. Rich’s Sweet Heat, sold locally and online. Rich is Richmond Town Councilman Richard Nassaney and his sauce had already landed him in a bit of a sticky situation…”

In the interview, Carpenter states that Nassaney may have recused himself from the discussions at the two meetings, but he had nevertheless participated in them.

“He was very effective in interjecting and participating,” she said, referring to her first complaint.

Carpenter was chosen council President over Nassaney in 2020, and the two were frequently at odds. Still, Council President Mark Trimmer was aghast to learn that those conflicts appeared to have continued to fester.

“I think it’s incredibly disappointing that she has not let the feud between her and Rich go,” he said. “Rich has moved on. She hasn’t. I just think it’s bizarre that she would be involved in all of this. Absolutely bizarre to me.”

Responding to a question from the reporter about her personal animosity toward Nassaney, Carpenter answered,

“Is it personal? Is that what you’re asking? We’re not breaking bread anytime soon and that’s not a secret.”

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Councilor’s Tirade Mars Meeting

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 18th 2023

RICHMOND – Town Council members discussed and voted on several matters at Tuesday’s meeting, but the one exchange that will not be quickly forgotten is the unexpected attack by councilor Michael Colasante on fellow council member Samantha Wilcox.

 

During the public forum, which is intended to give residents an opportunity to express their views, Colasante asked to recuse himself from the council and go to the podium.

There was a moment of stunned silence.

Wilcox asked whether a council member could use the public forum to address an item that was not on the agenda, but

Council President Mark Trimmer allowed Colasante to speak.

Reading from a prepared statement, Colasante said he had been elected to reduce taxes and promote economic development, but other council members had made it impossible for him to do so.

“I began my service to the taxpayers as a member of the Richmond Town Council with the sincere hope that all Town Council members would work collaboratively,” he said. “However, just about the moment I was sworn in, to this day, I’ve seen [sic] nothing but resistance to the many positive proposals and ideas that I’ve put forward on the table.”

Colasante then directed his anger to Wilcox.

“At this point, I feel compelled to expose the hypocrisy of specific fellow councilors,” he said. “For the first council meeting, councilor Wilcox compiled copious pages of notes….”

Trimmer interjected.

“I’ve got to stop you there. This is just a public attack, and we’re not going to do that. This is a Town Council meeting,” he said.

Colasante persisted, saying,

“Let me finish.”

Trimmer responded,

“I’m done.”

“Well, you can be done, but I’m not,” Colasante replied, adding a comment about remarks “disparaging Italians.”

“This is an attack against councilor Wilcox,” Trimmer stated.

“No, it’s not,” Colasante said. “It’s factual record.”

Trimmer said,

“I don’t want to do this. This is not what public comment – public forum - is for.”

Colasante continued to insist that certain council members had been “disparaged.”

Wilcox asked, again, whether Town Council members could recuse themselves from the council to comment as members of the public.

“We’re part of this body. We’re not really supposed to recuse ourselves to speak in public forum.”

“Let me finish,” Colasante said.

“No,” Trimmer responded.

Colasante ally Louise Dinsmore broke in.

“Mark, you’re not respecting his ability to say what’s on his mind,” she said. “Let him speak his mind.”

Police Chief Elwood Johnson stepped in.

“Don’t speak unless you’re at the podium, and it’s at the direction of council as to whether you speak or not, Mr. Colasante,” he said. “Please don’t do this. This is not the way to achieve, I think, what you…”

“Well, Chief,” Colasante interrupted, “That’s your opinion, and you don’t have a right to get up and say that, okay? You don’t.”

“The Town Council President is asking … Johnson began, before Trimmer told Colasante,

“Just sit down. And stop.”

Colasante handed his written statement to his wife Kathryn, saying, “You read this.”

Resident Iva Lipton, annoyed at what she was witnessing, said to Colasante,

“Aren’t you lucky you’ve got a wife.”

Kathryn Colasante read the statement, which criticized Wilcox for taking “pages and pages of notes that she thought were Open Meetings violations.”

Kathryn Colasante continued,

“While he was fighting for the hard-working men and women of Richmond, the retired, on fixed incomes, young families with high mortgage payments – all right? – some councilors were more focused on getting Colasante.”

Lipton, a resident who has attended council meetings for decades, stood to address the council, but was actually addressing Colasante.

“I have never seen this kind of dissent and if you get attacked enough times, I was a boss for a long time. I never got attacked. That meant I was a good boss. If you’re attacked all the time, it means there’s something wrong with you,” she said.

Reached Wednesday, Wilcox said she did not understand the purpose of Colasante’s attack.

“I don’t think the statements were productive and there was no end goal,” she said. “What was the end goal?  My concern with councilors recusing and speaking as members of the public is that we are not members of the public. We are councilors.”

Trimmer said Wednesday, that the testy exchanges would have been seen by developers.

“His behavior is an embarrassment to our town and the developers were watching.”

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said Colasante’s reported communications with developers, without the knowledge of the Town Council, would likely be impediments to development.

“I think that as a whole, any developer will pull their cards back to their chest, because you have this rogue person who sees it necessary to put himself into the limelight,” he said. “They [developers] have stated they don’t want to be part of the politics.”

 

Other Business

The council approved several items, which included applying for a Municipal Resilience Program grant from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank for three proposed projects:

The replacement of a culvert on Carolina Nooseneck Road, habitat restoration at Beaver River Park, and an initiative to increase resilience and promote ecotourism on the Heritage Trail property by restoring part of the property to grassland and pollinator habitat.

Colasante made a motion, which the council approved,  to approve the culvert replacement if other culverts needing replacement were bundled with the initial culvert replacement request.

 

Economic Development – Again

 

The council continued its long-running discussion of the need to attract economic development to the town. The Economic Development Commission has repeatedly asked the council to reinstate the American Rescue Plan Act funding it had allocated to the creation of the position of Economic Development Director.

Trimmer said he wanted instead to create a group that would be a “one stop” for developers considering locating in the town.

“It’s utilizing the people you already have all in one room, so the developer driving here from New York or from Boston doesn’t have to make 20 trips to talk to 25 different groups,” he said. “He can make one trip.”

Trimmer stressed that the group would support, not usurp the authority of the town’s Planning and Zoning Boards.

The group would include Town Planner Talia Jalette, Town Administrator Karen Pinch, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, Trimmer or council Vice President Nassaney, and one member each from the Planning Board, Zoning Board and the Economic Development Commission.

Colasante proposed that he be named the council representative since he had already spoken with several companies in the town.

Several council members expressed concerns that having more than one councilor in the group might lead to violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Trimmer stated that the town should present a united front, which only served as an ironic reminder to those watching the meeting who had witnessed Colasante’s earlier tirade.

“I want a united front,” Trimmer said. “Many of the developers have complained to at least two members of this council here that they don’t feel the town is united, that they feel there’s too much division, that they’re nervous about developing here and my feeling is, with the formation of this group, even if we just choose the chair of each one of those committees, with the formation of this group, we’ll be able to present a united front. One visit, they get to talk to everybody.”

Citing his experience facilitating major developments in Cranston, Colasante continued to insist that he should be a member of the group, but the other councilors did not appear to agree.

“I think I’m an expert in this category,” he said. “It doesn’t diminish anybody else on the council, it’s just, everybody’s skill set is a little bit different and that’s mine,” he said. “I did a knock-up job on all three of those fronts in Cranston and anybody who’s travelled to Garden City, Chapel View, Plainfield Pike can see how those developments, what the end result was, and I had a big part in that.”

The council asked Ellsworth to prepare a document, to be considered and possibly approved at the next meeting, creating the ad hoc economic development group and stating its composition and its goals.

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Richmond Dog Trainer Leads Invasive Insect Study

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 15th 2023

LINCOLN – The Spotted Lanternfly, an invasive insect pest native to China, was first detected in Rhode Island in 2021 and has since been found in several northern Rhode Island communities. No lanternflies have been detected in Richmond – yet.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is encouraging residents to watch for lanternflies, kill or “squash” the ones they find and report them to DEM.

Lanternflies are leaf hoppers and don’t fly great distances on their own, so their principal means of spreading is through the transportation of their egg masses. With their striking red coloring, adult lanternflies and nymphs are almost impossible to miss, but the egg masses are much more difficult to detect.

Looking like bits of gray lichen or smears of mud, the egg masses can be found on vehicles and outdoor furniture as well as wooden pallets, buildings and fences.

That’s where the dogs come in. The Canine Citizen Science Study, which began two years ago at Texas Tech, expanded East this year, partnering with Virginia Tech to recruit owners of scent work-trained dogs. The project is funded by a $475,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and coordinated by Sally Dickinson of Virginia Tech.

In a press release describing the program, Dickinson said the goal of the project is to mobilize groups of handlers whose dogs can sniff out not only lanternfly eggs but other invasive species.

“At the completion of the study, we hope to have a strong network of handlers able to locate spotted lanternfly egg masses as a proof-of-concept program, with the intent to create an enduring citizen-based detection program for this and other invasive species,” she said. “Put your training skills to work and help protect our vineyards, fruit orchards and flower gardens.”

 

Richmond resident Jennifer Anderson leads the team, the only one in New England, and works with her Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Bellamy. The other team members are Ann Rapoza with Kin, an Australian Shepherd, Phyllis Zusman and Xena, a Portugese Water Dog, Vicki McKinney and English Shepherd, Gryphon, and Shady Stanley, (who was not able to attend this session) and her Border Collie, Huck.

 

Training

 

Anderson, a scent work competition judge and certified canine search specialist with the Rhode Island Canine Search and Rescue team, was asked to recruit dogs and handlers for the Rhode Island component of the study.

“I put a ‘call to arms’ basically, out, to folks that I knew that were very involved in olfaction work with their dogs,” she said. “A lot of these dogs are scent work dogs, whether through the AKC [American Kennel Club] or other groups that do scent work as a sport, so we know they have the acumen and we know the handlers know how to recognize when their dogs are in a target odor.”

The group of five handlers and their dogs began training together in March.

“The proposition was, can dogs with high olfaction sense and knowledgeable trained handlers, can they be used as an intersection point to recognize the presence of the spotted lanternfly in areas before they become highly infested,” Anderson said.

 

The Tests

In order to participate in the study, the dogs must pass two tests: odor recognition, which takes place indoors, and a field test, where they are asked to find egg masses outdoors.

Each egg mass contains between 25 and 50 eggs. In the test protocol, which was developed by the USDA to avoid having to transport live egg masses, the eggs used for the study have been inoculated, or killed, so they cannot hatch.

For the odor recognition test, six perforated white boxes were placed on the floor of a barn. One of the boxes contained spotted lanternfly eggs. The others were either empty or they contained other things, such as a dead cricket, or grass, that can distract the dogs.

Anderson wanted to determine whether dogs could distinguish the odor of lanternfly egg masses from other scents.

“That’s another facet of olfaction detection for dogs,” she said. “Can they take something that – it’s not the human scent, we have cadaver dogs…can you take this and say ‘this is another thing for you to seek that’s different and separate from these things?’ …When I say the command ‘find bugs,’ it’s totally different than finding a person.”

When dogs locate the scent or object that they have been asked to find, they give their handler a special signal, known as an alert.

Anderson’s dog, Bellamy, barks. Other dogs stand or sit still with their noses close to the source of the scent. One does a play bow.

“Her alert is this very active, animated bark,” Anderson said, referring to Bellamy. “She really likes this. It’s a very different odor than the other odors she works.”

All the members of the Rhode Island group passed the odor recognition test, which took place in July at Delmyra Kennels in Exeter. Dickinson, of Virginia Tech, traveled to Exeter to administer the test.

 

The Dogs

 

Phyllis Zusman’s dog, Xena, is four, and has really taken to egg mass searching.

“She does a lot of other sports, she was nuts about nose work,” Zusman said. “I’d stand here and she’d see the cones and she’s be screaming ‘we gotta go! We gotta go!’ This is absolutely her thing, and in competitive stuff, she’s doing phenomenally.”

Vicki McKinney’s dog, Gryphon, who at 17 months is still considered a puppy, also loved the work from the beginning.

“I think he’s the only dog in the study who had never ever had any experience with nose work, so he’s starting from scratch,” she said. “He’s brand new at it and he’s an environmentally sensitive puppy, being a herding breed…This kind of thing, it helps a lot for a dog. It gives them confidence, it helps them use their brain and their body at the same time.”

Ann Rapoza has been doing nose work with her three-year old Australian Shepherd, Kin, since he was just six months old, and they have been competing in scent work ever since.

“When I first did it, we looked for food in boxes, and I think he right away really got into the hunt part of it,” she said.

 

The Field Test

 

The group moved outside to practice for the field test. Egg masses had been hidden inside and near an open barn and on the outer wall of a nearby shed.

It was early evening, and a breeze was moving the scent around. As each dog attempted to find the eggs, you could see them following the scent as it swirled in and around the outside of the building. This test is similar to how the dogs would be searching in the real world, in a winery or an orchard.

The first team, Zusman and Xena, started at a rock wall and searched the length of the barn.

Zusman gave the command, “search,” and Xena was off.

“She’ll stand and then look back at me,” she said, describing Xena’s alert signal.

As Anderson watched Xena working, she explained that the field test has many challenges and distractions, which is, of course, the point.

“It’s a very different scenario when you get outside with air movement and distractions,” she said.

As Xena continued to work, Anderson called to Zusman,

“She’s close. Continue working that wall. That would be enough.”

Then Xena pinpointed the source of the scent, between rocks in the wall.

“That’s it!” Anderson said. “That would have been more than enough at a vineyard.”

All the dogs overcame the distractions and located the egg masses, but the practice sessions will continue until the test, the date if which is still to be determined.

Cindy Kwolek, Survey Coordinator for DEM’s, Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey, or CAPS, said the dogs could be  valuable assets in controlling invasive pests. And, detecting the egg masses before they become lanternflies is more environmentally-friendly than spraying.

“The dogs are amazing,” she said. “I think incorporating their sense of smell into so many different applications is just a cool thing in general – aside from spotted lanternfly.”

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Cotter Wins Healthcare Award

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 13th 2023

PROVIDENCE – State Rep. Megan Cotter D- Richmond, Hopkinton, is this year’s recipient of the John H. Chaffee Healthcare Leadership Award.

The announcement, issued by the Rhode Island General Assembly, states that the award is given by the Rhode Island Healthcare Association to an individual, group or organization “that embodies the spirit of the late Senator John H. Chaffee, demonstrating the commitment to strengthening the healthcare safety net and providing true justice and equity in health care for all.”

Cotter was honored for her work to increase rural residents’ access to health care by facilitating the purchase of a van by Wood River Health. The van was purchased through the Rhode Island Public Authority, and 80% of the cost was covered by federal grants.

Reached Friday, Cotter said,

“It is an honor to get an award named after an outstanding Rhode Island leader who exceled at reaching across party lines to move our nation forward, in health care, environmental protection and other areas. Senator Chafee set a lasting example of how working cooperatively is the most effective path to a better future. I strongly believe in that approach,

and it’s one I hope to maintain throughout my work for Rhode Islanders.”

The award was presented on Oct. 11 at the association’s annual meeting.

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New Dog Park Opens

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 10th 2023

RICHMOND –The official opening of Richmond’s new dog park isn’t until Nov. 4, but the dogs chasing each other in circles on Tuesday morning didn’t care. Nor were they aware that it had taken more than a decade for a group of residents and a few members of the Town Council to make it happen.

Victoria Vona, who has been on the Dog Park Committee since it was formed, stood just outside the fence with her husband Mike, watching the dogs and their owners enjoying the new facility.

“I’m almost ready to cry, because, 11 years,” she said. “I was approached by Erik Davis, who was on the Town Council, and he said ‘hey Victoria! You want to be on the Dog Park Committee? We’ll get a dog park in Richmond.’ And I’m like, ‘yeah.’ At the time, I had a Golden Retriever, Ginger.”

Vona said there had been times when she thought the dog park was close to happening, but something would always get in the way.

“How many times did I cry?” she said.

Located near the entrance to the Heritage Trail on Route 138, the new dog park replaces the unofficial dog park, which is on an old landfill next to the transfer station. The old park officially closed on Oct. 10, the same day the new park opened.

Watching as his dog Samson played with the other dogs, Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he had walked him often on the trail, but couldn’t take him off leash because of the busy road nearby.

“I can finally let him loose,” he said. “My own yard isn’t fenced in. They thought I was crazy when I complained in 2017 that  they had a dog park on an uncapped landfill. We talked about moving it over here, but there wasn’t enough push behind me, but Samantha carried it through.”

Trimmer was referring to Councilwoman Samantha Wilcox, who was standing nearby, watching her dog, aptly named “Chase,” chase other dogs in circles on the grass. Wilcox served on the Dog Park Committee from 2021 until 2022, when she was elected to the council.

“It’s so fun,” she said. “Everyone’s obviously having a good time. The dogs are getting along. “

Funds for the dog park, $71,580, came from a recreation grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

Assisting with the grant were Town Administrator Karen Pinch, former council member Lauren Cacciola and former Town Planner, Shaun Lacey.

The town was required to contribute a 20% in-kind match, which was provided in the form of work at the site by the Department of Public Works.

“They created the parking,” Wilcox said. “They made these cute hills, as you see, they moved all the equipment.”

The park occupies about 40,000 square feet of the property and about 30,000 feet are enclosed with a fence. There is agility equipment as well, built in 2022 as an Eagle Scout project by Hayden Puglia of Boy Scout Troop 2, Kingston.

 

Wilcox said she believed the dog park could boost the town’s economy, because it attracts visitors from other towns.

“Of the people you saw today, some were not even from our town, so it’s benefitting Richmond residents, but it’s drawing visitors in from other areas,” she said.

Jack Horrocks, who lives in Coventry, sat at a picnic table, watching his dog, Florence, playing with the other dogs. There is no dog park in Coventry, he said, so he has been bringing his dog to Richmond.

“We used to go to the one over by the DPW, but most of the time, there’s nobody there,” he said. “Last week with two rainy days in a row, I don’t want to say she’s out of her mind, but she’s pacing. She knows the routine. Like this morning, usually we leave the house about 6:30, quarter of 7, something like that. Knowing this was going to be 9 o’clock, I said ‘we’ll go about 8:30.’ She’s sitting staring at me with her tail going – let’s go!”

Trimmer said that the dog park, adjacent to the popular Heritage Trail, added another significant improvement to the quality of life in the town.

“Unfortunately, being a town that’s not on the ocean, and we don’t have any of those benefits, we don’t offer a whole lot and this is just another improvement, along with the playground [Beaver River Playground] and other things. When the pavilion gets built on that town land across from the Town Hall, that’ll be a huge improvement as well.”

The official opening of the park will take place on Nov. 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a ribbon cutting at 11:30 a.m. The rain date is Nov. 5. Humans and dogs are welcome.

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Walking Tall: A Petite Model Takes to the Runway for Fashion Week

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 6th 2023

RICHMOND – Elisabeth “Elly” Nehnevaj models for Donahue Models and Talent, and on Sept. 30, she walked the runway in the finale of Rhode Island Fashion Week. That might not seem noteworthy, until you learn what she has gone through to get there.

Nahnevaj was born with a rare blood disease called Fanconi Anemia. When she was nine, she received a stem cell transplant, and in 2017, a kidney transplant.

“I was born with a few medical complications,” Nehnevaj said. “I was born without thumbs, and the doctors were able to create new thumbs for me. I was also born with both of my kidneys on one side of my body, so one of my kidneys was actually crushing the other one; it was actually sitting on top, so that had to get taken out pretty quickly after birth, so I was left with one kidney that was working at about 40%, basically at birth.

There was also hearing loss.

“I was also born with hearing loss,” Nehnevaj said. “I can hear pretty well on my left side, but I do have a cochlear implant on my right side.”

Nehnevaj received the cochlear implant last year and her hearing is now very close to normal – 90%.

“You never truly understand how loud the world is until you experience hearing loss,” she said. “It was quite a shock, honestly. Everything was so loud and I wasn’t used to that, and it took me a little bit to get used to it, but of course, it’s all good and fine now.”

But there were more health hurdles. After Nehnevaj received a kidney, donated by her mother in 2017, her body began to reject it. Nehnevaj and her husband, Joe, were living in Chicago at the time, but in 2020, they moved to Rhode Island and settled in Richmond.

“I had my second kidney transplant here at the Rhode Island Hospital,” she said. “Everything was good, everything was going great, and now, unfortunately, I’m back on dialysis, and I am awaiting a new donor for a third kidney transplant.”

Nehnevaj attributes the rejections of her transplanted kidneys to her strong immune system.

“It’s like a double-edged sword,” she said. “You’re healthy on one end but then, your body doesn’t want to receive anything new on the other end. It’s kinda tough. We’re trying to figure out what kind of new anti-rejection medications I’ll eventually be on with the new kidney, because, this is kind of it. Third time’s the charm.”

 

A More Inclusive Fashion Industry

 

Nehnevaj recently got into modeling, at a time when the fashion industry had begun to welcome diversity.

“It’s more inclusive,” she said. “There’s plus size models now. There’s petite models. There’s models who have scars and they’re proud of showing that, and that’s where I feel that I could really make my mark and fit in.”

Nehnevaj said she hoped to set a different kind of example for girls thinking of becoming models.

“Most young girls, they look up to models and they look up to all these beautiful people and they say ‘I want to be like them when I grow up,’ but for me, growing up, it was ‘oh, I want to be like them when I grow up, but it’s probably never going to happen because I’m too short.’ I’m only 4 [feet] 9. I’m very petite and I’ve got scars. I’ve got things that most models don’t have, but I do have something most models don’t have, and that’s strength. It’s resilience. It’s a new perspective on life. And it’s not just about being beautiful on the outside. It’s also about being beautiful on the inside, and that’s the message I want to try to convey to people who want to get into modeling. You can do it, even if you do have these kinds of challenges.”

After a month of practice - walking on the runway with other new models, Nehnevaj made her runway debut.

“My first experience walking for Rhode Island Fashion Week was nothing short of amazing!” she said after the show. “I still can’t believe it happened and I hope many more opportunities will come my way.”

Being in a live fashion show is something Nehnevaj said she never thought she would be able to do.

“You could have told me a year ago that I would be in a fashion show, and I would have laughed in your face,” she said. “My family was always so encouraging of me. …I turned 30 this year and I just really said to myself, ‘now or never.’ What’s truly going to make me happy? Is it going to be a 9 to 5 job? Is it going to be a desk job? What’s truly going to make me happy? And that’s really what it came down to.”

Richmond Town Council Meeting for October 3, 2023

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

October 4th 2023

RICHMOND – Tuesday’s Town Council meeting was shorter than most, but as is the norm for this council, divisions and skirmishes persisted.

Town Administer Karen Pinch reported on several matters that would normally be addressed quickly, beginning with a request for council approval to sign a lease agreement for a copy machine for the police department.

Pinch explained that the town had solicited “mini bids” from companies that are part of the state’s Master Price Agreement and two companies had submitted bids. The lowest was from CORE Business Technologies, at $192.30 per month for 60 months.

Council Helen Sheehan asked,

“Will you own the copier at the end of the lease period?”

“We will not,” Pinch replied. “And I’ve spoken to Chief Johnson about that in past years and especially, his feeling is, the copier is of no use to us…The technology changes so much, it’s basically a computer now.”

Sheehan said that when she had owned her business, which she sold in 2020, she had purchased a copier and hired a service technician, which had saved “a lot of money.”

Councilor Michael Colasante, who appeared to not have read Pinch’s Sept. 27 memo on the lease, asked whether the town had previously done business with CORE. In that memo, Pinch states that the town has used CORE in the past.

The council voted to approve the lease.

Pinch also asked the council to approve additional American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA funds for an emergency generator for the Town Hall, to replace a generator which has been described in the town’s Hazard Mitigation Plan as inadequate.

Public Works Director Scott Barber determined the specs for a new generator.

The original amount requested from ARPA funds was $30,000, but Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt determined that a larger generator would be necessary, bringing the total price to $99,234. 

Pinch asked the council to approve two motions: one to increase the allocation from ARPA funds and the second to award the bid to Calson Corporation, the lowest of four bidders.

Colasante then made an unexpected announcement that he had discussed the bid with unnamed individuals not connected with the town.

“I talked with a few people about this and we are dealing with a supply chain problem,” he said. “I didn’t have the specs in front of me when I talked with a few people, but they thought that was kind of high, so I was wondering if we could just hold off on this, because it’s not an emergency kind of deal, and if you can give me the specs I can give it to the couple of people that I talked to,” he said.

Pinch replied that the town had already gone out to bid.

“It was a public bid,” she said. “It was offered to everyone who wanted to bid on it. It wasn’t limited to certain people.”

Colasante proposed that the town go out to bid again.

“All right, well, can we… go out to bid again?” he said. “There are a few people that I have notified about this and they would be willing to bid and their price would be lower than what we got.”

Council member Samantha Wilcox said going out to bid again might violate a town ordinance.

“I believe there’s really specific guidelines as to how we put out to bid and what we’re supposed do over a certain dollar amount,” she said. “I am concerned that something like that would violate that ordinance, and we really shouldn’t be sending out information.”

Council President Mark Trimmer said that without the specs, it would not be possible to say that the town would be saving money.

Wilcox responded that the specs had been posted online as part of the call for bids.

Trimmer also noted that the town had followed the advice of the electrical inspector.

“I think we’re all set,” he said. “I don’t see a need to go at this further.”

Colasante replied,

“Well, Mr. President, again, we can save some money with this. Again, it’s not an emergency and I think we can save a substantial amount of money. We can put some of that ARPA money to something else, because, you know, a lot of the smaller companies are not aware of the bidding process where they can plug in or get a notification…”

At this point, the online transmission of the council meeting unexpectedly stopped. The meeting was paused while the connection was restored, but not before attorney Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Tax Assessment Board of review, described Colasante’s effort to re-open the bids as unethical, and possibly illegal.

Reached Wednesday morning, Reynolds said,

“Councilor Colasante’s suggestion that the bids that had been submitted through an open and fair process should be rejected so he can talk to somebody he knows about a lower price would be clearly unethical and most likely, illegal, and potentially subject the town to a lawsuit,” he said.

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said Wednesday that he had found Colasante’s proposal disturbing.

“The only thing that came to mind was ‘I know a guy,’” he said.

Speaking of the open bidding process, Nassaney added,

“This is how people who are legitimate get work. They go through the process.”

Colasante asked whether the winning bidder, Calson, had an electrical license.

“They have an electrical license, or are they just a builder who’ll sub it out?” he asked.

“I will confirm that,” Pinch said.

Colasante then made a motion.

“If they don’t have an electrical license, they don’t get it,” he said.

Nassaney responded

“Why would they be bidding on installing a generator if they don’t have an electrical license?”

Colasante said,

“Well, there are contractors that will sub it out to the appropriate contractor, and I just want to make sure that’s not happening, because then there’s always a layer of more money being paid, all right? for that to happen.”

Wilcox said she had logged onto the Rhode Island Division of Professional Regulation and had easily located Calson’s electrician’s license.

“I think this is just another example of how we should trust our experts,” Trimmer said.

The council voted four to one to approve awarding the bid to Calson, with Colasante opposed and Sheehan, (who had voted earlier against allocating the additional funds) in favor.

 

Road Work

 

Finance Director Laura Kenyon, Scott Barber and Karen Pinch briefed the council on upcoming road work, which will be partially funded by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

“DOT has money for a municipal road and bridge grant program,” Kenyon said. “We’re authorized for up to $410,799 in funding if we agree to spend $847, 047 in road projects.”

Colasante moved and the council approved, the signing of the funding agreement with DOT.

The roads that will be improved as part of the state program are Punch Bowl Trail, New London Turnpike, the Pinehurst neighborhood, and Wendy Lane.

Kenyon explained that two additional road projects, North Road and Tug Hollow, will receive funding from another source.

“We have about $1 million that was put out with Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank for North Road and Tug Hollow,” she told the council. “That is why it’s on the spreadsheet here, and Tug Hollow, we just put out the bid. We don’t have the exact amount. I have the estimate. And that would be the first $1 million. The other, basically, $1.5 million, an estimate of the $2.5 [bond] authorization would be associated with the state grant roads.

 

Hopkinton Partnership Approved

 

The council approved a five-year agreement with Hopkinton to use that town’s planned community center.

Richmond has been allocated $569,284 in federal ARPA money for a community center and Hopkinton was allocated $627,315. If Richmond declines its share of the funds, that money would be distributed to other cities and towns, or, the town can choose to give its share to Hopkinton, which the council voted to do.

 

Hiring/Firing Ordinance Amendments

 

After a lengthy discussion, the council ended an effort to give itself greater hiring and firing authority.

Ordinance amendments, drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth at the council’s request, were filed, (no action taken) but not before several people, including Charter Review Commission member Joe Arsenault, Scott Barber, and a resident weighed in with their opposition to the initiative.

During his time at the podium, Barber also took the opportunity to announce his upcoming retirement.

“I’m officially letting you know now that February 1 will be it,” he said. “That’s not a rumor. That’s official.”

As the discussion of council authority dragged on, Nassaney appeared to be close to losing patience.

“You’re literally teetering on breaking the law for no reason. None,” he said. “Why open up that Pandora’s box when right now, you have a hiring process which has worked for this town for how many decades?  How many? A lot.”

Nassaney said Wednesday that he was relieved that the discussion was over.

“Last night was the finale of this 10-month long hiring and firing body, and I finally put it to bed,” he said.

Wilcox apologized for having initiated the discussion several months ago, noting that she had been attempting to end an ongoing debate about whether council members should be more involved in personnel matters.

“I thought that possibly we could find something that would help the town, as a whole, move forward together,” she said. “Clearly, I was wrong and that’s not possible.”

Court Rules for Town on Purcell Legal Fees

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

September 28th 2023

RICHMOND – The Rhode Island Supreme Court has denied a motion by Jessica Purcell to require the Town of Richmond to pay her legal fees in her challenge of the appointment of Clay Johnson to the Chariho School Committee.

Three of the five members of the Richmond Town Council, Council President Mark Trimmer and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante, voted on Jan. 19 to appoint Johnson to the school committee seat vacated by Gary Liguori.

Purcell, who received the next-highest number of votes, maintained that the town’s Home Rule Charter stated that she should be named to the committee.

 

Legal Fees

 

The brief Supreme Court decision, released Wednesday, states that Purcell’s motion was denied and the matter was closed. Justice William Robinson III was the lone dissenter.

Asked to comment on the decision, Purcell said her attorney, Jeffrey Levy had not charged a fee to represent her.

“When I first discussed the situation of the Charter violation with Mr. Levy in January, I made it clear that I did not have the funds necessary to employ his services,” she said. “I am very fortunate that he understood the necessity to seek legal recourse on the matter and he agreed to represent me pro bono for his services, but that I could pay for expenses. I raised money through my campaign finance account for legal and campaign expenses, and will utilize those funds.”

The town has paid Johnson’s legal fees, for the services of attorney Joseph Larisa, which total $22,242.50.

 

The Case

 

Purcell, a Democrat, lost her bid for a School Committee seat by 27 votes.  When Richmond committee member Gary Liguori announced in January that he was moving out of Rhode Island and vacating his seat, it was believed that under the provisions of the town’s Home Rule charter, Purcell, with the next-highest number of votes, would be named to fill the seat.

But Trimmer, Colasante and Sheehan instead appointed Republican, Clay Johnson, to the vacant seat.

Named as defendants in Purcell’s Supreme Court case were Johnson, the Richmond Town Council and the Chariho School Committee.

Oral arguments were presented in April and in July, the court granted Purcell’s petition, with Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissenting.

Levy based his argument on the compatibility of the Chariho Act and the town charter, because the act requires the Town Council to fill a vacant School Committee seat and the charter states that the person the council chooses should be the next-highest vote-getter.

Larisa argued that the Chariho Act and the town charter could not be harmonized because they are fundamentally incompatible. In their opinion, the four justices concluded that the charter superseded the Chariho Act.

 

The Town’s Responds to the Decision on Fees

 

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said she was not surprised by the decision.

“This is good news for the town, and it is the decision I expected,” she said.

Trimmer said the case had been complex and had exposed the divisions on the Court.

“The Rhode Island Supreme Court decisions and the dissenting opinions show just how difficult a decision this situation was,” he said. “The whole situation was not clear-cut at all.”

 

Purcell said she had not expected to win her motion for legal fees.

“Jeff [Levy] said it was a long shot, but I felt we should try because his services were invaluable in doing the right thing for the town and our voters,” she said. “A violation of the Charter was a dangerous precedent.”

Planning Board Considers State-Mandated Zoning Changes

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

September 27th 2023

RICHMOND – Planning Board members devoted the entire Sept. 26 meeting to a workshop focused on zoning ordinance amendments proposed by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth in response to state land use legislation passed during the last session.

The town is amending its zoning ordinance to comply with the legislation, which will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

After going through Ellsworth’s proposed amendments, board members agreed to study the three most significant changes and discuss them at the next meeting. Once they have agreed on the amendments, they will make their recommendations to the Town Council. The memo explaining Ellsworth’s amendments can be found here:

For Richmond, the most significant changes will be the replacement of development plan review with a similar process that Ellsworth calls “site design review,” as well as amendments to the ordinances pertaining to accessory dwelling units and inclusionary zoning.

The new law governing accessory dwelling units prohibits cities and towns from placing “excessive restrictions” on additional housing structures built on a property. It is unclear what the state considers “excessive.”

The old law required that the people occupying accessory dwelling units be family members, including those who have disabilities or are over the age of 62.

The amendment permits non-family members in addition to family.

Inclusionary zoning, as it exists now, requires that 10% of the units in a development be affordable. The new law, which applies to projects with 10 or more housing units, raises that number to 25% and requires towns to allow the developer to add two market-priced units for every affordable unit.

Ellsworth’s memo states,

“The developer is allowed to increase the density of the development to provide the extra lots. … In other words, the law is no longer intended to help cities and towns maintain their share of low or moderate income housing when new developments are built. Instead, it is intended to substantially increase the number of affordable dwellings.”

 

Rural Towns Not Considered

 

Ellsworth told the board that the state legislation appears to have been drafted from an urban perspective, without regard for the infrastructure limitations of smaller, rural towns.

“I think the biggest problem is the people who are in charge of passing this stuff have an urban outlook and not a rural outlook,” she said. “They’re writing all of this stuff for Cranston, Warwick, Pawtucket. They’re not writing it for the small towns.”

Board Chairman Philip Damicis agreed.

“It’s certainly more potentially harmful to us than it is to urban areas,” he said.

A major concern is the higher densities that will be permitted.

“Almost all of the small towns in the state, there are no sewers and there are no water systems, or very few water systems, Ellsworth said. “If you don’t have the infrastructure, you can’t have the same density of housing.

 

The changes are expected to have major impacts on development in the town, but as Board Vice Chairman Dan Madnick pointed out, only one person attended the workshop.

“We’ve got this workshop. The entire town was notified,” he said “There’s only one guy sitting here right now. These changes are going to affect you more than you realize.”

Richmond to Partner with Hopkinton on Community Center

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

September 20, 2023

RICHMOND – Members of the Town Council voted at Tuesday’s meeting to partner with neighboring Hopkinton on a long-awaited community center.

The council also approved zoning amendments for cannabis retailers.

 

Community Center

 

Town Administrator Karen Pinch described the proposed community center partnership to the council.

The state, she explained, has federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds for community projects.  Richmond has already declined the funds, because there is no “shovel-ready” project as required.

“The funding has to be for construction or renovation of a community center,” she said. “Those community centers have to provide three specific types of learning, so to speak. One is education, one is health monitoring and one is workforce development. Those things have to be carried out for a five-year period after the center opens.”

Pinch noted that Hopkinton was already planning to build a new community center at Crandall Field.

“They have asked us if we would, since we had already said we were going to give up our funding, if we would designate our funding to their community, so that our residents could share in the use of that facility,” she said.

Richmond has been allocated $569,284 in federal ARPA money for this initiative and Hopkinton was allocated $627,315. The applications are due by Oct. 6.

If Richmond declines its share of the funds, that money will be distributed to other cities and towns. However, the town can give its share to Hopkinton.

Under the partnership, Hopkinton, which has three full time recreation department employees (Richmond has one part time recreation director) would welcome Richmond residents to the new center. There might even be buses to transport Richmond residents to the Hopkinton facility.

Council members were unanimous in their approval of the allocation of the town’s funds to Hopkinton and the town’s support of the “Community Center Learning Compact” that specifies the three learning services that the community center will be required to provide.

 

Cannabis sales

 

At a public hearing at the start of the meeting, the council discussed where recreational cannabis sales should be permitted in the town.

Council President Mark Trimmer said that neighboring Exeter is offering recreational cannabis sales, and residents are driving there to purchase it. Richmond, he said, is missing out on tax revenue, which is 3% for the hosting town.

“I just think it’s an opportunity that we need to jump on before somebody else eats our lunch – again, because so many places have come wanting to locate in Richmond, and because we moved too slowly or we put too many stipulations on it, before you know it, they’ve moved somewhere else. We’ve lost out on the tax revenue and everybody gets to pay more taxes next year,” he said.

The amendment would allow retail cannabis sales in several zones: general business, light industrial, industrial, planned development, planned unit development-village center and by special use permit in the neighborhood business zone.

Two new use codes were created, cannabis retailer and cannabis business.

Councilor Helen Sheehan, who opposed cannabis sales in the town’s general business district, said she would nevertheless approve the motion because she intended to respect the will of voters, who had approved it. Councilor Michael Colasante and Council Vice President Richard Nassaney voted no with Colasante turning to Sheehan after the vote and gesturing his disapproval.

 

Agreement with YMCA

 

There was a lengthy discussion of a proposal to rent the new Community Room at the Arcadia branch of the Ocean Community YMCA.

The room would be used for learning activities associated with the state’s Learn365RI initiative, which Richmond has agreed to join.

The room would be available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The rent, $350 per month, is covered by the state Learn365RI grant.

Trimmer said he welcomed the opportunity to partner with the YMCA.

“We have long talked about partnering with the YMCA,” he said. “This is a first step, and Capstone, who holds the lease on that building, is looking for town participation in that building as well.”

Sheehan said the two-day arrangement would not adequately serve the students.

“It may serve the seniors, two days a week, but it’s not going to really serve the students,” she said.

Colasante repeated his earlier proposal that the Learn365RI activities should take place in a school.

“Teachers are there, some of the aides are already there,” he said. “The buses are going to be there to bring the kids back. …The big thing is, the kids are already there, they’re there for a reason, and it would be easy to shuffle them over to one or two empty classrooms at that point.”

Trimmer said that while the funds had been given to Richmond, two other towns, Hopkinton and Charlestown, were also part of the school district.

“Running that program at a Chariho school would be an expense to all three towns,” he said.

Resident Louise Dinsmore suggested the town contact Wood River Health Services in Hope Valley, which has recently expanded its facility and will have a new community room, due to open this month.

“My understanding is, it’s at no cost if it’s something during the day,” she said.

Human Services Director Kate Schimmel, who is overseeing Learn365RI and the state grant, told the council that the school district would use the community room at the YMCA as a quiet homework room, two days a week.

With Sheehan and Colasante opposed, Trimmer, council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox approved a motion, made by Wilcox, to approve the rental agreement with the YMCA.

 

Executive Minutes

 

In the interest of increased transparency, Wilcox introduced a motion to un-seal minutes from the council’s executive sessions of Jan. 3, Jan. 25 and June 6, 2023.

Trimmer said he believed that executive sessions, which often addressed sensitive personnel matters or legal topics, should remain sealed, except in the case of a federal investigation.

“We speak freely with the expectation that what we say in those executive sessions are never going to make it to social media, make it to the public,” he said.

Trimmer added that the only purpose he could see for un-sealing executive minutes would be “a political one.”

Wilcox responded,

“I don’t appreciate that you’re claiming it’s political,” she said. “We entered executive session specifically to discuss a job performance, and then when we left, we continued to discuss it in open session. I thought to myself ‘why did we even seal those if it’s all public anyway?’”

Wilcox said opening the minutes would improve council transparency, but she did concede that un-sealing the Jan. 3 session would not be feasible, because it involved pending litigation.

Colasante moved, and Sheehan seconded, a motion to keep the minutes sealed.

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth added that there were circumstances under which the discussions of matters, such as the possible purchase of property, should stay sealed but can be released after the purchase.

“But, whenever you’re talking about someone’s character health, job performance, I think sometimes things are said during a closed session with the expectation that they will remain in private,” she said.

Dinsmore told the council that information about the town’s embattled electrical inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, had appeared on the Beaver River Valley Community Association website and asked how that information had come to light, implying that the information could have been leaked from the executive session.

“There was a post by the Beaver River Valley Community Association on August 30 saying the following: ‘Vaillancourt, who was hired in March, is currently under probation following an incident at Pasquale farms during which he is said to have been impolite to the owner,’” she said. “Now, I went through all of the Town Council meetings from open session. I don’t ever remember or I could not find – I went through this painstakingly and it took a long time to go through these Town Council meetings, that there was no discussion in open session about Pasquale Farm – that business. So, that would lead me to believe that if Pasquale Farm was discussed in executive session, that someone disclosed that to the reporter from the Beaver River Valley Community Association. …I would like to understand how Miss Drummond and the Beaver River Valley [Community] Association was privy to this information.”

Trimmer responded that the information was “all around town”  and “common knowledge,” and that he had had people approach him about the incident before the council discussed it.

Resident Bob Sayer raised the possibility that representatives of Pasquale Farm could also have spoken about it.

 

The council voted unanimously to keep the executive session minutes sealed.

 

Other business

 

The council discussed a resolution authorizing the town to issue up to $2.5 million in general obligation bonds. Finance Director Laura Kenyon explained that the funds would be used for road improvements. Voters approved the issuance of the bonds at the June, 2023 Financial Town Meeting.

Colasante said he had obtained $404,000 for road repairs under the state’s RhodeWorks initiative and suggested reducing the bond by that amount.

“My idea is to save the townspeople money, is that they voted to go out to bond for $2.5 million so with that $404,000, that was a big windfall to the town, so it’s my idea, and I’m just throwing it out there, that we should actually just go out to bond for $2.1 million.”

Kenyon said the authorization was for up to $2.5 million and added that she would talk with Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber to determine how much work the roads would need.

The motion passed, with Colasante and Sheehan opposed.

 

 

Pinch updated the council on progress on the Beaver River playground. The old equipment has been removed and the installation of the new equipment will begin this week.

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Town Grapples with Legislative Changes

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

September 14, 2023

RICHMOND – The 2023 state legislative session ended with a flurry of changes to the state’s land use regulations.

The purpose of the amendments is to increase the housing stock available to low and moderate -income families, but the changes are a source of consternation for the more rural towns, which must comply by Jan. 1. 2024.

The changes will impact towns’ zoning ordinances, which govern which uses are permitted in which zones and subdivision regulations, which pertain to the procedures for developing land, including the different stages of review.

With just three months remaining until the deadline,

smaller towns such as Richmond are finding that understanding and complying with the many changes in the eight bills is a challenge.

In an e-mailed comment, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth noted that in some cases, the amended legislation is confusing.

“I think that many cities and towns will have a difficult time complying with this legislation, which takes effect of January 1, 2024, not only because they will have to amend a substantial number of ordinances and regulations in a very short time, but also because first they will have to figure out what the new laws actually mean,” she said. “Some of the legislation is so poorly written that it’s difficult to understand the intent.”

Ellsworth has been asked by officials in Hopkinton and Exeter to help those towns draft the required ordinance changes.

“It will be easier to do the Exeter and Hopkinton drafts after I have finished the Richmond drafts, but they won't be identical,” she wrote. “Each town's ordinances and regulations reflect policy decisions that have been made over a period of time by the planning boards and town councils, and I need to make sure that the draft amendments I prepare for each town are consistent with those policy decisions.”

 

Here is a summary of the eight bills, all of which have been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Links to the full texts of House bills are underscored.

 

Inclusionary Zoning:

Bills H 6058A and S 1051A

 

Inclusionary zoning requires developers of large residential or mixed-use projects to include affordable units in addition to market-priced units.

Most towns require that the number of affordable houses or apartments equate to 10% or 15% of the number of market-

rate houses or apartments. The amendment increases the number of affordable units to 25%. Towns will also be required to allow developers to build two additional market priced units for each affordable unit.

Ellsworth said a consequence of this change will be much larger residential developments.

“As a result, a town [like Richmond] with inclusionary zoning would have to allow large developments with substantially more homes than the number that would ordinarily be allowed in the zoning district. The only alternative would be to repeal the town’s inclusionary zoning provision,” she said.

 

Substandard lots:

Bills H 6059A and S 1032A

 

This amendment makes it easier for a property owner to obtain a dimensional variance to build on a lot that does not have the required setbacks or because of other factors, such as the location of a septic system or another building on the parcel.

The amendment will make it easier to obtain dimensional variances and will require towns to allow construction, without Zoning Board approval, on lots that do not meet the dimensional requirements in the existing zoning ordinance.

 

Subdivisions:

H 6061Aaa and S 1034A

 

This legislation redefines the procedures for the stages of approval of subdivision applications; development plan review, minor land development project approval, and major land development project approval.

A streamlined approval procedure known as “unified development review,” already in effect in Richmond, gives the Planning Board the authority to issue variances and special use permits for projects that need land development project approval, eliminating the need for the applicant to appear before the Zoning Board. Unified development review will now be mandatory.  The amendment also gives the Town Planner the authority to approve some applications that currently go to the Planning Board.

 

Low and Moderate Income Housing Act:

H 6081A and S 1037A

 

Planning Boards will be able to approve comprehensive permits for developments to be built at greater densities, as long as 25% of the units are affordable.

The bill mandates increased densities based on the percentage of affordable units and the availability of public water and sewers.

 

SHAB Abolished:

H 6083A and S 1050A

 

The State Housing Appeals Board, or SHAB, the state body charged with hearing appeals of denials of comprehensive permit applications, will cease to exist. All appeals will be heard in Superior Court.

 

 

Land Use Calendar:

H 6083A and S 1050A

 

This bill establishes a new land use calendar in Superior Court for appeals of planning, zoning and comprehensive permit decisions and state disapprovals of comprehensive community plan amendments. One judge, who is still to be named, will hear land use appeals and issue expedited decisions.

 

Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act:

H 6086A and S 1038A

 

This amendment took effect upon passage, so it is already in effect. The legislation changes the notice requirements for public hearings on comprehensive plan amendments, major land development projects, subdivision regulation amendments, and zoning board hearings. Towns will be required to post notices on their websites, which Richmond already does.

 

Building Conversion:

H 6090A and S 1035A

 

This bill allows conversions, by right, of non-residential buildings such as schools and factories to residential, or mixed residential-commercial use if at least half of the gross floor area will be residential.

 

Legislative Changes on Planning Board Agenda

 

Town Planner Talia Jalette did not comment on the amendments, saying only that the Planning Board would be discussing the matter at its next meeting.

“The Planning Board will be discussing these myriad legislative changes, which will govern land use state-wide, at our September 26, 2023 Planning Board meeting,” she stated in an emailed response. “I would invite all interested parties to attend this meeting, so that they may learn more about the new rules that were enacted during the 2023 Legislative session.”

 

Big Ramifications for Small Towns

 

The bills appear to have been conceived with cities rather than towns in mind, with an emphasis on land development in urban communities. Towns like Richmond, and neighboring towns in the southwest corner of the state, do not have the infrastructure to service larger developments, nor do they have public transportation.

 

Rep. Megan Cotter, D-Richmond, said she was concerned about what the changes will mean for rural areas. Cotter also represents Hopkinton and Exeter.

“I am concerned that there may be some unintended consequences that could alter [the] vision called for in the 2025 State Land Use Plan, she said in a written statement.

“This plan called for an innovative urban/rural approach where future growth would be concentrated within an urban services boundary where development could be adequately served by supporting infrastructure. My district is outside the urban services boundary and is very rural.”

“The State required towns to adopt land use policies in the rural areas that accommodate residential and recreational land use while preserving natural resources and open space to avoid sprawl. The intent was to conserve essential natural resources and support resource-based economies. Farmland and forests will surround centers that are infused with greenways and greenspace.”

“It is too soon to know for sure what the impacts of the new legislation might be. I will be closely monitoring this situation and be seeking input from municipal officials in my district.”

Council tables Town Administrator review

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

September 9th 2023

RICHMOND – Town Council member Michael Colasante continued his effort to question the job performance of Town Administrator Karen Pinch at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Pinch’s annual performance review takes place in December, but Colasante added a performance review to Tuesday’s Town Council meeting agenda.

The discussion took place in Executive Session, but no action was taken. Council Vice President Richard Nassaney recused himself from the discussion, because it involved Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt’s work at the Washington County Fair, where Nassaney has a booth to sell his hot sauce.

Vaillancourt has been observed doing electrical work for Colasante, but despite that business relationship, Colasante did not recuse from the Pinch discussion.

Reached before the council meeting took place, Town Council President Mark Trimmer described Colasante’s effort as retaliation on behalf of Vaillancourt. While not his immediate supervisor, Pinch is ultimately responsible for all employees.

“This retribution/harassment goes right over the top,” Trimmer said. “It is highly unusual for a councilor to request a performance review based on retribution for his friend.”

Vaillancourt, who was hired in March, has been admonished for his comportment with local business owners, prompting several complaints to the town. He received an extension of his probation period after the town received additional complaints about his behavior from officials at the Washington County Fair.

The council discussed the situation in executive session, but did not take any action.

 

Hiring/Firing Authority

 

Colasante requested another agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting which stated that council members should be involved in all hiring decisions.

The agenda item read:  

“Request of Councilor Colasante for the Discussion and Consideration of creating a policy for the Town Council to be involved in all new hires including receiving all applications, resumes, and to be involved in the interview process if they so choose.”

However, the authority of the Town Administrator was confirmed in Nov. 2022, when residents voted on a referendum question pertaining to administrator’s role, as defined in the Home Rule Charter.

By a margin of 2,389 to 1,049, voters approved a measure that prohibits members of the Town Council from influencing hiring decisions.

Colasante’s proposal did not sit well with one resident, Christopher Kona, who, in an Aug. 19 email to the council, published with the council agenda, reminded members of the referendum vote.

Kona wrote,

“The opinion of the Richmond voters on the role of the Town Council in hiring is objectively documented from the November 2022 election, during which 69.4% of voters responded ‘yes’ to the question:

‘Shall the Charter be amended to prohibit Town Council members from attempting to influence the Town Manager’s decisions on hiring, promotion, and removal of Town employees?’

Kona’s letter also states,

“During the Aug. 15 meeting, Councilor [Helen] Sheehan remarked that Richmond did not vote her to Town Council to refrain from influencing hiring. This is factually incorrect – the residents of Richmond did vote for her and other council members to office with the expectation that they should not influence town hiring and firing.”

After a lengthy discussion, which included input from audience members, the council voted to continue the matter until Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth had prepared a new draft of the proposed policy.

 

Notices to Landowners

 

Colasante proposed that the town “send notice to landowners of any potential changes discussed regarding regulations, ordinances, regarding land use at the beginning of the discussion phase and throughout the process in order to solicit their participation and input. This would apply to the Town Council, Town Planner, Planning Board or any other town official or body that has authority to begin such a process.”

Colasante stated that he had been in contact with several large commercial landowners who had no idea that the town was planning to amend the “aquifer protection overlay district” ordinance, or APOD.

“These large landowners, that a lot of people around the state have said were waiting with baited breath, had no idea that something was going on with the APOD,” he said.

Trimmer interrupted Colasante, saying that he had had conversations with several developers about the ordinance amendments.

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth pointed out that agendas were already posted publicly in advance of meetings, as required by law. She also noted that notifying every landowner by registered mail, as required by law, would be very costly.

“Every time one of those is first discussed, that individual notice be given to every property owner, I would say that you would probably have to add $60,000 to the budget,” she said. “…You would have to continually send notices all year, to probably half of the town, and that would require another clerical employee.”

Council members agreed to ask the Economic Development Commission to prepare a list of the town’s large developers and work with them to they are informed of proposed changes that might impact their businesses.

 

Motocross Track

 

At a public hearing that took place earlier in the evening, council members approved proposed comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance amendments to allow a motocross track on Buttonwoods Road.

The 14-acre property owned by Jordan Carlson, is located in an R-2 or residential district, which Carlson, represented by attorney John Mancini, sought to change to a Flex Tech zone. The council has received a positive recommendation from the Planning Board, which heard the application in August.

The council approval paves the way for Carlson to go through the development plan review process, however, in order to complete the review, he will have to obtain a Rhode Island Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or RIPDES permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. RIPDES permits are required for projects that are larger than five acres.

Carlson has already been cited by DEM for altering freshwater wetlands on his property and on Aug. 9, 2022, the agency issued a cease-and-desist order.

The Town of Richmond has also filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court for zoning violations.

Asked at Tuesday’s hearing about the remediation he will be required to do in order to receive his RIPDES permit, Carlson said,

“As far as DEM goes, we’ve actually not been served with any formal violations at all,” he said. “It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve had any contact with DEM, and the question at issue would be a boundary issue.”

Ellsworth disagreed.

“I believe that there is a violation,” she said. “The DEM has not taken formal legal action against Mr. Carlson. I suspect that’s probably because they’re short-handed, but they went to Superior Court and got a search warrant to search the property to determine the extent of the wetlands violations and they filed a return on that warrant that indicated that there were extensive wetlands violations.”

Mancini reminded the council that wetlands violations were not on the meeting agenda.

“What we’re asking is simply for the town to look at your land use map, your comprehensive plan, the Planning Board recommendation and the zone change, and you make the determination as to whether or not all those things are aligned, according to the request,” he said. “The request is simply to do that, R-2 to FT. It’s not to use this as a way to circumvent DEM regulations.”

After a brief discussion about noise generated by the track and the addition of a helicopter landing pad to transport injured riders, council members approved the comprehensive plan and zoning amendments.

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Forest Experiment to Take Place in Richmond

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

September 2nd 2023

RICHMOND – A 45-acre site at the former de Coppet estate, now known as the Hillsdale Preserve, is part of a forest health project that will help researchers determine which tree species will best adapt to the hotter, drier conditions that come with climate change.

This is the first project in Rhode Island to partner with the North American experimental forest management network, Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change, or ASCC. 

Working with the ASCC on this project are the University of Rhode Island, the University of Connecticut and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

Christopher Riely, Forestry Specialist and Research Associate at the University of Rhode Island, said the project, on the south side of Old Mountain Road, will involve removing some dead and live oaks, but many dead trees, or snags, will be left to provide wildlife habitat.

“Most of the snags, or the forest woody debris, are going to be left on site,” he said. “They provide different types of habitat when they’re standing and start to lose their branches, then they fall and provide habitat for other types of creatures and life cycles. It’s not a project to remove the dead trees. That’s not the focus of it at all.”

The forest restoration project involves using different management approaches in forest parcels in the United States and Canada to determine ways to help forests adapt to changing climate conditions.

“We know that our woods are a big part of the solution, the answer, if you will, to climate change, but they’re also stressed by some of the changes that we’re seeing, and just what those stresses are will depend on what ecosystem you’re in,” Riely said.

 

Some History of the Hillsdale Preserve

 

A successful investor and ardent conservationist, Theakston de Coppet died in 1937. His will stipulated that the land, at 156 Hillsdale Road, was to be managed, in trust, by the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, and that the property would eventually be transferred by the trustee to the state, after the General Assembly had passed a bill authorizing the state’s acceptance of the land and agreeing to the terms of the will, which read, in part,

“It is my special wish that the wilderness features within this  special area shall be kept unmodified; that this area shall be kept free of all commercial uses, and that the sanctuary and scientific values thereof shall always take precedence over purely recreational values; that the recreational uses of the area shall be so limited as to interfere with the major sanctuary and scientific purposes for which the reservation and sanctuary are dedicated.”

In 2014, after the death of the last beneficiary, whom De Coppet had stated could live in the lodge until his passing, the 1,825-acre parcel was transferred to the state along with a $20,000 annual donation for maintaining the property.

In 2019, DEM notified the Richmond Town Council that the state was planning to demolish the lodge, the only building on the property, which had been damaged by vandals.

The plan, at the time, was to document the historic features of the lodge and then tear it down, however, while it remains closed and in disrepair, the lodge is still standing.

 

Why Rhode Island?

 

DEM Chief of Agriculture and Forestry, Ken Ayars, said research on the Hillsdale property will guide management strategies for all state-owned forests.

“Our aim, in part, is to use it as kind of a research facility to test out techniques and strategies to better manage the forest that we do in the state, some 40,000 acres of land that we manage,” he said. “We envision de Coppet, or Hillsdale, being a place where we can experiment with refining the techniques that fit the changing climate, in particular. So, we first of all changed our approach and strategy to de Coppet and decided that that’s how we want to use it. It’s part of where I wanted to go in my new role in taking over forestry. It’s a beautiful place. It’s not taking away any of the other uses.”

The ASCC research project, Ayars said, fits well with DEM’s intended uses for the Hillsdale property.

“We were approached in this regard, to be part of the overall research that’s going on,” he said. “They wanted a Rhode Island site. We said, ‘let’s go with de Coppet,’ and that’s more or less how it came about.”

 

The Research Plan

 

Following established research protocols at all ASCC sites throughout North America, the land set aside for this forest restoration project will be divided into four areas, one of which, as the “control,” will receive no management whatsoever.

Riely explained that the remaining three, 10-acre parcels will receive varying degrees and types of interventions.

“One is termed the ‘resistance treatment,’ where you’re trying to hold the line against climate change as much as possible, promote forest health, productive growth of the trees,” he said.

“The next treatment is termed the ‘resilience to treatment.’ Here, it’s more like a rubber band – bend but not break, where either you may have significant ecological disturbances like the significant spongy moth outbreak that we had a few years ago.”

The last area is allocated to the “transition treatment,” which will include planting trees that are from more southerly climates

“Conditions are changing,” Riely said. “We’re not going to be able to maintain historic conditions because of these changing climate and weather conditions, so let’s do everything we can to proactively help the forest adapt to these future conditions.”

 

The Project Timeline

 

DEM Supervising Forester Will Walker, who is also involved in the research, said work at the site, scheduled for the end of August, has not begun.

“It hasn’t started yet,” he said. “…There’s a lot of extra work that’s involved and having these three areas manipulated and harvested - the resistance, the transition, the resilience - there’s a lot of groundwork, but then, you get equipment breakdowns. In this case, the logger is doing some maintenance on one of his machines and parts are hard to find.”

The goals of the project are to improve forest health, reduce the frequency and intensity of wildfires, provide habitat for wildlife and protect water quality.

Another objective of the research, Riely noted, is to make the findings available to everyone.

“This is something that other landowners in the region could learn from and emulate,” he said. “We want it to have utility to the typical landowners of the region, the family forest-owners in Richmond and elsewhere in South County and Connecticut, for example.”

Walker said the Hillsdale property offered exciting forest research opportunities.

“This parcel, Mr. de Coppet really set us up and we’re lucky to have it,” he said. “All of the other management areas, we follow rules and regulations, so on this [land] we can do what we want when it comes to scientific research, so yeah, we lucked out for sure.”

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Special Richmond Town Council Meeting for August 29th 2023

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No Decision on Electrical Inspector Performance

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 30th 2023

RICHMOND – At a special Town Council meeting on Tuesday afternoon, which lasted more than an hour and a half, council members were unable to reach a decision on whether to terminate Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt and agreed to continue the discussion at a future meeting.

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney recused himself from the discussion because he has a booth at the Washington County Fair, where the most recent complaints originated.

The meeting was a response to those complaints, which pertained to the comportment of Vaillancourt at the Washington County fairground.

The three written statements, dated Aug. 15 and sent to Town Administrator Karen Pinch, were signed by fair Chairman, Pete Fish, Sean McGrory, the Co-Vice Chairman of the fair, and Andy Lemol, the fair’s electrician.

All three complaints expressed discomfort with Vaillancourt’s demeanor on Aug. 15 and on the opening day of the fair, on Aug. 16.

Vaillancourt cited the fair with three violations, which, Fish wrote, should have been reported before opening day.

“I just feel that finding us with violations should have been reported prior to us opening on Wednesday thus avoiding giving the impression to our patrons that the fair is unsafe,” he said in his written statement.

McGrory wrote that he had been uncomfortable with the nature of Vaillancourt’s questions, which, he stated, seemed to imply that Vaillancourt wanted to be the fair’s electrician.

“In my opinion, it felt like he was trying to push his company/brand on us without going through proper channels (i.e. RFP Bids),” he wrote. “I felt like he was pushing his way to become the next fair electrician.”

 

Not the First Complaints

 

Vaillancourt, who was hired in March, is currently on probation following an incident at Pasquale Farms during which, he is said to have been impolite to the owner.

The council determined, at an Executive Committee meeting following that incident, that Vaillancourt could remain in his job, but that his probationary period would be extended, because of his reportedly abrasive demeanor.

That same leniency was not evident in the case of former Planning Board Vice Chair Nancy Hess, who was not reappointed to her position because a developer objected to her demeanor.

 

On Tuesday, the council once again found itself dealing with complaints about Vaillancourt.

With the complainants from the fair sitting in the audience, Vaillancourt countered some of the complaints, defending his behavior and his actions in citing the three violations and informing the council that the fair had multiple “open” or in-process but still to be approved permits.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she wanted the discussion to focus not on technical electrical issues, but on Vaillancourt’s behavior.

“The issue that I have is not with the electrical outlets, it’s not with the electricity,” she said. “I really just, I respect what you do as an electrician because it’s way over my head. The problem I have is, all of the complainants are complaining about the same thing; difficulty scheduling appointments, showing up unannounced, attitude and demeanor, trying to make sales, and business owners uncomfortable with those sales, and trying to sell his own business as an electrician.”

Council President Mark Trimmer said that receiving the additional complaints about Vaillancourt had warranted an assessment of his job performance.

“When you have a number of complaints and they all pretty much say the same thing, we obviously made a mistake,” he said. “We chose somebody who’s excellent as an electrician, technically highly skilled, but his interaction with the public leaves a lot to be desired and it’s really causing a problem, and that’s what the issue is. It isn’t a violation for a dunk tank or an outlet that’s upside down or a piece of chafed wiring in the wall. What we’re talking about is the way we work with people, the way we deal with people.”

Council member Michael Colasante, a staunch Vaillancourt supporter, deflected the discussion to imply that Pinch had attempted to hand-pick Mike Rosso, her choice of inspector, over Vaillancourt.

“The past inspector, not too long ago, that was the Town Administrator’s hand-picked – he was not qualified and he actually didn’t re-submit his application to us…Then, on top of that, Mr. Vaillancourt was on his way to the fair and he got an email…

Pinch said, referring to Electrical Inspector Al Vennari, “The electrical inspector was hired before I got here. He retired.” Mike Rosso was hired as interim inspector when Vennari retired, and he applied for the permanent position, but the council chose Vaillancourt.

“One of the inspectors,” Colasante replied. “I didn’t say ‘electrical.’”

Colasante pointed out that there were at least 20 unresolved electrical permits at the fair, which, fair representatives countered, were for participating outside vendors and other groups, and not the responsibility of the fair administration.

“There was a lot of pressure on Mr. Vaillancourt when he went into the fairgrounds, knowing that all these open - ended permits were pulled and never closed…and when he went down there, a lot of these permits were not compliant and they weren’t inspected and they continue to do the work, so it just seems like kind of like a rolling thing with the fairground, where people are taking a blind eye, all right? to what they’ve been doing over there.”

Trimmer repeated his concern that Vaillancourt’s behavior, not his technical competence, was in question.

“Again, my concern is behavior, not the violations, and the reason for this meeting is because of the behavior, not the violations,” he said. “We are talking about a continued attitude, or behavior, that began back in May when we had the first complaint when we had the first Executive session to discuss that and we decided, after a long, protracted meeting, that we would do a probationary period and hope that this behavior did not come up again, and now, we have two complaints, and possibly a third, that discuss this kind of behavior again.”

Colasante attempted once more to frame the issue as that of Vaillancourt being an outsider, and not the preferred choice of Town Hall insiders, including former Town Planner Shaun Lacey.

“Right off the bat, he didn’t like Mr. Vaillancourt, because it wasn’t his pick,” he said. “It wasn’t his choice. It wasn’t who he wanted in that office. It’s not up to Mr. Lacey or any department head to say ‘this is my pick’. Again, the Town Council, all right? the town charter, hires and fires.”

Wilcox tried to re-focus the discussion on Vaillancourt’s behavior.

“I find it hard to place blame on anybody else for Mr. Vaillancourt’s actions,” she said.

The council heard Vaillancourt’s responses to the three complaints. They also heard from the complainants.

Then, in an unexpected development, Trimmer, who had insisted that the performance review remain focused on Vaillancourt’s comportment, began talking about how the issue was actually poor communications between the town and the fair and also, how the fair’s infrastructure was inadequate.

Fish, the fair Chairman, said the two violations that Vaillancourt had cited had been corrected.

“We only had two violations – the Verizon truck and the dunk tank,” he said. “Both were corrected, okay? So, to sit here and say that the fair has all these violations that we have never gotten in writing, that we have made major strides to correct our infrastructure, we spent half a million dollars, to sit here and say that we have all these violations that no one has ever cited us for…To sit here and say we have all these infrastructure violations and all this infrastructure problem, I think, is unfair.”

Wilcox proposed continuing the meeting and Colasante proposed that Vaillancourt’s employment status should, therefore, no longer be in question.

Trimmer announced that he wanted Vaillancourt, the town’s two other inspectors, and the fair to work together and come up what he called an “action plan” to resolve any outstanding infrastructure and communications issues.

“At this point, what I’m looking for is a solution, not a termination, not a chop, bam kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t want to harm the fairgrounds by any means, by any way, shape or form. I want to improve what seems to be very poor communication between the town and the fairgrounds.”

Wilcox urged Trimmer to focus on Vaillancourt’s job performance.

“Respectfully, I really think that we should just have the job performance of Jeffrey Vaillancourt, within 30 days, … an open, real discussion about the job performance of an employee who’s still on probation,” she said.

As the chambers filled with people who had arrived for another meeting, council members agreed to continue the meeting to the second council meeting in September.

Colasante tried one last time to circumvent the discussion of Vaillancourt’s employment status.

“September 19, that all parties will get together and resolve this issue and the issue of Mr. Vaillancourt being terminated is a moot issue,” he said, adding that “good faith” discussions could not take place if Vaillancourt’s continued employment was still undecided.

Trimmer and Wilcox disagreed and the meeting was continued.

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Cardi Finances Prompt Questions about Roundabout

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 24th 2023

RICHMOND – Work on the roundabout at the junction of Routes 112 and 138 was halted last week, as promised, during the Washington County Fair. Construction was expected to resume this week, but it is unclear what, if any, work has resumed, and there are signs that the contractor, Cardi Corp., is in financial distress.

A visit to the site on Aug. 23 revealed no heavy construction work underway, and only two pickup trucks, both with Cardi Corp. logos, parked in the staging area across from the Town Hall. One of the trucks was empty, except for a section of pipe in the truck bed, possibly for the water line extension, which is also part of the project.

A worker was sitting in the second truck. There was no work taking place outside.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation first proposed the project in 2019. The traffic-calming measure, which will slow vehicles to about 25 miles per hour, has been used successfully in many other cities and towns.

The roundabout will include sidewalks and cross walks for pedestrians. RIDOT also plans to modify Richmond Townhouse Road between Routes 138 and 112, changing the two-way road to a one-way, eastbound direction.

The roundabout will cost $6.5 million and is expected to be completed by April, 2025. A new water line, a town project funded by a $292,660 grant from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, is being built at the same time.

 

Which company is now doing the work? Cardi or Manafort?

 

It has been reported that Cardi has handed off the roundabout project to the Connecticut-based construction company, Manafort Brothers Inc.

Asked Wednesday whether work was continuing at the site, the single construction worker in the truck, who did not provide his name, said only,

“My paycheck last week was from Manafort,” an indication that it is likely that Manafort has indeed assumed responsibility for the project.

RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said the state is aware that Cardi is handing over some projects to subcontractors, but he stressed that the timeline of the roundabout project would not be affected.

“The project is on time and on budget and will be built as designed,” he stated in an emailed response. “We are monitoring all RIDOT projects, including the Richmond Roundabout, to ensure they are completed on time, on budget, and to the scope outlined in the contract. We are aware that Cardi has been using subcontractors on some of its projects.”

Richmond Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber said he had been told that the work had not stopped.

“Workers say they are continuing to work, but Manafort has been named as one of several companies taking over the project,” he said.

Barber also noted that the project is bonded, which guarantees there will be sufficient funds to complete the work.

But whether that work has resumed remains unclear. The site was still idle on Thursday morning, and a call to Manafort was not returned.

The Cardi website states that the company, founded by Antonio Cardi in 1903, is the state’s “leading public works and site-work contractor.”

The company has not made any public announcements about its current financial position or possible closing.

Traffic, Illegal Parking Prompt Temporary Closing of Fair

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Traffic, Illegal Parking Prompt Temporary Closing of Fair

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 21st 2023

RICHMOND – Officials are at a loss to explain why so many people decided to flock to the 57th annual Washington County Fair on Saturday afternoon, but whatever the reasons, the roads couldn’t handle the traffic.

Richmond Carolina Fire Chief Scott Barber attributed the high attendance to several factors.

“The weather was really good for outdoor activity,” he said. “I think the fair was well-advertised and everybody was looking for something to do, and they all showed up at once.”

Barber said the problems began on Saturday. (Attendance figures were not available at the time this story was posted.)

“Saturday was the problem day. It started to build as the problem, because all the parking lots filled up kind of at once and then the traffic became a problem, so people took it upon themselves to start parking on Route 112, on both sides, and anywhere they could find to park, even the Richmond Elementary School,” he said. “They parked all over the lawn and filled the whole lot up there, west on [Route] 138 and that amount of pedestrians on these major roadways and no lighting to account for pedestrians, there was a safety concern that somebody could be struck, and then the traffic was gridlocked in every direction and if there’s some type of emergency, we couldn’t mobilize.”

In an effort to clear the gridlock, Barber said emergency responders, organizers and fair staff, who were connected at all times by radio, agreed to stop selling tickets at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We were trying to figure out how to get the traffic flowing and it just became apparent that we weren’t making any headway, and I suggested ‘Look, let’s stop the ticket sales for a little bit and see if we can work this whole traffic situation out, and then we’ll reassess,’” he said. “Well, after about 2 ½ hours, it wasn’t getting any better, you know? There are people that sat in line, waiting in traffic and everything, only to find out that they had closed the gates to admission. But they had never had that amount of people show up at once and we just couldn’t overcome the congestion with all the traffic.”

The traffic didn’t clear out until about 8:30.

 

 

Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney had his usual booth at the fair, to promote and sell his bottled sauces. Because he was already on the fairgrounds, he was unaware of the chaos on the roads, but he did notice a sharp decline in the crowd after ticket sales were halted.

“You don’t know what’s going on, so all of a sudden, you just see this big drop in people and you’re like ‘wow, there’s not a lot of people here, even though it’s absolutely beautiful here. How come?’ Then you start to hear rumors and everything else…but you can’t make any assumptions. People always jump to conclusions and most of the time, they’re making the wrong conclusion.”

There were plenty of those “wrong conclusions” on social media over the weekend, with one post even claiming, falsely, that a ride had spun out of control and collapsed.

Others said they were relieved that ticket sales had been stopped before someone was struck by a car or emergency responders were unable to get through the traffic to respond to a call.

Barbie - Jo Fratus, the fair’s Director of Communications and Marketing, dispelled erroneous social media reports that the fair had halted ticket sales because it was over capacity.

“Let me just be clear on what happened that night,” she said. “…The decision was made, not on capacity – there’s been some confusion – but the decision was made based on the volume of traffic and of patrons not parking properly outside of the fairgrounds, so, because of that high influx of traffic, and people parking in undesignated areas, the Richmond Police Department made the decision to close the fair. This was not the decision of the Washington County Fair.”

 

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the roads to the fair, Routes 138 and 112, had not been designed to handle such a large volume of traffic.

“We have 2023 levels of vehicle traffic on roads that were designed in the 1940s and it’s just simply overwhelming the system when we try and force that much traffic down our rural roads,” he said. “I think the fair was a victim of its own success. We had outstanding weather on Saturday and Sunday and both days an above average amount of people went to the fair, simply because the weather was so beautiful.”

Town Administrator Karen Pinch suggested that it might be useful to explore alternative parking and shuttle arrangements.

“I think we, as a community, being the emergency management community – police, fire and the fair, need to maybe put our heads together before next year’s fair and try to find some additional off-site parking and make sure that the public is aware of it and is encouraged to make use of it,” she said.

“There was a shuttle service this year to bring people from a lot on Beaver River [Road]. The problem is, I think, people coming from [Interstate] 95 have to go by 112 to get to it, and I feel like people think that it’s the path of least resistance to come here and they realize they can’t get in, so they just park wherever they can, which, in this case, was on 112 and 138, from what I’m told.”

Barber, a veteran of countless fairs and other public events, said he had never experienced an influx of traffic like the one on Saturday evening.

“It’s like any other system,” he said. “You don’t know the breaking point, because it’s never hit that point before and they’ve never had it to this degree. We have a playbook, but all the plays got exhausted.”

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Endangered Toads Released in Richmond

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 17th 2023

RICHMOND – On a recent muggy morning, a team of wildlife biologists and volunteers gathered at the edge of a property owned by the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust.

(We have agreed not to reveal the exact locations of the release sites.)

The plan was to release thousands of baby toads, or toadlets, on Land Trust property where a spadefoot toad research project has been underway since 2019.

There are only a couple of remnant populations of Eastern spadefoot toads in Rhode Island, so they are considered endangered.

The toads, which spend much of their lives buried in the soil, get their names from the hard appendages, or “spades” on their back feet, which the toads use to dig themselves into the ground.

A DEM video shows adult spadefoot toads and their digging behavior.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Suzanne Paton, who also chairs the Land Trust, stood in a field, awaiting the arrival of the toadlets.

With her were Scott Buchanan, the former Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management herpetologist and several volunteers.

DEM is currently writing a statewide spadefoot reintroduction and recovery plan, but the research is a collaborative effort involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DEM, the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.

As she waited, Paton explained that spadefoots breed when they are between two and three years old, between April and September, in ponds that contain water only for a short time.

“They use ponds that have a very short hydroperiod,” she said.

Buchanan added,

“It can be as extreme as two to three weeks.”

Paton said a couple of weeks would not be enough time for most other species of amphibians, like wood frogs, to reproduce, but spadefoot toad reproduction is brief and intense, triggered by big rainstorms.

“It’s usually when we have one of those big, flashy thunderstorms,” she said. “That triggers them to go and breed, when a pond fills up, and then it doesn’t last very long. So, it’s not every year that they breed.”

The two shallow breeding pools on Land Trust property were created in 2019, an initiative spearheaded by URI professor, Nancy Karraker.  Researchers are still waiting to see if any of the toads released in 2019 will breed. 

 

The Release

 

Lou Perrotti, Director of Conservation at Roger Williams Park Zoo, pulled up to the site and began pulling plastic storage bins out of his car. The bins contained the thousands of toadlets that he had been caring for since July 24, when they were still tadpoles. The tadpoles were rescued, in an effort dubbed “Operation Spadefoot,” from a rapidly - drying pool at a National Wildlife Refuge.

Perrotti explained that feeding the tadpoles was a big job, because they needed to eat twice a day. It was also obvious that he had enjoyed the process.

“In captivity, they’re fed two species of fruit flies and usually pinhead crickets, very tiny, new born crickets that we enrich with calcium and vitamin powder, which gives the toads a nice boost so they can adapt to the environment, which they do really quickly,” he said. “We’ve seen them at our pond releases eating prey right out of the boxes.”

The team split into two groups so they could release toadlets at each of the two Richmond sites. Reaching the first site, it was agreed that the toadlets would be vulnerable to the gray tree frogs and other species living near the pond, so the bins were brought closer to the woods.

“Ten, 20 meters off the edge of the pond is where we should put them,” Perrotti said, before lifting the lid from one of the bins.

Looking like shiny, black dots, the toadlets were surrounded in the bin by moist mosses and had to be carefully removed, counted and placed at the release sites.

Perrotti told the volunteers,

“Don’t be alarmed if you find mortality in the moss, there’s probably going to be some when you’re trying to feed that many animals, making sure they’re all getting two meals a day with that much competition, with me having bins in every room of the house.”

Perrotti reached in the bin and extracted several toadlets. Cupped in his hand, they were counted and then released close to the woods, where they hopped away. Team members were careful to stay clear of the toads’ paths, because they were so tiny and hard to see.

 

Asked whether saving the toads was worth the time and effort, Paton said it was gratifying to be able to support a native amphibian that had come so close to disappearing from Rhode Island.

“I feel like it’s a species that was native to our area, and part of our native ecosystem, and I just feel like it’s part of our responsibility to help ensure that all those species continue to exist here, and if we can do anything to help, then, for me personally, that’s something I enjoy being a part of,” she said.  “As a Land Trust, we’re just super grateful for all the support from all the experts, and people like Lou at the zoo, who actually know how to captive-rear these individuals so we can boost their populations.”

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Council Behavior, Tax Rate Lead Meeting Agenda

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Richmond Town Council Meeting for August 15th 2023

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 16th, 2023

RICHMOND – Town Council members discussed a letter, at Tuesday’s meeting, from former council member and Democratic Town Committee Chairman B. Joseph Reddish admonishing councilor Michael Colasante for his behavior and urging council President Mark Trimmer to exert more control over council members.

In his letter dated August 4, 2023, Reddish wrote,

“It was disappointing to witness Mr. Colasante’s disrespectful demeanor of shouting on Friday, July 21, 2023.”

Reddish was referring to the special council meeting to swear in Chariho School Committee member Jessica Purcell and approve the hiring of Town Planner, Talia Jalette.

At that meeting, Colasante, the only council member to oppose Jalette’s hiring because the council had not been involved in the interview process, compared the town to “the ship is going to rocks along the shore, because, we’re the number two tax town in the state and it’s the policies of this town that are bringing that ship to rocks.”

Colasante also stated that he believed Jalette’s hiring had been “ a done deal, behind the scenes as usual.”

Reddish, in his letter, requested that council members’ conduct be added as a discission item to Tuesday’s council agenda.

“The Town Council President’s responsibility is to manage meetings and manage behaviors,” the letter states. “President Trimmer, we request that you place an item on the agenda that would begin a public discussion that would address and set the expectations of all Town Councilors [sic] behavior in meetings.”

Colasante asked to respond to the letter and read a prepared statement, in which he was unrepentant and repeated his commitment to easing the burden on the town’s taxpayers.

“I will not back down from pushing back against high taxes and doing all I can to promote fiscal conservatism,” he said. “What is in the best interests of our town and its residents is that we on this council try to work together on issues.”

Trimmer responded,

“…the letter refers to conduct which makes it difficult to work together, so that’s what I was hoping would be addressed, and it wasn’t” he said. “It is a matter of shouting out, interrupting, making inflammatory statements that were matters of concern. When you say the town’s heading for the rocks, do you know how many phone calls I get on that? I mean, you just can’t be making those kinds of statements when there’s no basis in fact for it, and it’s inflammatory, it damages our ability to entice developers into the town and it damages our ability to work as a council.”

Councilor Helen Sheehan came to Colasante’s defense, as did Kathryn Colasante, who frequently defends her husband’s actions.

Councilor Samantha Wilcox described Colasante’s conduct as “aggressive” and “passive-aggressive.”

Councilor Vice President Richard Nassaney added,

“…things can move forward, as long as the vision is for the town and the people of the town, not for ideology, not for partisan, not for one’s personal, or one group of people’s ideas or goals,” he said. “It has to be for the entire town.”

Trimmer asked that Reddish’s letter be filed.

 

The Finance Director Pushes Back

 

In response to Colasante’s frequent assertion that Richmond has the second-highest tax burden in the state, Finance Director Laura Kenyon produced figures showing Richmond’s taxes in a more favorable light.

The town’s residential tax rate in Fiscal Year 2023, Kenyon noted, is the seventh-highest in Rhode Island.

“We were 11th in Fiscal Year ’22, 7th in ’23 and now we also called every city and town for the ’23-’24 and we’re 17th,” she said. “…The other issue is the tax levy over the last six years, and from Fiscal Year ’18 to ’24, the total tax levy is up 9% for those six years. I just wanted to also say that when you’re using metrics of states and cities and towns, you have to understand the calculation and the discrepancies that could happen.”

Colasante countered that the “tax burden” as he described it, was, in fact, the second-highest in the state and that municipal spending had increased 38% from 2018 to 2024.

Kenyon pointed out that Colasante’s calculation of the tax burden was based on a median home value of $319,000 when the median in Richmond is lower - $287,000.

Trimmer pointed out that 80% of the town’s budget went to the Chariho Regional School District, and therefore, largely out of the town’s control.

 

Other Business

 

The council approved an amendment to the Rules of Procedure, which would require council meetings to end at 9 p.m. unless a majority of council members vote to extend the meeting.

There was a longer discussion of whether the sealed minutes and materials of executive sessions should remain in electronic form after council members have reviewed them.

Colasante has stated that he wants hard copies of executive session minutes and cited the Chariho School Committee as an example of a public body that receives hard copies of executive minutes in their packets.

“Even the fact that we go into executive session and we come out and we seal the executive session minutes, we can still tell somebody exactly what happened in executive session, so whether or not we get a hard copy of the minutes or not, it doesn’t matter, because it stays within this body,” he said.

After hearing an explanation of the evolution of the current policy from Town Clerk Erin Liese, the council, with Sheehan and Colasante opposed, voted to retain the current policy of sealing the executive session minutes.

 

Attorney’s fees

 

Following the council’s appointment of Clay Johnson to the School Committee and the subsequent challenge by Jessica Purcell, which was upheld by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the town must pay the legal fee of attorney Joseph Larisa, who unsuccessfully defended Johnson and the town.

The fee is $22,240.

Wilcox pointed out that Larisa had charged for some work that had not been authorized by the council and that paying for that work would constitute a dangerous precedent.

The council voted to pay Larisa, with Wilcox and Nassaney opposed.

The town may also be required to pay the legal fees of Purcell’s attorney, Jeffrey Levy. Levy’s fee, including the court filing fee and printing costs, is $26,846. Larisa has filed an objection on behalf of the town, but there has been no decision on Purcell’s petition.

(The move by three councilors to appoint Johnson rather than Purcell, who received the next highest number of votes, will end up costing the very taxpayers they have vowed to protect, because taxpayers will foot the bill for that politically-motivated effort.)

 

Other Business

 

The discussion of the council’s authority over the hiring, firing and promotions of staff continued, with a debate over what the town charter requires.

Pointing to what he described as “conflicting language” in the charter, Colasante said the council, not the Town Administrator, should have authority over hiring and firing.

Sheehan suggested that council members should be present during the final interviews of candidates.

Wilcox said she would ask Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft an ordinance amendment, and Ellsworth offered to draft an amendment that would establish a hiring and firing process.

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Work Begins at Controversial Solar Site

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 12th 2023

RICHMOND – Once green with rows of crops, the field at 172 Beaver River Road is now scraped bare and studded with heavy equipment.

A construction trailer and a portable restroom have been installed at the entrance, along with a “No Trespassing” sign and a surveillance camera.

Years of opposition from residents of the historic Beaver River Valley, as well as the town government and boards have been futile, and the construction of the commercial solar energy facility has begun.

 

The town is overruled

 

The effort to build a solar array in the field dates back to 2018, when GD Beaver River I LLC and property owner William Stamp Jr. applied for a special use permit, which was required because the property was in a low-density residential zone.

The zoning officer at the time, Russel “Bo” Brown, denied the application because it would not conform to a town ordinance requiring that solar arrays be within two miles of a utility substation.

The Planning Board denied the application because the project would not be consistent with the objectives stated in the town’s comprehensive plan, which include the preservation of rural landscapes, cultural resources and the protection of the town’s rural and architectural heritage. In addition, the board said that as part of the federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers system, the scenic qualities of the Beaver River deserved protection.

The developers did not give up their quest to build the commercial solar array, first appealing the case to Rhode Island Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board, which again denied the application.

But the developers appealed yet again to Superior Court and this time, they prevailed.

The decision, issued on March 31, 2023 by Rhode Island Superior Court judge Sarah Taft-Carter, stated that the board’s reasons for denying the application were “unsupported,” and therefore, the application should have been granted. The decision also directed the Zoning Board to immediately issue the special use permit required for the project to proceed.

 

A final effort to reverse the court decision

 

In a last-ditch attempt to halt the project, the town has petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, a rarely-granted order to review the decision by the lower court.

Submitted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth on June 30, the Memorandum of Law filed with the petition states:

“The trial court misconceived or overlooked material evidence and made findings that were clearly wrong in determining that the Board’s decision was based on insufficient evidence.”

Ellsworth concludes that a commercial-scale solar facility, while laudable in principle, is inappropriate in a rural community that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There is no question that production of solar energy is crucial to slowing the rate of climate change and mitigating the effects of fossil fuel use,” Ellsworth wrote. “But solar installations are not appropriate in every setting. If there was ever a place where it would be obviously wrong to install acres of solar energy panels, the Beaver River Road Historic District is it. Landscapes such as the one on Beaver River Road are what make each city and town in Rhode Island unique. Richmond has always been an agricultural community. No place in Richmond reflects that history more vividly than Beaver River Road. The Zoning Board’s decision in this case reflects the Town’s effort to maintain its rural character and keep alive a part of its rural past.”

A second petition for a writ of certiorari was submitted on June 29 by attorney Thomas Dickinson, who represents abutting property owner and historic preservationist John Peixinho, who could not comment publicly on the project because his case is before the courts.

 

Construction begins

 

After winning their court appeal, the developers wasted no time starting the project. If the rapid pace of construction is any indication, Green Development is not waiting for determinations on the two petitions.

From their home, built in the mid-1700s and located across the road from the construction site, Gail Tibbits and her husband Andy have watched with dismay as the field has been transformed.

“It’s very sad to see what’s happening out there, more so for my husband than for me,” she said. “It was his grandfather’s farm that they bought, back in 1925. His mother and his three aunts were raised here.”

Andy Tibbits’ grandfather sold the land in the 1960s because he was too told to farm it, and it was later sold again, to the Stamp family.

Stamp’s decision to convert the property from farmland to a solar field follows the sale by his daughter, Cindy Duncan, of her Richmond plant nursery to Green Development.

That project drew complaints from neighbors during and after its construction and when it was completed, the Duncans sold what was left of the property to  Pasquale Farms  and moved away.

“It’s just hard,” Tibbits said. “It’s hard to look out the window. Right now, we’ve got a fairly decent buffer of trees along the road on the opposite side.”

The trees are on town property so the developer can’t remove them, but they are deciduous, so Tibbits said she was expecting the site to be more visible in the winter.

Tibbits also worries about the value of her property and whether it would be negatively impacted if she and her husband ever decided to sell it.

“We’ll see what happens, 10 years, 15 years from now if we want to try to sell,” she said. “We have a historic home here, but that is going to take away from it. That was another thing, when the National Register recognized this road. And now what?”

(A listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not preclude development.)

The real estate tax for the site is still to be determined.

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said it was unfortunate that construction had begun.

“It’s very disappointing that the property owner and the solar developer have chosen to move ahead with this project, given the fact that the public is so dead set against it,” he said. “My feeling is that once this type of land is gone, it’s gone forever. We’re giving away, for small money, beautiful land that will never be replicated again.”

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Board Recommends Zoning Change for Motocross Track

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

August 9th, 2023

RICHMOND – With Chair Phil Damicis absent and Vice Chair Dan Madnick running the meeting, the Planning Board voted at a public hearing to recommend to the Town Council that it approve amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan to allow a race track for motorcycles on a property on Buttonwoods Road.

The board also voted, in a separate discussion that followed the hearing, to amend the zoning ordinance to allow the race track.

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth advised the Board,

“Because you’re doing two separate things, you need to separate them in your mind, and when you’re ready to vote on a recommendation, deal with them separately.”

Attending the meeting for the first time was newly-hired Town Planner Talia Jalette, who began working for the town on Aug. 7.

Attorney John Mancini, representing property owner Jordan Carlson, presented the application. The parcel is in an R-2, or residential zone, in which motorized vehicle racing is prohibited.

“The petition requests that the town amend its comprehensive plan, amend its zoning ordinance and also amend its future land use map to designate this parcel as FT, which is flex tech,” Mancini said. “In addition to that, the applicant is also asking for an amendment to your table of uses, which is your zoning ordinance, to permit, in the FT [flex tech] zone, a particular use, identified as race track for motorized vehicles.”

Manicini also noted that the 14-acre parcel is located in a largely industrial area.

“When you look at the zoning map, you will see that the parcel is surrounded by industrial, existing flex tech zoning, public and governmental zoning and further industrial, with open space across the way,” he said. “So, the existing parcel zoned there, R- 2, really isn’t consistent or congruent with the surrounding zoning and accordingly, we argue that the proposed zoning is a better reflection of what the future land use map has indicated that this area should be.”

During the public hearing, those who commented, including Town Council member Michael Colasante and the town’s Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt, spoke in support of the race track.

Board members agreed that the amendments should be specifically for motorcycles and that the “motorized vehicles” described in the initial proposal was too vague and might leave the door open for future auto racing.

The board voted unanimously to recommend to the council that the comprehensive plan be amended from medium density residential to flex tech. The board also recommended the council approve the requested zoning change from R-2 single family residential to flex tech.

 

Next steps

 

If the Town Council approves the amendments, Jordan Carlson will still be required to go through the development plan review process and clear one major state permitting hurdle.

In order to complete his application, he will have to obtain a Rhode Island Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or RIPDES permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. RIPDES permits are required for projects that are larger than five acres.

However, Carlson has already been cited by DEM for altering freshwater wetlands on his property and on Aug. 9, 2022, the agency issued a cease and desist order.

The order describes what state inspectors found after obtaining a warrant to enter the property. The warrant inspection took place on June 22, 2022 and revealed what DEM describes as “unauthorized alterations to Freshwater Wetlands.”

The order describes the violations:

“The inspection revealed that at least the following activities have been undertaken on the Property by you or your agents without the authorization of the DEM: Performing site work within several wetland corridors, including at least clearing, stumping, grubbing, filling, grading, and creating surface disturbances, within at least Swamp, a Perennial River/Stream, Streams, 50-Foot Perimeter Wetlands [associated with Swamp and Pond] Riverbank Wetlands [associated with the River/Streams], culverting an Area Subject to Storm Flowage (ASSF) and withdrawing water from/causing sedimentation within Pond.”

Asked Wednesday about the status of the case, DEM spokesman Michael Healey would say only that “It’s an open and unresolved case and the investigation is ongoing.”

Carlson would be required to remediate the wetlands damage before the state will issue a RIPDES permit.

The Town of Richmond, represented by Town Solicitor Michael Cozzolino, has also filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court for zoning violations.

 

Riverhead expansion

 

Having reviewed 600-page application for the expansion of Riverhead Building Supply at 38 Kingstown Road, the Board approved the preliminary plan for the project.

The proposal involves the construction of a 200,000-square foot warehouse and distribution facility.

The new development will add 15 acres of construction to the 48-acre site, bringing the build—out to about 26 acres. The company, which is owned by GX3 LLC of New York State, plans to invest $20 million in the project.

 

The Preserve

 

In other business, the board approved a request from The Preserve at Boulder Hills for a one-year extension of the Phase 2 Master Plan approval, involving, in part, the construction of a medical facility and general store on Kingstown Road.

Asked about taxes owed to the town and fulfilling the affordable housing requirement, Preserve representatives said the company was looking for properties to develop as affordable housing that would satisfy the mandate.

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Purcell Sworn in, New Planner Hired, But Not Without Drama

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

July 21st 2023

RICHMOND – At a special Town Council meeting Friday,

Jessica Purcell was sworn in as the Richmond Chariho School Committee member.

This was the culmination of a six-month effort by Purcell that began last January, when Clay Johnson was appointed to the vacant seat. Purcell, who had received the third highest number of votes, and would have been next in line for the seat, took her case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The Johnson appointment was justified on the grounds that the Chariho Act took precedence over the town charter, giving the council the authority to appoint him.

Purcell’s attorney, Jeffrey Levy, argued that while the Chariho Act does require the Town Council to fill the vacant committee seat, the town charter states that the council should choose the next highest vote-getter; in this case, Purcell.

In an opinion issued on July 18, with one justice dissenting, the court granted Purcell’s petition to fill the seat.

There was a question of whether Purcell could be sworn in on Friday, before the town received the “judgment of ouster” from the court, officially removing Johnson from the seat, but Town Administrator Karen Pinch said she had been told that the town could proceed with Purcell’s swearing-in.

“… a court clerk has advised that there will be no separate “judgment of ouster” coming,” she said.

Levy administered the oath of office.

Clay Johnson’s appointment to the School Committee was supported by council President Mark Trimmer, and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante. Both Colasante and Sheehan were in the court room with other Johnson supporters on April 13 during the oral arguments.

However, before the swearing-in ceremony, Colasante told Purcell that he had voted to appoint Johnson because Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth had told him to do so.

“Jessica, I want to make one comment,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the advice of our solicitor, if the advice of the solicitor was to appoint you, that’s the way we should follow, I would have followed that. I was only going under the guise [sic] of the recommendation of the solicitor. With that being said, there was nothing personal against you.”

It should be noted that Ellsworth did state that the Chariho Act, because it is a state law, does supersede the town charter, however, she advised the council that they should abide by the will of the voters, which would have meant appointing Purcell. Ellsworth also warned that failing to appoint Purcell would result in additional legal expenses that the town would have to pay. So far, the town has been billed about $22,000 by attorney Joseph Larisa, who represented the town, Clay Johnson and the School Committee, and may incur additional attorneys’ fees.

A motion by councilor Samantha Wilcox to appoint Purcell to the school committee received unanimous approval.

 

New planner approved, but not without drama

 

The council, with Colasante opposed, voted to hire Talia Jalette to replace Shaun Lacey, who is leaving for another position at the end of the month.

 

In a July 19 letter to the Town Council, Pinch stated the reasons she and the other members of the hiring committee recommended Jalette for the job.

“An interview committee of Shaun Lacey, Erin Liese, Planning Board Vice-Chair Dan Madnick and I met with Talia on July 13th,” she wrote. “After this interview, we felt comfortable that she would be capable of performing the job and would fit in here in Richmond. Additionally, as a resident of Richmond, we felt that she understood the town dynamics as well or better than anyone. All of this, coupled with Shaun’s professional exposure to her made her our unanimous choice.”

Jalette, the former Senior Planning Clerk, was the planner in Hopkinton for a little over two years, taking the position after the retirement of planner Jim Lamphere. Hopkinton officials said they had received Jalette’s letter of resignation on July 19.

At Friday’s meeting, Sheehan and Colasante said they would have preferred to personally interview Jalette and the other applicants, rather than follow the recommendation of the hiring committee.

“I don’t know who came up with the interview committee of Shaun Lacey and Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick,” Colasante said. “That wasn’t run by the council and if anybody is best qualified to sit in an interview on this council, because I don’t think anybody else here is an employer, I think it would be me, to sit there.”

Colasante asserted, as he has in the past, that hiring and firing is the purview of the council, and proposed that the council meet in executive session to discuss additional information that he said he had gathered.

Trimmer interjected, stating that the town charter gave the Town Administrator authority over personnel.

“We oversee it, but we don’t hire and fire,” he said.

Colasante responded,

“I just don’t know how the Town Hall’s been operating like this for the last 10 years,” he said. “That’s why I ran, to try and straighten some of these things out, because, again, like I said, the ship is going to rocks along the shore, because, we’re the number two tax town in the state and it’s the policies of this town that are bringing that ship to rocks, and…”

Councilor Wilcox broke in,

“Mr. President,” she began, asking Trimmer to intervene.

Colasante continued,

“And I want to see it stopped,” he said.

Colasante’s wife, Kathryn, asked to speak but was denied. The special council meeting did not include a public comment period.

Sheehan continued to complain that the position had been advertised for just two weeks, there had been six applicants and the council was being asked to “rubber stamp” the hiring.

“Obviously, this is a done deal, behind the scenes as usual,” Colasante added.

 

The vote to hire Jalette was four to one with Colasante opposed. She will begin her new position on Aug. 7, with an annual salary of $67.000.

Colasante, who lost his bid for the council presidency to Trimmer, has continued to challenge Trimmer, Wilcox, and Vice President Richard Nassaney.

At Friday’s meeting he repeated several times that he made his own decisions and did not rely on the opinions of others.

“About deferring to the experts all the time – I don’t relinquish my responsibility as Town Council President,” he said in a clearly audible slip of the tongue. “I come here with a set of experiences and whatnot, and I just don’t defer to the experts.”

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Council Approves Aquifer Protection Ordinance Changes

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

July 19th 2023

RICHMOND – By a margin of three votes to two, the Town Council approved amendments to the Aquifer Protection Ordinance at a public hearing Tuesday.

Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained that the changes will streamline and clarify groundwater protection regulations, allowing development in areas where it was previously prohibited. Lacey, who will be departing at the end of the month, also alluded to efforts by some to undermine the changes.

“In the day leading up to tonight’s public hearing, I was made aware of concerns by a minor percentage of the public…” he said. “My feeling on the subject is, it’s probably based on two things, a lack of understanding of these regulations, what they sought out to do, but unfortunately, I think part of it, too, is a little bit of a lack of trust in the process, and the message that I really want to send to you, and I think everyone in this room and I think, people that are on the call watching the deliberations, is that, if you trust your staff and you trust your Planning Board, and you trust your experts, many of whom that are sitting in this room tonight, good things are going to happen.”

Councilor Michael Colasante, a vocal opponent of the amendments, said he had personally contacted several developers, including GFI, Capstone Properties and D’Ambra, all of whom had expressed concerns about the changes.

“Businesses may feel the regulations cause economic hardship,” he said. “…This, however, may be what some people want, while they give lip service to economic development.”

Council member Samantha Wilcox asked whether it was appropriate for Colasante to be speaking on behalf of business owners and Trimmer agreed that it was not.

“Each and every meeting we have seems to result in a pontification on how three members are anti-economic development,” he said. “… This is ridiculous. It’s disrespectful, it’s disruptive and it’s a waste of people’s time.”

During the public comment period, some residents said they supported the amendments and others, including former council member Lauren Cacciola, appeared to mistakenly equate the amendments with higher property taxes.

“We cannot afford to live here,” she said “I work a full - time job. I care about the environment, I really do, but why do we need this? How much is it going to cost? What’s going to go into this?”

Representing one of the large developers was Rick Zini of Capstone Properties, who was participating remotely. Capstone manages the largely vacant Chariho Plaza, an eyesore that has been a source of angst for the current and previous Town Councils.

There have been unconfirmed indications that the company might be prepared to invest in the plaza and that the council’s chronic divisions might actually be discouraging development.

 

“I just want to make a couple of statements on the record, as Capstone’s name has been brought up on multiple occasions, including this evening,” Zini said. “I think it’s clear that everyone understands that there are large, commercial taxpayers in the town, such as Capstone, that are watching the process and are informed about the proposed regulations. Capstone has not spoken in favor or against the regulations, but has been observing in recent weeks the process that has been happening. I think it’s important also to state that before new development can happen in the town, the town must decide what it wants for development and how that is regulated. That needs to be settled before any developer or major taxpayer is going to make additional investment in the town. It’s also important to state that good development happens with both protecting the town’s natural resources and working with the town on its issues.”

The council voted three to two to approve the amendments, with Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed.

 

Smoking in public

 

At a second public hearing, the council considered amendments to the town’s smoking ordinance, proposed by Police Chief Elwood Johnson, that would prohibit the smoking or vaping of cannabis in outdoor public places.

However, the proposed ordinance, drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, would also prohibit smoking tobacco in public outdoor spaces.

Sheehan said she supported the prohibition of public marijuana use, but not cigarettes.

“I do not support a ban on smoking cigarettes in an outdoor public place, but that’s the way this was written. It included regular cigarettes. Cigarettes are cancer-causing, but that does not give you the right to control it,” she said.

Colasante agreed with Sheehan and asked that only cannabis be named in the ordinance.

“Smoking a cigarette does not impair…but marijuana does,” he said. “It’s basically the TSG [sic] that is so high today.”

Samantha Wilcox pointed out that the amendment targeted “the nuisance of secondhand smoke.”

The amendment was approved three votes to two, with Sheehan and Colasante opposed.

 

The council meeting

 

The disagreements continued into the regular Town Council meeting. Colasante complained he had not had enough time to read the executive session minutes before being asked to approve them and proposed they be included in the councilors’ packets. His effort was unsuccessful.

Wilcox said she felt there had been sufficient time to review the minutes, which are usually less than two pages long.

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said that attaching the executive session minutes to the packets would make them vulnerable to leaks.

“Another reason executive session minutes are handed to you just before the meeting is because they’re executive session minutes,” he said. “You read them and you give them back. If you have them before a meeting, it gives the opportunity for that information to be put out into the public, shared with people who are not privy to that information.”

 

Mark Trimmer proposed limiting the duration of Town Council meetings. Ellsworth said the Rules of Procedure would have to be amended to formalize that change, and said she would draft a motion for the council to consider at the next meeting.

There was a lengthy discussion of another proposal by Trimmer to take the $20,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that had previously been allocated to the hiring of an economic development director and restore those funds to the design study of the Wyoming district. The study was a casualty of the town’s failed budget.

“What I realized in the last seven months was that Shaun [Lacey] was doing a great job as basically, an economic development director,” Trimmer said. “He’s been working with all these developers and he’s got a lot of things going on if were they to bear fruition, would really help the town financially and really mesh with what we’re all trying to do here.  I feel that hiring an economic development employee – I’ve always been against hiring an employee…and I continue to be against that.”

Trimmer added that he was also opposed to using ARPA funds for a review of the town’s planning and zoning ordinances. The council had previously approved $15,000 for the ordinance review and $135,000 for an economic development director.

“I just would rather see the money used for something that will give an absolute, definite benefit, rather than to be used for something that might give a benefit.”

Ellsworth pointed out that it would probably be a waste of time and money to hire someone to review the town’s ordinances since the General Assembly, during the last session, had passed significant changes that will impact the town.

“They will require us to re-write probably, most of the zoning ordinance and much of the subdivision regulations, and I’m not sure what value there would be now in reviewing the regulations and ordinance now, when we know we will have to enact new ones by next January,” she said.

Trimmer said he wanted to redirect the ARPA funds to certain federal grants, which are expected to require matching funds from the town.

Trimmer’s proposal was approved with Colasante and Sheehan opposed.

The council also approved allocating $40,000 to a small business grant program, which would be available to existing businesses as well as new businesses coming to the town.

 

Jessica Purcell

 

After her victory in the Rhode Island Supreme Court, announced on July 18,  Jessica Purcell will be formally sworn in to the Chariho School Committee at a special Town Council meeting on Friday at 9:30 a.m. 

The council will also consider a request to approve the hiring of a new Town Planner to replace Shaun Lacey.

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Supreme Court finds for Purcell

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

July 18th 2023

PROVIDENCE – In an opinion released Tuesday morning, the Rhode Island Supreme Court granted a petition by Jessica Purcell challenging the Richmond Town Council, Clay Johnson and the Chariho School Committee over the council’s appointment of Johnson to fill a vacancy on the school committee.

Purcell, a Democrat, came third in the Nov. 8, 2022 election, losing lost her bid for a School Committee seat by just 27 votes.  When Richmond committee member Gary Liguori announced in January that he was moving out of Rhode Island and vacating his seat, it was believed that under the provisions of the town’s Home Rule charter, Purcell, with the next-highest number of votes, would be named to fill the seat.

But on Jan. 19, three of the five members of the Richmond Town Council, council President Mark Trimmer and members Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan, appointed fellow Republican, Clay Johnson, to the vacant seat.

Purcell, represented by attorney Jeffrey Levy, took her case to the Supreme Court.

Named as defendants and represented by attorney Joseph Larisa were Johnson, the Richmond Town Council and the Chariho School Committee.

Oral arguments were presented before the Supreme Court on April 13.

 

The long-awaited opinion

 

In their opinion, released Tuesday, Chief Justice Paul Suttell and Justices William Robinson III, Melissa Long and Erin Lynch Prata, the author of the opinion, granted Purcell’s petition with Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg the lone dissenter.

Purcell said Levy had notified her Tuesday morning of the court decision.

“My heart stated beating fast. I was sweating,” she said. “Relief was the biggest part. We went from winter to spring to summer.”

Levy, who had come under intense questioning by Goldberg during his oral argument, said he had been uneasy about whether the justices would find in favor of his client.

“I was a little bit concerned after the oral argument,” he said. “The oral argument consisted of Justice Goldberg yelling at me.”

 

The arguments

 

Levy’s argument was based on the compatibility of the Chariho Act and the town charter, because the act requires the Town Council to fill a vacant School Committee seat and the charter states that the person the council chooses should be the next-highest vote-getter.

Larisa countered that the Chariho Act and the town charter cannot, as Levy had argued, be harmonized because they are fundamentally incompatible.

 

In their opinion, the four justices concluded that the charter superseded the Chariho Act.

“The Charter is specific in its outline of a substantive procedure to fill the vacancy and precise in who the appointee will be,” the opinion states. “The Charter is clearly more specific. For these reasons, the Charter controls.”

The opinion continues:

“Our ultimate goal is to give effect to the purpose of the statutes as intended by the General Assembly, and we presume that the Legislature knew that the Chariho Act included a general vacancy provision for the School Committee when it approved the Charter that included a more specific vacancy-filling provision for the School Committee …. It is clear that it was the will of the voters in the Town to have procedures in place to fill a vacancy on the School Committee with an individual who had shown some effort and desire to be on the School Committee by running for the seat.”

 

Goldberg dissents

 

In a 38-page dissenting opinion, Justice Goldberg wrote,

“After carefully examining the relevant statutory provisions upon which petitioner Purcell relies, including the various iterations of the Chariho Act that span sixty-five years and this Court’s numerous and clear pronouncements when

confronted with a provision in a home rule charter that concerns the constitutional authority over education and elections reserved to the General Assembly, I am of the opinion that Article 2, § 5(B) of the Richmond Town Charter does not supersede the Chariho Act under article 13 of the Rhode Island Constitution. … Because Article 2, § 5(b) of the Richmond Town Charter directly, and irreconcilably conflicts with a special act of the General Assembly concerning the election of school committee members, our jurisprudence has been clear and unequivocal: The charter provision must be explicitly validated by the General Assembly to be operative.

 

What happens now?

 

Purcell’s appointment to the School Committee

 

The Chariho School Committee is awaiting the court’s written “judgment of ouster,” which will remove Johnson from the committee seat. The Town Council will then swear in Purcell, who is expected to be installed in time for the School Committee meeting on Aug. 8.

Chariho School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said she was relieved that the matter of who should fill the seat had been resolved.

“I am happy that there has been a resolution to the matter of who should be appointed to the School Committee should there be a vacancy,” she said. “Jessica has proven, both by initially running for a seat and staying involved with Chariho, that she is willing to work hard for the people of Richmond.”

 

Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Legal fees

 

The town is paying Larissa’s $21,792 bill for legal services, and Levy said he intended to ask the court to order the town to pay his bill as well. (That amount is not known.)

“I intend to ask the court to require the town to pay my attorney’s fees,” he said. “It’s not fair the other side gets their fees paid but Jessica is on her own.”

 

Mending fences

 

Trimmer, who voted to install Johnson on the committee, now says he regrets his decision.

“I plan to apologize to Jess,” he said Tuesday. “I didn’t do it maliciously. I felt I was following the law and the laws do not harmonize.”

Trimmer said he wanted to swear in Purcell at the earliest opportunity.

“My goal is to do this as soon as possible, and right a wrong that was made and move forward,” he said.

Purcell said that waiting six months for a decision had been difficult, but she added that she had not allowed it to consume her.

“I did get on with my life,” she said. “I never lost my priorities – my family, my work and my home.”

In a written statement emailed later, Purcell added,

“All Richmond residents have been truly served by this decision as it upholds the power of our votes and voices in how we deserve to be represented by elected officials. 

This ruling affirms what we've known all along, Richmond deserves representatives not rulers. The Town Council should have followed the procedure in the Town Charter and appointed the next highest-vote getter from the last election. Three members chose to follow political motivations instead of local obligations and they have been thoroughly rebuked by a majority of the RI Supreme Court, and many fellow residents.”

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Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for July 11th 2023

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Board to Explore Route 3 Re-zone 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

July 13th 2023

RICHMOND – Members of the Planning Board agreed at their Tuesday meeting to ask the Economic Development Commission to determine whether property owners in a part of town near of Route 3 would be willing to consider re-zoning their properties from residential to commercial or light industrial.

The board approved a memorandum to the EDC which reads, in part,

“We would like to work with you to determine whether rezoning some of the property abutting Route 3 would be feasible. Would your members be willing to contact property owners in that area to find out how they would feel about rezoning of their property? We would also like to hear your suggestions about which areas are the most appropriate for rezoning, and whether the owners of existing businesses have told you if there are any locations where they would like to expand or relocate.”

The board asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft the memorandum after a discussion during the June 27th meeting about the need for economic development in the town and possible sites for new businesses.

After looking at a map of the town and determining that there are few suitable sites remaining, board Vice Chairman Dan Madnick, who initiated the discussion, and other board members, agreed that the best prospective area is north of Wyoming on Route 3, east of Route 95.

“That area has easy access to Route 95 and most of it is outside the aquifer overlay, agricultural overlay, and flood hazard overlay districts,” the memorandum reads.

But the area is currently zoned residential. The Planning Board has usually re-zoned parcels after approving proposals from their owners, however in this case, the town would be reaching out to property owners to determine whether they would be interested in having their parcels re-zoned.

“We believe that some property owners welcome such a change because it would make their property more valuable, but many others would not want to see commercial or industrial uses in their neighborhood,” the memorandum reads.

 

The Preserve

 

Board members approved a request from The Preserve to waive the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s permitting requirements for the development’s Phase 2 applications.

The second phase includes two projects at the front entrance of the development: a gas station/ country store and an urgent care and medical office building.

Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained that there are three state permits that are normally required before the preliminary plan is considered complete.

“The septic system, we have a RIPDES [RI Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] … and thirdly, you have freshwater wetlands,” he said.

The waiver allows the Planning Board to consider the applications for the two projects without the state permits already in place. It is likely that the permits will have been issued by the time the project receives final approval.

Board Chairman Philip Damicis said,

“Overall, I don’t see a major issue, if the risk itself is primarily made on the Preserve - all the engineering, without wasting the town’s time.  Part of the reason we asked for this is, we don’t want to all of us to go down that road and have to come all the way back and do it all over again. The only question I have, is this the appropriate time?”

The Board approved a motion to waive the permit requirement. Member Daniel Ashworth, a firearms instructor at The Preserve, recused himself from the vote.

 

Housing needs survey

 

The town’s housing needs survey, a collaborative effort by Lacey and board member Bryce Kelley, was presented to the board, and comments were generally favorable.

Lacey said the survey results would provide an in-depth view of housing needs in the town.

“There might be something…that we could use to encourage the right type of growth,” he said.

Madnick added,

“If we want to have economic development to be able to hire people for businesses, you have places for them to live,” he said.

 

Lacey says goodbye

 

This was the last Planning Board meeting for Lacey, who is leaving at the end of the month. The town has begun the search for his replacement, but the new Town Planner will have to deal with the avalanche of new legislation approved during the last session.

Ellsworth said she had spent five hours reading the changes, which, she admitted are complex, but she told the board that she would do her best to break them down so board members could understand them.

“I’m going to try and make it as easy as possible,” she said.

Damicis asked Ellsworth to break down the changes into amendments that the town would be required to comply with and amendments that would be up for discussion.

“If you could just differentiate in this, ‘you have no choice’ and ‘these are the things we need to sit down and discuss, work on,’” he said.

 

The APOD hearing

 

A public hearing on amendments to the town’s aquifer protection overlay district ordinance will take place at 5 p.m. on July 18. While the changes update and clarify the regulations, there has been opposition from at least one Town Council member. The amendments have been under consideration by the board for about a year.

Human Services Director Hits the Ground Running

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

July 11th 2023

RICHMOND – Kate Schimmel, the town’s new Human Services Director, stood outside the Town Hall on Monday afternoon with Chariho Community Health Worker, Amy Neilson. On a table in front of them were shopping bags full of fresh produce, free to anyone who asked.

Schimmel, who was hired about three months ago, is still assessing residents’ needs, but she has already found one issue: accessing fresh, nutritious food. Some people don’t have transportation to get to a store or farmers market and others don’t have the money to buy it.

“One of our goals is to bring fresh produce, especially because we are living in a farming community, in a farming area,” Schimmel said. “A lot of people have private gardens, or there are a lot of larger farmers in the area, and so, we’re just trying to connect people who may be dealing with food insecurity to get fresh produce.”

This was the town’s first produce popup, with vegetables donated by Our Kids Farm in Exeter. A second produce giveaway will take place in mid-August. Partially funded by a grant to the Chariho Youth Task Force, the event coincided with the twice-monthly visit by the United Way Rhode Island 211 van, which parks for three hours in the Town Hall lot. United Way personnel provide information on a wide range of services such as job training, veterans’ assistance, transportation, health care and housing.

The van began coming to Richmond in February, at the invitation of Town Council member Samantha Wilcox.

“When I reached out to the Director of 211 back in January, he was so excited to come to Richmond that he returned my call when he was on vacation,” Wilcox said. “He stressed to me this was not a replacement of the Human Services Director and that the position would work with 211 to expand services. We are already seeing that happen since Kate is working on getting various programs in and they are changing the 211 Bus location to Chariho Plaza in the near future.”

 

Schimmel was hired after the town’s Wellness Committee, formed in 2021, recommended improved health facilities for residents, particularly seniors, and an administrator who could help people access the services they needed.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch said Schimmel had been chosen from a field of four candidates.

“Kate is a registered nurse with extensive experience in public health, federal government health clinics, and corporate health and wellness,” she said. “She has a great personality that will be conducive to success with the position, and she also happens to be a Richmond resident.”

Schimmel is paid $30 per hour and works 15 to 20 hours per week. Her salary is paid with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“There is a total of $225,000 set aside for her salary and operating expenses over a three-year period,” Pinch said.

Schimmel and her husband, a diplomat, are originally from South Kingstown and travelled extensively before settling in Richmond. They have one child.

Schimmel holds two degrees, a bachelor of kinesiology with a concentration in disability studies from the University of Maine and a bachelor of nursing from Rhode Island College. Her new position, as she sees it, is to support members of the community who may be experiencing difficulties, especially after COVID.

“I also think, building our community and creating connections between our residents, in a positive way,” she added.

 

Loneliness: a major issue in Richmond

 

Schimmel believes it is important to help residents connect with each other. She noted that feelings of isolation and loneliness are not unique to seniors, but are felt “across the board.”

“I think we’re one of the towns who doesn’t have a truly accessible community center or senior center, and so bringing a few more activities, positive activities, where community members can meet and enjoy each other’s company, especially coming out of COVID,” she said. “I’ve been in the position three months now, and I hear a lot from residents that they are just lonely, and I think it’s coming out of COVID, people were in lockdown and people are just starting to get back out there and they’re not really sure where to go. And that’s similar for people who might find themselves in a difficult situation. They might be going through food insecurity or housing insecurity. They’re just not sure where to turn. I think Richmond doesn’t have a lot of resources, per se, in town, so finding those resources, maybe in the greater Washington County, can be tricky.”

Being available to residents, Schimmel said, was essential.

“So, for this position, it’s really being a contact person for community members to reach out and say ‘I’m going through difficult times, do you know of where I can seek the resources that I need to get back on my feet or maybe, where can I go to get a free meal?’ even, and then, ‘where can I go to just meet other people? Meet other residents and connect with people?’”

Residents of rural towns like Richmond are stoic and self – reliant, and sometimes reluctant to accept services.

Schimmel said she lets people know the services are there and that they are welcome to use them.

“The service is here, regardless of whether you’d like it or not. You certainly deserve it, and these services are specifically for you, if you would like,” she said.

While the need for services is not limited to senior residents, Richmond’s seniors face a special set of challenges, among them a lack of public transportation and a senior center on the top floor of the police station that is difficult to access for people with limited mobility.

Schimmel is in frequent touch with Senior Center Director, Dennis McGinity.

“She will be a big asset for the town of Richmond,” McGinity said. “I’ve spoken with her, she’s come to my office, offered some suggestions, which I thought were pretty good, and she’s accepted some of the words that I had to give to her. She just seems to be very level-headed. After the first two hours that we talked, I really get the impression that she not only knows what she’s doing, but she can do what the town expects, and even more.”

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Chariho Polling Residents on School Building Options

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Chariho Polling Residents on School Building Options

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

July 6th 2023

WOOD RIVER JCT. – Richmond residents, along with residents of Charlestown and Hopkinton, are being asked to fill out surveys indicating their priorities for capital improvements to the four elementary schools in the Chariho Regional School District.

The survey asks respondents which of three options they would prefer:

1: Keeping all four elementary schools, Richmond, Charlestown, Hope Valley and Ashaway, and doing only the necessary maintenance to keep the buildings “warm, safe and dry.”

2: A capital plan that will ensure that schools are equipped for 21st Century learning, which is described in the survey as “… an educational infrastructure that responds to the economical, technological and community shifts that are happening.” This plan would include significant infrastructure upgrades.

3. A consolidation plan, involving the construction of one new elementary school for each town.

There is also a fourth space for residents to write in their own preference, if it is not among the three options.

 

Why do the elementary schools need upgrades?

 

The four elementary school buildings are old and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.

Richmond and Hope Valley Elementary Schools were built 88 years ago. Charlestown Elementary is 73 years old and Ashaway Elementary is 56.

One of the most significant developments in education is the extensive use of technology. School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti provided an example of one of the infrastructure issues: a lack of electrical outlets. That may not have been a problem back in the 1950s or ‘60s, but the district now issues a laptop to every student from Kindergarten to Grade 12, in the 1:1 program.

“There are two outlets per classroom in Richmond,” she said. What do you do with two outlets? I don’t have a room in my house that has two outlets. So, they have their smart board plugged into one outlet, well, now they’re all on the 1:1. Some classes are still 2:1, but in the 1:1 initiative, God forbid a kid forgets to plug his laptop in. Now he’s sitting on the floor, next to the outlet.”

 

The capital improvement plans

 

State law requires all school districts to submit capital improvement plans. Chariho’s annual plan, submitted on June 30, focuses on maintenance, health and safety.

A five-year capital plan is also required under state law.

“We have two things going on,” Chariho Finance Director Ned Draper said. “We have an annual capital budget, which is part of our routine budget process. We do that each year. And then, we also have a draft five-year capital plan, which is really the focus of the survey, which is finding out from the community, how do we want that five-year capital plan to look.”

 

Public input sought

 

In addition to the survey, which is available on the Chariho website, residents were invited to tour each elementary school at walk-throughs that took place during the month of June.

“It was eye-opening, I hope, to all the participants just how old our buildings are, and what an exceptional job our maintenance staff has done in keeping up with cleaning and maintain the buildings,” Giusti said. “But, at a certain point, there’s nothing that can be done. They’re just old.”

The four school tours were poorly attended, however, and additional tours may be offered in the fall.

“It was disappointing to me how few people came to the walk-throughs, because I think it was an excellent opportunity for people to really see,” Giusti said.

 

Newer and Fewer

 

In 2021, the School Committee approved a plan that would have replaced all four elementary schools with a single, large school. Residents, who were also surveyed at that time, opposed the idea of one large school, preferring small neighborhood schools. Opponents of a single large school dubbed it the “factory in the field,” and the consolidation proposal went nowhere.

But as it did in 2021, the Rhode Island Department of Education, (RIDE) still favors the “newer and fewer” approach to school buildings, offering higher financial incentives for consolidation.

Draper explained that additional state funds, or bonuses, are allocated to projects that align with RIDE’s priorities.

“The bonuses depend on which path you take,” he said. “So, for instance, newer and fewer is a bonus option, there’s safety and health as well as security. Those are different bonus areas, but you need to choose your path. So, if your path is newer and fewer, which, as you know, was an issue that the community seemed uncomfortable with, you may not want that. If the community says ‘we don’t want that,’ then that bonus wouldn’t be something we’d be eligible for anyway.”

After discussing five-year capital improvement options and state funding opportunities at the April 25 meeting, members of the School Committee agreed that the district should consider several options and involve the community in the process.

Giusti promised that this time, the committee would listen to residents.

“I hope that the community understands that we have to do something here, and we want to partner with the community in a better way than we did before, to really get an idea what the community wants their schools to look like,” she said. “We’re really just at the beginning of that process.”

Major school projects are expected to be a hard sell to residents. Voters in Richmond and Hopkinton rejected the proposed 2023 Chariho spending plan, not once, but twice, resulting in its defeat.

At the April School Committee meeting, Charlestown member

Craig Louzon urged the committee to ensure that public input remains a priority.

“One option is the extreme – the factory in the field,” he said. “Another option is do nothing, but at least the taxpayer, or stakeholders, should have a say… We’re not doing our job if we just kick the can down the road. We should at least let them decide.”

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Board Mulls Re-Zoning for Economic Development

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 28th 2023

RICHMOND – The agenda for Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting focused on economic development possibilities, with board Vice Chair Dan Madnick leading the discussion in the absence of Chair Philip Damicis.

Members explored the feasibility of re-zoning some residential properties to encourage commercial development in the town; a medical use overlay zone for properties on Routes 138 and 3, re-zoning some parcels on Route 3 to support commercial development, and re-zoning properties on Route 2 and Heaton Orchard Road.

“This has been a discussion that planning boards had in the past and it looks like the Town Council’s been talking about it, so I just wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings on this particular idea,” Madnick said. “How do we try to facilitate, as a Planning Board, getting medical use, an urgent care or walk-in clinic. …  One of the things that people really want is urgent care. … The goal of this is to hopefully work with the Town Council to try to determine how to facilitate bringing an urgent care center in, and where it should go, and how do we do that.”

As they looked at a map on a large television screen, it became apparent that there is not much property available to re-zone.

Madnick said Town Planner Shaun Lacey had suggested creating a medical use overlay zone.

(Lacey, who last week announced his resignation, did not attend the meeting.)

Member Andrea Baranyk asked where medical facilities would currently be permitted, and Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth explained that they are permitted in every zone, except residential.

Madnick said he wanted to assess several areas of town to determine whether any of them would be suitable for re-zoning.

“One of the things that the Planning Board has been looking at for years, and something that came up in the comprehensive community plan revision, was the fact that we have very limited ability to develop the town of Richmond,” he said. “There’s roughly 25,000 acres in Richmond, 40 square miles, and of that, only about half of that is developable. So, the question’s been asked, are we limiting the potential development opportunities in Richmond.”

Madnick explained that the board was considering areas that could be re-zoned, such as the Aqua Science and Fasano properties on Route 3 that were re-zoned from residential to light industrial.

“Both of these things had to do with supporting small businesses in town,” he said.

After discussing which areas might be suitable for re-zoning, members agreed to ask the Economic Development Commission to approach property owners in one residential zone to determine whether they would support a re-zoning.

“We made a motion to request to Karen to draft a memo to the EDC and talk to property owners on Route 3 if they would be open to a potential re-zone of their properties,” Madnick said.

“There’s definitely a balance that needs to be struck with where we have commercially-zoned properties that allow for that type of development. I feel that Route 3 could support that, even though there are residential properties there now.”

While Route 2 and Heaton Orchard Road were also discussed, there are concerns that commercial development would have adverse impacts on the aquifer or farmland.

“What you run into is, we have the aquifer protection overlay district, then we have the agricultural overlay district and we start running into, when you look at different areas of the town, where we don’t want to develop because hey, these are prime agricultural soils, or this is going to have a huge impact on the aquifer,” Madnick said.

One area of town that might considered for re-zoning, Madnick said, is Alton.

“At a future meeting, we’re going to put an agenda item on to talk about re-zoning parts of Alton, which is in our future land use map and our zoning map as a potential growth area.”

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Roundabout Construction Begins

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 27th 2023

RICHMOND – With students at Richmond Elementary School now on summer break, construction of the long-anticipated -  and debated - roundabout has begun. Crews from Cardi Corp. are preparing the site, at the intersection of Routes 138 and 112.

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation first proposed the project in 2019. The traffic-calming measure, which will slow vehicles to about 25 miles per hour, is used in many other cities and towns. The roundabout will include sidewalks and cross walks for pedestrians.

RIDOT also plans to modify Richmond Townhouse Road between Routes 138 and 112, changing the two-way road to a one-way, eastbound direction.

Town Administrator Karen Pinch said the work, at least so far, has not impacted traffic at the busy intersection.

“As of now, there don’t seem to be any impediments to travel through the intersection,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, traffic is flowing without delay.”

There has been some complaining on social media from residents who dislike roundabouts and don’t believe one is necessary in their town, but Police Chief Elwood Johnson said something needed to be done to improve safety at the most dangerous intersection in town, which, over the past decade, has been the scene of more than 100 accidents.

With school out for the summer, Johnson said this is the perfect time to start the project.

“The timing is good, because school just ended, so that corridor isn’t going to be as problematic,” he said.

Police details will be posted at the site as needed.

“There will be some delays, but we’ll try to keep them to a minimum,” Johnson said.

The project will cost $6.5 million and is expected to be completed by April, 2025. A new water line, a town project funded by a $292,660 grant from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, is being built at the same time.

Construction will be paused during the Washington County Fair, from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20.

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Town Planner Resigns

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 22nd 2023

RICHMOND – Town Planner Shaun Lacey is leaving Richmond. His letter of resignation, sent on Thursday, states that his last day will be July 28.

“It is with a heavy heart that I resign as Town Planner,” the letter reads. “After careful thought, I have accepted an exciting career-advancement opportunity with the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command [NAVFAC].”

Lacey, who will be a Community Planner at the submarine base in Groton, came to Richmond from North Kingstown about four and a half years ago.

In an interview on Thursday, he said that he was excited about his new position with the United States Navy, but also sad to leave the town.

“I want to thank all the residents and all the volunteers in the business community that have supported my work and my efforts over the past four and a half years,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of them personally, and I consider many of them friends of mine, after all the years have gone by.”

Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick said he and Lacey had enjoyed a productive working relationship.

“Shaun has been instrumental in working towards fulfilling the goals and actions of the town comprehensive community plan and work towards a better Richmond,” he said in an emailed statement. “I give credit to Shaun for educating me on municipal planning and understanding land use when I joined the planning board in 2019. Since then, Shaun and I have worked diligently together, along with the members of the planning board to follow the comprehensive community plan and zoning regulations. Shaun fostered an environment where developers and the planning board respectfully worked together to meet the goals of both parties.”

Town Administrator Karen Pinch, who works closely with Lacey, said she hoped that his economic development initiatives would continue to progress after he leaves.

“We have big shoes to fill with Shaun’s departure,” she wrote in an email.  “He’s never been one to just be reactive to what comes into his office; he’s been very proactive in moving Richmond forward with projects and initiatives.  I sincerely hope that the developers Shaun’s been working with will continue to move forward with their plans to invest in Richmond.”

 

A troubled town

 

Beneath the niceties of his departure letter and the tributes from colleagues, Lacey’s resignation comes as no surprise to those familiar with the inner workings of the town. Lacey - and other town administrators and staff - have come under pressure from some members of the Town Council, who sometimes questioned their decisions.

Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney addressed the issue head-on.

“I am deeply saddened and utterly disgusted in the conduct of council members, [and] members of the public that have done nothing but sabotage, attack, degrade and vilify a great man, who has done nothing but embrace our community and made it better and continued to make it better. But, they had their political agenda, to do nothing but attack him and undermine everything that he has ever done, with no understanding of the consequences of what they have done,” he said.

Reached on vacation, Council President Mark Trimmer said he had learned of Lacey’s resignation on Thursday morning but had suspected, before the formal announcement, that he was preparing to leave.

“I had suspicions for some time,” he said. “You don’t line up a job like he just lined up in a couple of weeks.”

Trimmer said he believed that Lacey had done good work for Richmond.

“I truly feel that he was guiding the town in the right direction,” he said. “I feel that his professionalism and expertise were very valuable for the town.”

Lacey’s departure comes at a time when the town is trying, (as it has for more than a decade) to attract commercial investment while preserving its rural qualities. The ongoing acrimony between council members is making it more difficult to achieve that elusive balance.

“I truly counted on his knowledge and expertise,” Trimmer said. “I understand that there were other pressures. Unfortunately, it’s very, very difficult to find someone with his level of expertise.”

 

What now?

 

With a divided, bickering council, some of whose members have made town staff uncomfortable, it could be challenging to find a qualified planner to replace Lacey.

Nassaney said he felt that the town was regressing to the chaotic days before former council President Henry Oppenheimer took over.

“What they have done is more damage,” Nassaney said. “They brought us back to the pre-Henry Oppenheimer era, when this town was regarded as something you just stay away from,” he said.

The conclusion of Lacey’s letter makes an oblique reference to the Town Council:

“Finally, I wish to offer some strong suggestions to the current and future elected leadership of Richmond [in no particular order]:” he wrote. “1) listen to and trust your experts; 2) be civil and respectful to one another; 3) place the needs of the many above the needs of the few; and 4) to quote the late Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans.”

The council will discuss the resignation and the search for a new planner at the July 18 meeting.

 

 

“Dated Today, June 22, 2023, Shaun Lacey’s letter follows:

 

Dear Town Council and Richmond residents,

 

It is with a heavy heart that I resign as Town Planner. After careful thought, I have accepted an exciting career-advancement opportunity with the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC). My last day working in Richmond will be Friday, July 28.

 

Please know that I worked tirelessly to meet the needs of this community amidst evolving environmental, economic, and political pressures. To that end, I was fortunate to work with some wonderful staff, town officials, and many, many volunteers to achieve the town’s goals and uphold its values.

 

I am optimistic about new projects on the horizon that will likely shape the future of the community. The advent of these projects are based upon a land use strategy that encourages development along the town’s growth center (Route 138 from Town Hall to Route 3), predicated on favorable economic cycles and local regulations designed to capitalize on market demands. After years of careful planning, I’m pleased to see those efforts beginning to yield results.

 

It is very important to strike the right balance between new housing and commercial opportunities and protecting areas undesirable for development in order to retain the town’s agricultural and rural identity. To support growth where it belongs, I strongly recommend that town leadership closely study its existing infrastructure weighed against future needs, and make the necessary long-term investments to support private enterprise. Some examples include creating a long-term public water management plan (in partnership with the Town of Hopkinton) and a Complete Streets program for Main Street with support from RIDOT. I also encourage the town to conduct a sewer feasibility study in Wyoming to identify the cost and process for permitting, design, and construction, and to understand the potential return on that investment.

 

I wish to thank the residents and the business community who supported my efforts over the past few years, many of whom I now consider friends. I’d like to extend special thanks to the current and former members of the Planning Board, Land Trust, Conservation Commission, Dog Park Committee, and Affordable Housing Committee for their enthusiasm and civic engagement. I also implore the public to be engaged and educated on all matters pertaining to land use, municipal economics, and capital improvements.

 

Finally, I wish to offer some strong suggestions to the current and future elected leadership of Richmond (in no particular order): 1) listen to and trust your experts; 2) be civil and respectful to one another; 3) place the needs of the many above the needs of the few; and 4) to quote the late Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans.”

 

Sincerely,

 

Shaun Lacey, AICP

Town Planner

Town of Richmond

Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for Tuesday June 20, 2023

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Preserve Tax Breaks Bill, Aquifer Protection Dominate Council Meeting

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 21st 2023

RICHMOND – The saga of the failed enabling tax legislation continued at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting with state Rep. Megan Cotter, D-Richmond, asking why the town had not informed her of the proposed bill since as Representative, she would be required to present it.

And later in the meeting, more than a year of work came close to going down the drain when council members Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed a motion to hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to the town’s aquifer protection ordinance.

Council Vice President Richard Nassaney chaired the meeting in the absence of council President Mark Trimmer, who was out of town.

 

Tax Stabilization for The Preserve

 

At the June 6 Town Council meeting, four members supported a resolution asking the General Assembly to approve enabling legislation that would make it possible for the town to sign a tax stabilization agreement with The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences. Councilor Samantha Wilcox was the only member to vote against the resolution.

Drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, the proposed bill was hand delivered to the State House shortly before the end of the legislative session, not by Megan Cotter, or a council member, but by a representative of The Preserve.

House bill H 6509 and Senate bill, S 1132 would have authorized the town to enter into tax exemption or stabilization agreements with owners of properties located in mixed - use commercial and residential developments.

The House bill states that the property must meet the following criteria:

*  “Has a total assessed value of not less than ten million  [$10,000,000] on the date on which the partial exemption or stabilization will take effect

* and is used for or available for use as short-term rental property for no fewer than twenty-six [26] weeks in each calendar year

* and an agreement to exempt or stabilize taxes on any one lot or on contiguous lots under the authority of this section shall be enacted in the form of a resolution.”

 

From its contents, to the discussion at the June 6 council meeting, to the manner in which it was delivered to the House of Representatives, the proposed legislation reeked of a last-minute attempt to give tax breaks to The Preserve.

Adding to the bad optics was the timing of the initiative, which closely followed the rejection of the town’s proposed 2023-24 budget and pleas from tearful homeowners to lower property taxes. In addition, the council had earlier declined to increase property tax exemptions for seniors.

In a statement that raised eyebrows, Preserve owner and developer Paul Mihailides told the council at the June 6 meeting that property taxes were too high, saying,

“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items.”

Despite assurances that the bill would stimulate economic development throughout the town, the enabling legislation appeared to have been written specifically for The Preserve, since no other properties in the town would meet the criteria.

 

Cotter pulls the bill

 

Citing her discomfort with many aspects of the bill, including its last-minute submission without her knowledge, Cotter said she had no choice but to pull it.

“I went to the State House and there was a piece of legislation on my desk that was ready to be submitted, and The Preserve had dropped it off at the State House,” she said. “I had no idea what it was, what was going on. It was drafted before I even got an email from the town, which is just – I mean, it’s not how things are done at all.”

Cotter said no one from the Town Council, or the Preserve, attended the hearing before the House Municipal Government and Housing committee, leaving her to answer questions about a bill she knew nothing about.

“The questions that the committee had asked…I didn’t have any answers for them,” she said. “I didn’t know why they’re giving this giant discount to people who are in short term rentals. I had no information whatsoever. It was disrespectful - to the process, to me, to the entire General Assembly to just rush legislation like that and not give any answers as to why.”

 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Colasante stated that both he and Sheehan had attempted, without success, to telephone Cotter.

“They called me the day the bill was up for a vote on the floor,” Cotter said. “They did not call me prior to that. They should have called me when the legislation was put in. Mark Trimmer should have called me. He is the Town Council President. He did not. Mark Trimmer also called me the day the bill was being heard on the floor. … To say they reached out to try to work with me is completely disingenuous.”

Trimmer, reached while he was out of town, said the proposed legislation had not been adequately explained.

“There were time constraints because of the end of the legislative session,” he wrote in a text message. “I personally didn’t do a good job of explaining how this legislation would benefit our town.”

Sheehan has also promoted the legislation as encouraging further commercial development in the town and reducing the tax burden on residents. She argued that Wilcox and Cotter had misunderstood the purpose of the bill, which would have brought in an additional $100,000 a year in tax revenue.

But Cotter said the bill would have had the opposite effect.

“As much as this Town Council says that the average Richmond taxpayer, homeowner, is not going to see an increase, the money has to come from somewhere and it’s going to come from taxpayers,” she said. “And when you have senior citizens that were not able to get a tax stabilization increase this year, who are struggling to get by day to day with inflation being what it is, it’s just not right.”

Nassaney said Wednesday that he now regrets his earlier vote supporting the resolution.

“I thought it was going to be a simple ask to the legislature, with no specifics of any deals or any kind of detail of any project or any building or predetermined specific projects,” he said.

Nassaney did not see a draft of the enabling legislation.

“I never saw the final draft. I don’t think anyone else did,” he said.

During the public forum, several residents criticized the resolution. Town moderator Mark Reynolds reminded the council that two council members, Trimmer and Colasante, had received $3,000 each in campaign contributions from people connected with The Preserve.

Board of Tax Assessment Review member Jeffrey Noble said The Preserve had presented 47 appeals at the June 14 meeting.

“In their complaints, The Preserve residential units thought that instead of being taxed closer to the sale price of $1,000 per square foot, that the $410 per square foot that the assessors set the units at was too much,” he said. “They felt the value of the units was closer to $220 per square foot. Because of where they would want to be, the town would look at losing, per unit, revenue, the total would be about $150,000 if we went with The Preserve’s valuation.”

Reynolds told the council that before the town considers any tax breaks, the entity receiving the break should be current on its taxes.

“One other protection that I would encourage you to include, particularly with respect to The Preserve is, there’s a provision that they have to be up to date on their taxes,” he said. “But they also should be up to date on all the other fees that they owe the town. It’s my understanding that The Preserve owes the town almost $200,000 in affordable housing waiver fees that they were granted, so they wouldn’t have to build affordable housing in there.”

 

A close call for the APOD

 

After more than a year of deliberation, the Planning Board has proposed zoning amendments to the Aquifer Protection Overlay District, or APOD.

Town Planner Shaun Lacey asked the council to schedule a public hearing to consider the proposed changes, but Colasante and Sheehan voted against the hearing.

Lacey appeared surprised.

“If we’re not going to proceed with the public hearing, we are effectively shelving these amendments from further review,” he said.

Wilcox and Nassaney reminded the two councilors that the purpose of the hearing was to allow the public to weigh in on the proposed changes, not to approve the amendments themselves.

Colasante said his mind was made up.

“We already voted on this, so I’ll move it. The discussion’s over,” he said.

Lacey and Ellsworth said landowners were waiting for the new regulations so they could proceed with their development applications.

“This is something that the Planning Board has been working on for more than a year…and property owners in town are eagerly awaiting the enactment of these ordinance amendments, because it’s going to make it easier for them to develop,” Ellsworth said. “It would be really helpful if you could explain to us why you don’t want to go forward with the ordinance.”

Holding a map of the aquifer protection overlay district, Sheehan said,

“I had this map printed for myself, in color, and I’m worried that there are so many places that I’m afraid that there will be no development in the areas that are supposed to be development allowed, and in addition to that, those who do try to do a development, they’ll be priced out of the market because the requirements seem to be excessive in some areas.”

Ellsworth said landowners supported the amendments, but Colasante disagreed.

“I talked to large landowners and they’re not for this,” he said. “…The best use of an aquifer is to stifle or slow economic development in those areas where they claim to want to protect their water. The Internet is a beautiful thing. You can just Google that.”

In a final attempt to clarify the amendments, Ellsworth explained that they would actually be less restrictive to developers than the ordinance is now.

“This is not a new ordinance,” she said. “We already have an aquifer protection overlay district. The one that we’re proposing is less restrictive than the one we have now. Less restrictive.”

“I’m going to change my vote then,” Sheehan said. “I’ll support a public hearing.”

With Colasante opposing, the remaining councilors, including Sheehan, voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments on July 18 at 5 p.m.

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RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL MEETING UPDATE FOR JUNE 6, 2023

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Council agrees on amended budget

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 7th 2023

RICHMOND – At the end of a six-hour meeting, members of the Town Council agreed on amendments that will make it possible for the town to operate on the current budget in the coming year. The proposed 2023-24 budget was defeated in a referendum on Monday.

The council also approved a request by The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences for enabling legislation that will make it possible for the developer to ask the General Assembly to consider requests for tax stabilization and partial exemptions on the property.

During the executive session that followed the regular meeting, councilors considered the possible dismissal of electrical inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt, but voted instead to extend his probationary period and give him a second chance.

 

The Budget

 

After voters rejected the proposed budget at Monday’s referendum by a margin of 371 to 290, the council was left to decide whether to hold a second referendum on an amended budget or continue to operate under the current budget.

A proposal by councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan to hold a workshop with Finance Director Laura Kenyon and members of the Finance Board was rejected by the other members.

Council President Mark Trimmer said he did not feel that another budget workshop would be useful.

“The last workshop did not bear fruit,” he said. “We did not have any actionable specifics suggested at the other workshops to cut the budget, to make changes to the budget. There was nothing offered up, absolutely nothing, other than cutting the fund balance, which is just a really, really bad idea.”

The town has fixed expenses that must be paid, the most significant of which are payments to the Chariho Regional School District, contractual obligations to unionized employees and debt repayment.

After council members debated which expenses might be reduced, with Colasante suggesting that department heads be asked to cut their budgets by 5%, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth informed them that a solution might already have been found.

“I had a discussion earlier today with the Town Administrator and the Finance Director,” she said. “They have been discussing a lot of options for managing a level-funded budget that none of you have discussed, and none of you have asked them. The charter [Home Rule Charter] says the Town Administrator prepares the revised budget. My suggestion is that you ask the Town Administrator and the Finance Director to get together and propose something to you.”

Finance Director Laura Kenyon told the council that with increases in fixed expenses, there would be a deficit of $42,765 in a level-funded budget. Kenyon then presented the cuts that would be needed.

“My suggestion is to cut one capital project, $20,000 for the Wyoming design study,” she said.

The Wyoming design study, requested by Town Planner Shaun Lacey, would have produced design alternatives for the problematic Wyoming district.

Kenyon also proposed cutting $22,500 that had been allocated to new water billing software.

That left a deficit of $275, which Kenyon said she would cover with funds from her own department.

The council approved the cuts, which will make it possible for the town to operate with the current budget.

 

Tax Stabilization for The Preserve

 

The council approved, with councilor Samantha Wilcox opposed, a resolution that will clear the way for The Preserve to ask the General Assembly to consider tax stabilization or partial tax exemptions on structures on the property.

Owner and developer Paul Mihailides asked the council to consider the contributions (which he listed) that The Preserve has made and will continue to make to the local economy.

But, he said, his project has faced challenges, including taxes.

“What we’re going ask for is just permission, to get your permission from the legislature so we can have a discussion about it,” he said. “We’re not asking for anything in specifics. I just would like to say, we’re just faced with some challenges at The Preserve and some of those challenges are just based on the way our taxes are currently being viewed.”

Mihailides noted that the taxes on the luxury vacation homes on his property were too high for many buyers.

“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items,” he said.

Trimmer, Wilcox and a resident all raised the issue of the recent rejection of the town budget and the tax burden that many Richmond homeowners have said is too much for them to bear,

however, four of the five council members voted in favor of the resolution with Wilcox opposed.

 

Jeffrey Vaillancourt

 

During the executive session, councilors discussed the town’s electrical inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who was hired two months ago.

While details of the session were not disclosed, it appears that there has been at least one complaint against Vaillancourt for his comportment with a business-owner.

When the council returned to open session, Vaillancourt apologized for his behavior.

“Everybody has their bad days,” he said. “That was one of mine.”

The Vaillancourt incident brought to mind the decision not to renew the appointment of Vice Chair Nancy Hess to the Planning Board because at least one council member believed that she had been less than cordial with an applicant. In this case, unlike Hess, Vaillancourt was forgiven.

Addressing Vaillancourt, Wilcox said,

“I fully agree with second chances. We all make mistakes, but after 35 years on the job, you should know that’s not how we treat people.”

With Wilcox voting to approve a motion to fire Vaillancourt, the remaining council members voted not to dismiss him. They did, however, extend his probation for six months, beginning on June 6.

 

In other business, Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox voted against a resolution made by Helen Sheehan and supported by Colasante, to support House Bill H6324, “An Act Relating to Criminal Offenses-Obscene and Objectionable Publications and Shows.”

Co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Azzinaro (D-Westerly) the proposed legislation would hold all libraries liable for “explicit” materials, including cartoons and comics.

One resident warned the council that the bill would expand censorship.

“It seems that this language is expanding the censorship in libraries, is that right?” she said. ”It’s not just  things that are for sale, it’s bringing our public libraries into this issue.”

“Children under the age of 18 should not be exposed to pornography,” Sheehan replied.

“My thought is,” the same resident continued, “libraries are public places, so people don’t have to see this, they don’t have to be exposed to it.”

Mark Reynolds, an attorney who also serves as Town Moderator, said the proposed legislation would impose criminal penalties on librarians.

“If all this was about was adding comic books to the criminal statute on pornography, that wouldn’t be so bad,” he said. “But what this statute does is potentially impose criminal penalties against librarians by adding this language that it applies to libraries. …It’s one thing to regulate pornography in a commercial setting and impose people who are selling this material to criminal penalties, it’s another thing to subject librarians in school or public libraries to criminal penalties, and that’s one thing this bill does.”

The resolution failed, with Colasante and Sheehan supporting it and Trimmer, Wilcox and Nassaney opposed.

 

Stop signs and speeding

 

Trimmer said he believed a third stop sign was needed at the intersection of Hog House Hill and Gardiner Road. Ellsworth said she would draft an ordinance amendment for the additional stop sign.

Trimmer also proposed asking the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to improve safety on Route 138. He was informed by Police Chief Elwood Johnson that the state Traffic Commission had undertaken a study of that section of road and he would contact the commission to see whether the study had been completed.

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Voters Reject Proposed Budget

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 6th 2023

RICHMOND – The proposed 2023-24 Richmond budget was rejected Monday in the town’s first-ever budget referendum.

The vote was 290 in favor and 371 opposed. Turnout was light, with 10.4% of the town’s 6,366 registered voters casting their ballots.

The proposed budget contained no property tax increase, and most departments would have been level-funded. But budget opponents, under the banner of the “Forgotten Taxpayers” political action committee, demanded more drastic cuts to provide additional tax relief.

 

Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he believed that switching from the annual Financial Town Meeting to an all-day referendum had contributed to the defeat.

“I think it was a big mistake for the Charter Review [commission] to put the budget up for a vote,” he said. “…I think they should have just kept it as a town meeting. We are a town. This isn’t Cranston.”

Trimmer also noted that budget opponents had not made any specific recommendations for cuts.

“It was really, really irresponsible to vote the budget down without any suggestions for cuts or any suggestions for modifications,” he said. “We have so much that’s in the budget structurally that you can’t cut and you can’t alter. There’s only probably, about 20% of the budget that you could actually do anything with at all. Our school [Chariho] payment is going to be due in just a month or two, and we found out yesterday [Monday] that Governor McKee cut school aid to Richmond and cut school aid to Newport, and so, we’re going to have to go to the voters to make up the difference.”

Legislators have not yet approved the 2023-24 state budget, but the spending plan does propose a reduction of $195,450 in transportation aid to Richmond.

 

Trimmer described members of the budget opponents’ group as aggressively attempting to persuade people to vote against the spending plan. A letter was sent to residents three days before the vote, urging them to reject the budget and Trimmer said opponents were also observed approaching voters in the parking lot of the Town Hall, which was the only polling place.

“They were so organized, and they were very aggressive with people in the parking lot,” he said. “I know an older woman who goes to my church who said the second she opened her door, they were on her, telling her to vote ‘no,’ and so, she asked them, ‘but it’s a zero tax increase. Why are you against the budget?’ And they told her there was all kinds of waste in it, and she says ‘well, where would you cut first?’ And they couldn’t tell her.”

 

Now What?

 

The town’s Home Rule Charter lays out two options after a budget is defeated: the town can amend the budget and hold a second referendum, or it can operate under the current budget.

Trimmer said he did not think there would be a second referendum.

“Most likely, we’re not going to put it up for a second vote,” he said. “Most likely, we’re going to stick with last year’s budget and make some ARPA [federal American Rescue Plan Act] fund reallocations to make up for the loss.”

A consequence of continuing to operate under the current budget would be the restoration of the fund balance, or surplus, to its current 16.2%. In an effort to help taxpayers, the council had reduced the fund balance to 15%, shaving $250,000 off the proposed budget.

“The drop in the fund balance, I suggested it because I thought it was a compromise,” Trimmer said.

With the fund balance back at 16.2%, property taxes would return to what they were before the council reduced the surplus to 15%.

Asked about the possibility of across-the-board budget cuts, Trimmer said it would be impossible to cut the police or public works departments.

“They’re making suggestions about cutting in the police department and the DPW. That’s insane,” he said. “The police department is minimally staffed, and our roads are in shambles.”

The Town Council will grapple with the fallout of the referendum at tonight’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. and will be available on Zoom.

Voters reject budget

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 5th 2023 

RICHMOND – The proposed 2023-24 budget has been soundly defeated.

In the town’s first budget referendum on Monday, voters rejected the spending plan by a wide margin of 371 opposed to 290 in favor.

We will have the full story tomorrow, on this page.

VOTE TODAY!

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From the RICHMOND, RI TOWN GOVERNMENT PAGE

A reminder that the Town's ANNUAL BUDGET REFERENDUM is ongoing TODAY between the hours of 8am and 8pm. All polling will take place at the TOWN HALL.

On Monday, June 5th Richmond taxpayers will be asked to vote on the fiscal year 2024 municipal budget. The budget presented is based on many months of work, beginning with staff in December, the Finance Board spending many nights combing through it throughout the winter months, with the Town Council holding budget workshops, and finally two advertised public hearings held in April and May. The Town Council listened to residents, and a majority voted to send the budget to the voters with no increase in tax revenue over FY-23. WITH THE RECENT REVALUATION, MOST RESIDENTS WILL SEE LITTLE OR NO CHANGE IN THEIR TAX BILLS.

THE CHARIHO SCHOOL BUDGET IS ALREADY SET. THIS VOTE IS FOR THE MUNICIPAL PORTION OF THE BUDGET.

The Town runs a very lean budget. This year's increases are completely offset by revenues and a small use of fund balance. Municipal funds are used to pay for services such as paving and road patching, and essential items such as police equipment. It also pays the salaries of a town staff that is only moderately paid, but that is second to none.

This year there has been concern over the high tax burden to residents. Unfortunately, Richmond has very little commercial development to offset residential taxes. All of this was taken into account at the time the budget was prepared. To vote the budget down, in accordance with the Charter provision, the result would be a decrease of only around $43,000. This decrease would affect only the municipal portion of the budget; Chariho would still get what was allocated to them in the school budget referendum on April 4th.

Please support your Town Council and the staff by voting YES on Monday.

All polling will take place at the Richmond Town Hall between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm.

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Town budget faces 11th hour chaos

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 2nd 2023

RICHMOND – With the budget referendum just three days away, a letter has been mailed to residents urging them to defeat the proposed spending plan.

Signed by Chariho School Committee member and Republican political operative, Clay Johnson, the letter was written on behalf of the “Forgotten Taxpayers” political action committee.

The mailing, days before the vote, is a familiar strategy, employed most recently last spring, in an unsuccessful bid to defeat the Chariho schools budget.

The letter urges residents to reject the budget at the June 5 referendum, the town’s first – ever budget referendum, which has replaced the Financial Town Meeting.

Johnson’s letter invites residents to join and donate to the Forgotten Taxpayers PAC. It also invites taxpayers to attend a strategy meeting on June 7, and to contact Town Council President Mark Trimmer to voice their concerns.

“Mark is the swing vote on the budget, respectfully ask him to TRIM the budget,” the letter reads.

Johnson’s letter praises the residents who spoke at council meetings against the budget.

“I watched several brave citizens speak at a recent town council meeting,” it states. “They told their stories, tears included, about the impact of poor town spending decisions. One taxpayer pleaded with the Town Council for tax relief. Councilors Sheehan and Colasante heard that plea.”

Trimmer responded to Johnson’s letter with a written statement, urging residents to vote for the budget.

The statement reads:

“Hello Richmond residents!

We have a ballot on Monday to APPROVE the Town Budget. The Town Budget as presented is a very frugal and responsible budget that will keep our town fiscally stable in a sea of instability, with no tax increases.

There is a group in town working to reject this responsible Town Budget and inject chaos where there was none.

As Town Council President and a taxpayer, I implore you to please vote on Monday and say YES to APPROVE our Town Budget and to make a statement that we embrace fiscal responsibility and reject chaos and negative politics!”

 

Some budget background

 

The proposed 2023-24 budget is $29.4 million, an increase of just under 5%.

The spending plan, which contains no property tax increase,  was approved by the Town Council on May 2, during the second of two budget hearings.

Voting in favor of the budget were Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox.

Councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante were opposed and demanded further reductions. The two council members pushed for additional cuts to the fund balance, which had already been reduced at the first budget workshop from 16% to 15%. That reduction trimmed $250,000 from the budget, but Finance Director Laura Kenyon warned that the funds would have to be repaid next year.

Colasante and Sheehan argued that taxpayers deserved additional relief with Colasante demanding that the fund balance be reduced as low as 10%, however, they were out-voted.

Trimmer said the new budget contained many existing financial obligations.

“I want to emphasize that the Finance Director is dealing with institutional debt,” he said. “It’s not like we started fresh. We had debt that goes back quite some time and we have expenses and commitments that go back quite some time, go back over two different finance directors and a half a dozen councils, and it's not like you can just wave a magic wand. It’s not Monopoly money. This is people’s lives, people’s jobs and it needs to be done seriously and judiciously and not recklessly to create chaos.”

 

What happens if voters reject the budget?

 

After attending an emergency meeting at the Town Hall on Friday morning to discuss the opposition to the budget and the consequences of its possible defeat, Trimmer said his biggest concern was that budget supporters would not take the trouble to vote but that budget opponents would, leading to a defeat.

“People are more concerned about playing a round of golf or going to the beach, what tanning oil they’re going to use, or whatever,” he said. “They’re not worried about a town’s budget. They figure somebody else will vote, but they don’t realize that in this case, if someone else votes, they’re going to vote ‘no,’ and we’re going to have chaos.

If the budget is defeated, Article 5 of the Home Rule Charter states that town can hold a second referendum on an amended budget.

If the town does not schedule a second referendum or, if the budget is defeated in a second referendum, the town will operate under the current budget and continue its payments to the Chariho School District.

 

The budget referendum is on Monday, June 5. Voters can cast their ballots at the Richmond Town Hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Super Dog Adoption Day Returns to Fairground

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By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

June 1st 2023

RICHMOND – Always Adopt returns to the Washington County fairground this Saturday, June 3, with hundreds of dogs and puppies looking for their forever homes.

This will be the second year that the spring Super Dog Adoption Day will take place in Richmond. A second adoption event is scheduled for November.

Always Adopt founder Louise Nicolosi, of Charlestown, said the fairground is the ideal venue, because there is plenty of space for people to meet the dogs.

 “People can have space to look at a dog, to take a dog to one side and just sit under a tree in the shade and get to know the dog,” she said. “There’s a lot more room and space.”

Nicolosi brought her adoption event to the fairground for the first time last year.

“We used to go up to Balise Toyota in Warwick, but after COVID, I was able to secure the fairground,” she said.

COVID prevented Nicolosi’s group from holding adoption events in 2020 and 2021, but adoptions continued nonetheless, with adopters  contacting rescue groups directly.

People interested in adopting a dog are encouraged to visit the Always Adopt website and  pre-register online. There, they can fill out the paperwork and receive a “golden ticket,” which entitles them to enter the adoption event two hours before the general opening.

“They go straight to that page and they can click on a form for early entry,” Nicolosi said. “The event is 12 till 4, but if they fill out that form, they get in at 10 o’clock, and they get the pick of the pups… Once you’ve filled out the form, you click ‘submit,’ and we email you. It’s a golden ticket which says your name on it, it’s done on a template.”

 

Saturday’s adoption event will have about 300 dogs and puppies from 13 rescue groups and shelters. All the rescue groups are registered in Rhode Island. An album with photos and descriptions of all the dogs is on the website.

“If they’re going to adopt a dog, they will need to bring their dog, because there’ll be a special area for them to do a meet and greet with their hopeful new dog, but they will need to bring someone else with them because they can’t take that dog into the arena [dog adoption area],” Nicolosi said. “On the early sign-up, it’s got an application that you fill out when you sign up and it tells you what to bring. And the important things to bring are your vet records, your references, your landlord’s permission and your lease. So, all those things are on the website.”

Nicolosi started Super Dog Adoption Day in 2013, after watching a documentary about the fate of unwanted dogs. Since then, more than 6,500 dogs have found homes.

“It never gets old,” she said. “I always say to people, ‘just imagine, when you got your own dog, how much joy you felt and then multiply that by 300.’ It’s absolutely palpable, and that’s what everyone talks about when they come and they see everyone going home with their dog.”

Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for May 23, 2023

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Board approves major project master plan

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

 

RICHMOND – Praising the developer for submitting a thorough, detailed application, members of the Planning Board unanimously approved the master plan for a significant expansion of Riverhead Building Supply at 38 Kingstown Road.

The expansion is welcome news for the town, which, for decades, has tried to lure businesses, since upon completion, the facility will be one of Richmond’s largest commercial taxpayers.

Because the application, submitted by Riverhead owner GX3 LLC of New York State, is categorized as a major land development, it requires four stages of review. The proposal was first submitted to the Planning Board in January and board members visited the site in February. The master plan approval is the second step in the approval process.

Town Planner Shaun Lacey described the proposal, which will involve the construction of a 200,000-square foot warehouse and distribution facility.

“The subject property is a split-zone parcel which is zoned as general business and industrial,” he explained. “The proposed scope of work is within the general business zone, where warehouses are permitted.”

A traffic study, prepared by the developer and peer-reviewed by a consultant for the town, indicated only minor increases in traffic volume.

Lighting on the proposed structures would be dark sky - compliant and the parcel would be landscaped to provide screening along the perimeter.

Darren Hayward of CLA Engineers Inc., presented the plans for the project and answered questions from board members.

“The lot’s about 48 acres in size,” he said. “We have Stop & Shop to the West and Richmond Sand and Stone to the North and East of the site. The site currently operates Riverhead’s commercial storage and retail sales facility…There’s already several existing buildings, totaling about 40,000 square feet, and approximately 11 of the 48 acres are currently in use. The development proposes expanding the existing operations with a phased, 200,000 - square foot building with a combination of ambient and air - conditioned space. We’ve included office space, loading docks in both Phases I and II - [with] associated parking. The additional development will add 15 acres of new development, bringing the full build-out of that area to approximately 26 acres.”

Lacey described the proposal as consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and recommended the board approve the master plan.

“This is a development that meets several of the provisions of the town’s comprehensive plan,” he said. “It happens to comply with all the zoning ordinance provisions, so, for that reason, I’ll recommend the board approve the application tonight, subject to the findings and conditions.”

 

A $20 million investment

 

With the subject of economic development dominating town meeting agendas in recent months, the Riverhead expansion represents a $20 million investment in the town. It’s especially good news for Town Council President Mark Trimmer, who has been accused by political opponents of not doing enough to attract commercial developers to Richmond.

Reached Wednesday, Trimmer said he had known about the pending Riverhead investment but had not disclosed the news until after the Planning Board meeting. He also hinted at additional commercial investments to come.

“The fact that they’re going to invest that kind of money in the town is amazing,” he said. “We need that kind of investment. That’s one, and there’s quite a bit more going on.”

 

Next steps

 

Board members had a few comments and questions.

Board Chairman Philip Damicis noted that the storm water drainage documented in the plan would require frequent cleaning to be efficient.

“It is a long way, and hopefully, you’ve got a lot of clean-outs and whatever you need to keep that from getting clogged up,” he said.

Hayward replied that modifications had already been made to the drainage configuration.

“We made this submission a couple of months ago now, and to your point, we are well on our way on the preliminary design now and we’re getting into more detailed design, and our drainage design in that area has actually changed, so all the drainage from those depressed loading docks are actually going West into that basin now.”

“That makes more sense,” Damicis said.

Board member Melissa Chalek noted that the landscaping plan included butterfly bush and asked if that shrub, which is considered invasive, could be replaced with something more sustainable.

The developer will now continue with the state and federal permitting processes. The next step will be the submission of the preliminary plan which will involve a more detailed review and a public hearing.

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Richmond Town Council Meeting for May 16, 2023

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Council appoints Zoning Board members

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

 

RICHMOND  -- Members of the Town Council named several applicants to the Zoning Board at the May 16 meeting. They also agreed to consider a proposal to join the state’s “Learn365” initiative and heard from an unexpected guest, former Cranston Mayor, Allan Fung.  

 

The Zoning Board

 

The council considered seven applications for full and alternate positions on the Zoning Board. The applicants were former council President Nell Carpenter, current alternate member Louise Dinsmore, Robert Sayer, Joyce Flanagan, Linda Zambrano, James Brear and former state representative, Justin Price.

Councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan wanted to appoint Dinsmore, but with council President Mark Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and member Samantha Wilcox opposed, they were unsuccessful.

Councilors ranked their preferred candidates. Brear received the most votes with Carpenter second and Price third. Sayer, Zambrano and Flanagan were fifth, sixth and seventh.

The council then voted on the appointments. Brear was appointed to a full position on the board, which will expire on July 31, 2024.  

Carpenter’s board position, which Nassaney opposed, will expire on July 31, 2023.

Price was appointed to the second alternate position.

Trimmer reminded those who had not been appointed that there would soon be another opportunity for them to apply.

“I was asked tell everyone who didn’t get appointed tonight that on July 31st, there is one permanent and two alternate positions that are opening up again, and I invite all of you to apply for those,” he said.

Asked later why Dinsmore had not been considered for the full- time board post, Trimmer said he did not feel he could support her.

Dinsmore has been publicly critical of some council members in the past, including Trimmer, who said he had felt it necessary to  ask each Zoning Board applicant to state how they felt about a member of a town body criticizing another town official.

“They indeed have the right to say whatever they want, but I have the right to vote whatever I want, too, and that’s why I did not vote to promote Louise, because although she’s knowledgeable, I don’t feel she has the restraint and bearing,” he said. “And I’m fine with that being stated, because I told her that.”

Dinsmore would have been required to resign her alternate position in order to apply for the full-time position. Sheehan pressed Trimmer on the Dinsmore appointment.

“I think someone can resign and apply at the same time. It’s discrimination,” she said.

Colasante said he believed that as first alternate, Dinsmore “should automatically slide right in to the full position, and she comes with the most experience. There isn’t anybody here, right? that has any experience other than Miss Dinsmore.”

Nassaney countered that Dinsmore was required to resign her alternate position but that the resignation was not on the meeting agenda, and therefore, could not be considered.

“The way that the procedure has been, and has always been, is that you step down from apposition, you put your application in for the new position,” he said.

“That’s nuts,” Colasante interjected.

Nassaney continued,

“And it’s not even on our agenda. The resignation is not on the agenda. If it was on the agenda, then we would have taken care of it as an agenda item,” he said.

 

Economic Development

 

Trimmer, who was criticized for inviting a representative from an economic development firm to the May 2 council meeting, asked the council to consider issuing a request for proposals, or RFP, soliciting a company or a consultant to advise the town on economic development strategies.

Sheehan produced a job description that she had drafted and distributed shortly before the meeting.

“If we’re going to put out an RFP, we need to be able to say what we want to have happen,” she said.

But Trimmer said he had not had time to look at Sheehan’s document, and Wilcox, reached a few days later, said she had received it minutes before the meeting.

“It was distributed to us, maybe, five, 15 minutes before the meeting, but the council chambers are loud,” she said. “You have people waiting for the meeting to start, where they’re having their own individual conversations, so I find it hard to concentrate.”

“When Helen presented the job description for the person that we’re supposed to hire, at the meeting, that was another snafu,” Trimmer later said. “Between Helen and Mike, each meeting, they come and they show up and they pass things out that aren’t on the agenda, that aren’t discussed that haven’t been agreed upon, that don’t have electronic copies.”

 

Allan Fung

 

Sitting in the audience was former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who said he had decided to attend the council meeting after seeing an economic development consultant on an agenda of the Economic Development Commission and attending that meeting.

Fung was not on the council meeting agenda, but Trimmer invited him to speak.

An attorney with the firm Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux & O’Gara LLC, Fung said he was interested in submitting a proposal.

“The reason I’m here tonight is because I wanted to listen in on the conversation with the RFP for economic development,” he said. “I’m a firm, [an] individual, and I just wanted to say, I’m a little confused and the reason why I’m a little confused about the discussion what’s going on, I had an opportunity yesterday to come before the Economic Development Commission and I saw an agenda item for them for an RFP as well. I want to try to figure out, exactly, because my background at the law firm is putting together deals. A lot of what I do is in the state and municipal sphere.”

Fung asked the council to explain what it was looking for in a consultant.

“I could provide the appropriate services to kind of help put the models, guidelines in place, what we have, do we have the right toolbox, reaching out,” he said. “A lot of the stuff we did in Cranston, all the communities, with the appropriate business to put… you together, with the right developers, businesses, that may have an interest but this is where I think that scope is important of what Richmond is looking for.”

Trimmer withdrew his motion to draft the RFP and asked town staff to draft an RFP for the council’s consideration.

“I think we should get the information together,” he said. “I think maybe we should have a workshop, but I would like to limit the workshop to an hour so it doesn’t become a bully pulpit session.”

Contacted several days later, Trimmer said he had been surprised to see Fung at the meeting.

“It was orchestrated by Louise [Dinsmore] and Colasante, because Colasante knows him,” he said. “…I figured I would grab him while he was there because I respect him, and have him come up and just speak for a little bit – not to snub him off but, I was totally and completely unaware.”

“I wasn’t expecting him to be there either,” Wilcox said.

It appears that the continual political bickering on the council might be starting to deter developers from coming to Richmond.

“I had two developers specifically say ‘I have seen social media, news reports and watched Town Council meetings and I’m not sure this is a town I want to do business with,’” Trimmer said. “They’re saying ‘hey I know that you guys are claiming that you are pro-business, however, we really fear investing in the town, even though we’d like to, because of the political rancor, the comments that are made about three sitting town councilors, including comments made about the Vice President and the President.’”

 

Learn365

 

The council voted to sign the Rhode Island Municipal Education Compact, part of Gov. Dan McKee’s “Learn365RI” initiative to enhance and expand educational opportunities in Rhode Island communities, outside of school hours.

After questioning program representative Jeremy Chiappetta on whether signing the compact would usurp the authority of the Chariho Regional School District or result in additional unfunded education mandates, the council voted to sign the compact on the condition that the town could later withdraw its support.

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Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for May 9, 2023

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Board agrees on aquifer ordinance amendments

 

By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA

April 11th 2023

RICHMOND – Members of the Planning Board agreed at the May 9 meeting on several amendments to the town’s aquifer protection overlay district ordinances. The amendments will now go to the Town Council for consideration.

As the name implies, the purpose of the aquifer protection ordinance is to protect the quality and quantity of the