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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...
Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for May 23, 2023
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.”
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.
Richmond Town Council Meeting for May 16, 2023
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.
“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.
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.”
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.’”
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.
Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for May 9, 2023
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 Pawcatuck aquifer, the town’s sole source aquifer.
The board is proposing to divide the aquifer protection overlay district into two sub-districts. “Sub-district A,” with the most restrictive use regulations, will include the sole source aquifer and well head protection areas. “Sub-district B” will pertain to groundwater recharge areas.
(It should be noted, however, that Sub-district A has effectively been eliminated, since it was intended to pertain to Phase I of The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences, which was on a private well but has since connected to the town water line.)
Over the course of several meetings, the board concluded that the current version of the aquifer protection ordinance should be repealed, because it is based on outdated mapping and in some cases, places unnecessary restrictions on economic development.
Assisted by consulting engineer and Richmond resident, Todd Greene, of the environmental engineering firm, GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc., the board approved draft amendments to the chapters of the ordinance pertaining to the storage and use of hazardous materials in the aquifer protection overlay district.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth explained that another chapter of the ordinance had been amended to allow a brew pub, a previously prohibited use in the aquifer protection district, at The Preserve, and that water consumption at the facility, should it be built, would be monitored by radio frequency meters.
“It’s radio frequency, so they don’t have to enter buildings,” she said. “They can just drive by.”
Board Chair Philip Damicus said water use by a brew pub would be limited.
“A manufacturing facility shall consume no more than 20,000 gallons of water per month,” he said.
The board also approved an amendment to the section of the ordinance governing development plan review and major land development approval.
“This just replaces the phrase, ‘development site’ with the phrase ‘proposed area of disturbance,’ Ellsworth explained. “So, it’s much more specific about explaining what part of the lot.”
The other change relates to hydrogeologic evaluations.
Among the requirements for applications for projects in the aquifer protection overlay district will be a peer-reviewed hydrogeologic evaluation which will remain valid unless there are substantial changes to conditions on or near the site.
There was also a discussion of a proposed buffer between the area of disturbance and the remaining area of the aquifer protection district.
Board member Kevin Stacey said,
“I guess what’s puzzling to me is that that 200 feet, 100 feet, whatever we’re talking about, that same area is something we wouldn’t require people to look at if they went right up to the line and didn’t cross it. But if they cross it by five feet, then that are comes into play, and to me, that seems a little bit inconsistent,” he said.
Board members agreed with Ellsworth’s proposal to remove language referring to the distance from the aquifer protection district and require the study of only the area within the district and agreed to send their recommended amendments to the Town Council.
Housing needs survey
Town Planner Shaun Lacey and board member Bryce Kelley presented an update on the design of a new housing needs survey which will be sent to residents.
“I would probably ask for a special meeting of the Affordable Housing Committee to review it so that they can they can get a little bit of community level control, buy-in,” Lacey said. “We started off with 20-something questions. I think we’re down to about 20.”
Kelley added that so far, there were no questions about accessory dwelling units, known as ADUs.
“The only thing that we really didn’t hit on, which was kind of the genesis of the idea of this housing needs survey, is questions specific to ADUs, and that is the one thing that I want to bring up to you,” he said. “I feel like the housing needs survey, as it is now, is pretty strong, but I know that we really initiated this conversation based on our conversation around ADUs, so I just wanted to quickly get the pulse on that.”
Damicis said he believed respondents should be asked about ADUs.
“It would have been nice to include that,” he said. “The only issue with that is I don’t know how you would word it…A lot of people, if you just say ADUs, or accessory dwelling units…they don’t have any idea what we’re talking about.”
Ellsworth proposed a survey question that would include an explanation of ADUs and Damicis said he wanted to add an ADU question.
A draft of the survey will be ready for Planning Board review in the coming weeks.
Town Council Meeting Update for May 2, 2023
Divisions evident at long, contentious council meeting
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND -- The bickering between members of the Town Council continued Tuesday at two back-to-back meetings that together, lasted 4 ½ hours.
In what was probably the most uncomfortable moment of the evening, former council President Nell Carpenter drove to the Town Hall while the meeting was in progress to express her outrage that current council President Mark Trimmer had invited an economic development consultant to make a presentation to the town.
Another awkward moment involved Raymond Pouliot, a council-appointed member of the Economic Development Commission, berating the council for not making additional cuts to the budget and ending his tirade with a warning that the first cuts should be the dismissals of Town Administrator Karen Pinch and Finance Director Laura Kenyon.
The meeting concluded with a proposal from Helen Sheehan
which included a suggestion that department heads consider cancelling their memberships in professional associations.
Solar proposed for Richmond Commons
At a joint meeting of the Town Council and the Planning Board that took place before the regular council meeting, members heard a proposal from BWC Canob Pond LLC for a commercial solar energy facility that would occupy part of the Richmond Commons property, at 116 Kingstown Road.
Joshua Lariscy, Product Development Director for the solar energy developer, also known as BlueWave Solar, presented details of his company’s plans.
The firm has submitted a pre-application which includes a request to amend the Planned United Development Village District or PUD-VC zone, in which solar development is currently prohibited, to allow the solar project.
A May 2 memo from Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained the purpose of the joint workshop.
“The workshop with the Town Council and the Planning Board allows for a conceptual view in a public setting prior to any decision to formally file an application to amend the Zoning Ordinance,” he wrote.
BlueWave plans to lease up to 65 acres on the East side of the parcel for the solar development. The property is owned by Richmond Realty, which has sold the Western side of the property to the Boston commercial developer, GFI Partners.
In 2021, the previous council denied an application to amend the ordinance. This time, council and board members seemed to be more amenable to a solar project at the site, and discussed the continued viability of the PUD-VC zone which they willconsider changing, possibly to light industrial.
The Town Council meeting
At the second and final public budget hearing, the council approved the proposed 2023-24 budget by a three to two vote with councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehanopposed. The proposed budget is $29.4 million, an increase of just under 5%. There is no property tax increase in the proposed budget.
At the first budget workshop, council members reduced the fund balance from 16% to 15% to trim $250,000 from the spending plan, a cut that Kenyon has warned will have to be repaid next year.
Colasante, Sheehan and others have continued to push for a further reduction of the fund balance to 14%, with Colasantesuggesting at Tuesday’s meeting, on two occasions, that councilors who resisted his proposal were demonstrating a lack of compassion for their fellow residents.
“Not everybody is doing as well as some people that advocate that ‘I don’t care what my taxes are. I like a nice, rural community and the hell with my neighbor.’ Because that’s basically what they’re saying to me,” he said.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox objected.
“Mr. President, nobody is saying that, just for clarification,” she said.
“We’re discussing a budget,” he said. “We’re not making political points.”
Colasante persisted, attacking Wilcox.
“Councilor Wilcox, you are not around me 24-7. You do not hear what people say to me. Are you a fly on the wall? Then don’t say to me that people haven’t said that,” he said.
Economic Development Commission member Raymond Pouliot demanded that the council make more budget cuts.
Asked by council Vice President Richard Nassaney where the proposed additional cuts should be made, Pouliot made a pointed reference to Pinch and Kenyon.
“With these increases in this budget, there would be two fewer people sitting up there right now, because this is obviously being mismanaged when you continually raise taxes at this rate. So,I’m telling you, you don’t want to know where I would cut,” he said.
Three of the five councilors voted to approve the budget, so it will now go before the voters in a referendum on June 5. (The budget referendum has replaced the Financial Town Meeting.)
The fireworks continue
Jim Damicis, an economic development consultant with the Maine-based firm, Camoin310, was invited by Trimmer to present an overview of what the town might need to consider in order to encourage economic development.
Damicis, the brother of Planning Board Chairman Philip Damicis, is not bidding for a contract with the town and did not plan to do so, but his presence nevertheless raised some eyebrows.
Economic Development Commission member Louise Dinsmore told the council that the presentation should have been made to the EDC.
“I think the entire EDC should probably review his proposal and his PowerPoint and get back to the council about, you know, the specific parameters that he put in there,” she said. “I have to say that it doesn’t feel right to me that the chairman of the Planning Board is related to this person, if the town is potentially thinking about hiring this firm.”
Former council President Nell Carpenter arrived at the council chambers, saying that she had tried to comment on Zoom but had not been able to log on to the virtual meeting, so she had driven to the Town Hall to express her views in person.
Quoting the town’s ordinances regarding competitive sealed bidding, Carpenter said inviting Damicis to present to the council had given his company an unfair advantage.
“Allowing this company to give a presentation, let alone the mere presence of this company on the agenda, violates our town code of ordinances regarding purchasing, reeks of corruption and favoritism, blatant disregard of our regulatory process.” she said. “… The action by President Trimmer is a perfect of example of why the sunshine laws were created, to insist on transparency of economic and financial government decisions.”
Reached Wednesday, Trimmer said he had no intention of circumventing any town ordinance or hiring Camoin310 and noted that he had felt it necessary to seek advice from a professional because the suggestions presented by the Richmond EDC had lacked substance.
“The EDC gave blind, vague suggestions, based on their limited knowledge, none of whom are EDC professionals, and my feeling is, the next step would be to bring in a professional to fill in the blanks,” he said.
Trimmer added he was taken aback by the negative reaction to his initiative.
“I know it sounds lame, but my feelings are hurt,” he said. “I worked really, really hard for the last month to try and find someone who had subject matter expertise on this.”
Trimmer ended up pulling his agenda item, to consider hiring an economic development consulting firm, or a lobbyist, and allocating $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money for that purpose.
Trimmer said he had hoped that Colasante would also pull his agenda item which would allocate up to $25,000 of the town’s ARPA funds to an audit of the town’s zoning and land development regulations, but Colasante said he believed the council should pursue the audit.
Trimmer proposed allocating $15,000 to the audit, which the other councilors approved.
A subsequent proposal from Colasante would involve using an additional $125,000 in ARPA funds to hire someone, on a two-year contract, “to direct economic development activities in the Town of Richmond.”
Wilcox said she would rather complete the ordinance audit before hiring anyone.
Lacey told the council that the town’s current infrastructure was a more significant limiting factor than ordinances in attracting new businesses.
“It’s not so much regulations. It’s really not,” he said. “It’s how much infrastructure that you have that can support whatever that developer, that use of that intensity is, right? You have limited water, and you have no sewers and you have 50, 60-year-old state roads that have only been incrementally expanded and improved over time. Those are important factors that really stack the cards against you.”
The council agreed to set aside $135,000 of APRA money “for the consideration of economic development.”
The discussion of economic development continued with Wilcox proposing to use ARPA funds to award grants to new businesses coming to Richmond.
“We see that we have some vacancies, not a lot, but some, and it would be good to incentivize where we have opportunities to incentivize new businesses coming in… to not only help a new business come into an empty building, but help the landlord who may want a tenant,” she said.
Sheehan proposed setting aside $50,000 of ARPA funds for the program. Councilors agreed that the grants would each be $5,000 and Wilcox said she would work on drafting the criteria for the grants.
After the lengthy discussions of hiring consulting firms and individual consultants, the council pivoted to Sheehan’s proposal to institute a one-year moratorium on all new hires as well as new, unbudgeted spending.
Trimmer said to Sheehan,
“Before we go any further, I want to comment, we’re talking about possibly hiring an economic development person,” he said. “You might want to hold off on this so it will allow us to hire that person.”
Sheehan said she was referring to new employees, not a person hired under contract.
“I’m making a motion that we have no new positions for a period of one year,” she said.
“That’s controlled by the budget that you just approved,” she told Sheehan. “That’s where the personnel money comes from, and then you approve individual hires also, so you don’t really need to do this, because you’ve got two ways that you can control that.”
“Well,” Sheehan replied, “I’d rather say no in advance than have them here and have to say no.”
Trimmer agreed with Ellsworth that introducing a third way to limit new hires would be unnecessary. Sheehan’s motion was defeated, with Sheehan and Colasante voting in favor and Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox opposed.
The final discussion was also contentious. Sheehan proposed asking every department to find new ways to save money.
“There are lots of little ways that can add up,” she said. “There are lots of memberships that people have, professional memberships, in the budget, and maybe people can look at if they need to belong to all those organizations.”
Pinch said for many staff members, such as planner Shaun Lacey and Town Clerk Erin Liese, a membership also served as a professional credential.
“In Shaun’s case, it’s a credential,” she said. “He needs thatcredential to be our planner. A lot of those memberships, that’s the case. Same thing with Erin, right? She’s a certified municipal clerk so she has a membership – that’s what allowed her to be a clerk.”
Liese added that membership in professional groups also served as free networking opportunities.
“It’s a tool that we use as professionals to find better ways to be efficient,” she said. “In most municipal offices, we’re governed by state law, so our hands are tied of what we can and cannot do, but we are more efficient with our resources on a daily basis.”
Trimmer suggested considering financial incentives to reward employees and managers who save the town money, and
Sheehan stressed that she was not being critical of the town staff.
“Look around. See if there is anything that could be done differently and you obviously are doing those things,” she said.
Richmond Zoning Board Meeting for May 1, 2023
Zoning Board approves special use permit for solar project
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
May 2nd 2023
RICHMOND – Last night, at their May 1 meeting, members of the Zoning Board of Review approved a special use permit for the construction of a commercial solar energy facility at 172 Beaver River Road.
The approval follows a court decision by Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter, issued on March 31, directing the board to issue the permit to property owner William Stamp Jr. and G.D. Richmond Beaver River I, LLC.
There was no discussion at Monday’s four-minute meeting, which was also attended by Stamp and his attorney, John Mancini.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth explained that the vote was a “formality,” in order to comply with the court decision.
“The board has to vote to grant the special use permit because that was what the judge said you had to do,” she said.
The motion to grant the special use permit was made by board Chair Nicholas Solitro and seconded by Louise Dinsmore.
The court decision upholds an appeal of the Zoning Board’s denial of the application in Feb. 2020.
Named as defendants in the appeal were the Town of Richmond, Zoning Board Vice Chair Jeffrey Vaillancourt and board members Sean Carney, Chelsea Battinger, Daniel Jarstfer, and Lindsay Hannon. Also named were former zoning official Russel “Bo” Brown, and abutting property owner John Peixinho, one of the founders of the Beaver River Valley Community Association.
Taft-Carter’s decision concluded that the reasons for the board’s denial of the application were neither factually nor legally supported and directed the board to issue the special use permit without delay.
Stamp, and GD Richmond Beaver River I, first proposed the project in 2018. The 5.3-megawatt array would occupy about seven acres of the 41-acre property, located in the Beaver River Valley which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Peixinho has restored the Samuel Clarke Farm, which is also listed on the National Register and abuts the field proposed for the solar array. Peixinho has opposed the application, citing the importance of preserving one of the town’s few remaining historic, cultural landscapes.
What happens now?
The last avenue for opponents of the project is to file a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to review the Superior Court decision.
Both the town and Peixinho have said that they intend to file petitions. Peixinho has hired appellate attorney Tom Dickinson and the council voted to file a separate petition on behalf of the town. Ellsworth said Tuesday that she was preparing the legal memorandum that would accompany the writ.
Roundabout Construction Prep Begins
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 28th 2023
RICHMOND – After nearly a decade of planning, construction of the roundabout at the intersection of Routes 138 (Kingstown Road) and 112 (Richmond Townhouse Road) is underway.
Financed, designed and built by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the roundabout will slow traffic on Route 138 and reconfigure the section of Richmond Townhouse Road behind the own Hall from a two-way road to a single, eastbound direction. The roundabout will be pedestrian-friendly, with sidewalks and crosswalks at each corner.
Roundabout vs rotary: What’s the difference?
The purpose of a roundabout is to slow traffic. Motorists entering a roundabout travel around a central island and traffic separator islands. Rotaries are larger, circular intersections, where traffic moves at greater speed.
Roundabouts are considered to be more efficient than traffic lights and stop signs at keeping traffic moving.
More information on roundabouts and rotaries is available on the RIDOT website.
The addition of the roundabout has been the cause of considerable angst among some residents, who have described it on the town’s community Facebook page as “a fine example of stupidity” and “so horrible and poorly planned.”
But the existing intersection, with several intersecting lanes of traffic and Richmond Elementary School close by, has been the site of more than 100 automobile accidents over the past decade, and Police Chief Elwood Johnson said he had no doubt that the project would improve safety.
“That particular area in town is our most dangerous stretch of roadway with so many intersecting roadways and driveways and directions of travel, all converging on the same stretch,” he said.
“The roundabout slows people down to 25 miles per hour or lower, and softens angles of impact, period.”
Johnson said he had driven through many roundabouts without experiencing delays of difficulties.
“If you look at areas with similar volumes or even higher volumes of traffic – Warwick is probably not the best example, because there’s so many roundabouts - but I’ve travelled through there at peak volume times and have had no problem navigating traffic,” he said. “And, the wait times are so much less, sometimes none at all. You’ve just got to slow your vehicle. Remember that the Richmond Elementary School is adjacent to this roundabout location, and we’ve had complaints and problems with speeding, particularly with vehicles travelling West, where the road is wider and smooth and improved and not so many houses situated along the roadway, so people tend to drive a lot faster as they approach the crest of that hill, and people travelling through the area don’t care to slow or stop.”
DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin III said construction is expected to be completed by April 2025.
“The project just started construction,” he said. “The total cost of the project, design and construction, is $6.5 million. One of the first things they’re doing is clearing some of the land. They’re also doing the water line.”
(The new water line, a town project, is funded by an American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA grant of $292,660.)
St. Martin said there would be no road closures during construction, but there might be some delays.
“There will be occasional lane closures during working hours during the week,” he said. “There may be some traffic impacts, but we’re not totally closing 138.”
There will be no construction during the Washington County Fair, from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20.
Johnson said he expected that motorists would adapt quickly to the new traffic pattern.
“It’s going to allow people travelling South on Carolina Nooseneck and North on 112 to enter that intersection safely, rather than waiting for an opportunity to take a chance to lurch out, either turning left or right or travelling straight across,” he said. “I know it’s different. I get that it’s easy to assume the worst, but the fact is, these are working very successfully in other communities. Their rates of accidents are down. Their rates of serious injuries are also down.”
A long time coming
Town Administrator Karen Pinch said she remembered the roundabout proposal being presented to the town as far back as 2015.
“DOT presented their proposal to the town several times, to multiple Town Councils and each time the Council expressed their approval of the plan,” she wrote in an email. “Some people are concerned that the roundabout will be a hindrance, while others believe it will slow traffic in an area where traffic regularly exceeds the speed limit. Having it by the school and at the intersection with Rt. 112 isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the number of accidents that have happened at that intersection.”
Construction crews are preparing the site of the new roundabout at
the intersection of Routes 138 and 112.
The flower bed on the corner of Route 138 near Richmond Elementary School has been removed by DOT construction crews. The intersection is being prepared for the construction of a new roundabout and the land was needed for the project.
Cannabis sales lead Planning Board agenda
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 26th 2023
RICHMOND – Planning Board members discussed amendments to the town ordinance regulating marijuana businesses at Tuesday’s meeting.
State legislation, passed in May, 2022, legalized recreational marijuana use, and in November of that same year, Richmond voters approved a ballot measure which would allow retail sales of recreational marijuana in the town.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey proposed changes to the use table pertaining to retail cannabis sales.
“What we’re proposing tonight would be that, for cannabis retailers, the sales of cannabis products, we’re making a recommendation that those uses be permitted in the ‘General business’ zone, ‘light industrial,’ ‘industrial,’ and the ‘PUD VC’ [Planned Unit Development-Village Center] zone,” he said.
Lacey noted that the use table for recreational marijuana businesses will align with the use table for medical marijuana.
The use codes for “compassion center” and “commercial cultivation” would be replaced by new codes: “cannabis business” and “cannabis retail.”
Board Chair Philip Damicis noted that it appeared that there would be no distinction between medical and recreational cannabis.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth replied that there was a difference between the two uses, but she added,
“Practically speaking, retailers are going to be able to sell both, so it’s only a distinction in the sense that some people are going to have medical marijuana cards and buy medical marijuana, and other people who are just going to buy recreational marijuana, and I think it’s probably going to depend on which one’s cheaper. If you use medical marijuana and the recreational is cheaper, you’re going to buy that.”
Damicis asked whether compassion centers would continue to exist under the new state law. Ellsworth said she doubted it, but she noted that the recreational marijuana legislation requires the creation of a new commission to regulate marijuana, which is currently under the authority of the Department of Business Regulation.
“The complete changeover of the system is not going to happen for a couple of years, so I’d be a little uncomfortable in recommending that you send anything to the Town Council until you’ve seen the regulations, because it’s possible the regulations will make distinctions between different types of cannabis uses that the statute doesn’t, and the commission will have the authority to make those distinctions to add to the state law,” she said.
Members discussed the PUD-VC zone, which was created in 2002 for a large-scale mixed - use development at Richmond Commons that was never constructed.
“I think the PUD-VC really does not serve any purpose any longer,” Ellsworth said.
The town’s only cannabis grower, Coastal Farms on Kingstown Road, has applied to the Town Council twice, without success, for ordinance amendments which would allow the facility to sell marijuana.
Board members went through the uses in the table and agreed on the following uses for cannabis retailers:
Cannabis businesses, including eventual retailers in addition to cultivators, will remain prohibited in all three of the town’s residential zones, and the neighborhood business zone.
They will be permitted in the general business, light industrial and industrial zones. They will not be permitted in the planned development zone, but will be permitted in the PUD-VC zone where the town’s only cultivator is located.
Cannabis businesses will remain prohibited in the flex tech and Shannock Village zones. They will also be prohibited in the agricultural overlay district, and in the conservation-open space zone.
The board is also waiting for the state to release its official definition of the term, “cannabis business,” because the town will have to use that definition in its ordinances.
Board member Daniel Madnick made a motion to provide the board’s proposed amendments to the Town Council at a future date.
In other business, the board briefly discussed an upcoming joint workshop with the Town Council to discuss a pre- application by BlueWave solar to amend the town’s solar ordinance to allow the construction of a solar energy facility on a section of the Richmond Commons site.
Lacey reminded the board that the Town Council, in 2021 denied the company’s proposal for solar at the site but said the company is now interested in re-applying.
“The operator, going back to last fall, asked if they could re-apply, and I said ‘well, you’re better off just discussing the concept broadly before you actually file anything formally, just to see if there’s any general appetite for it so that you’re not making a greater investment. Maybe you’ll get some direction,’” he said.
Two changes have taken place since 2021: the membership of the Town Council has changed, and in the absence of any of the hoped-for mixed use development proposals, the council might look more favorably on a solar application.
The developer will present a proposal to the council and Planning Board at the joint workshop, on May 2, at 5 p.m..
Richmond Town Council Update for April 18, 2023 PART TWO
Council urged to further reduce surplus at first budget hearing
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 22nd 2023
RICHMOND – The first of two public hearings at the Town Council meeting Tuesday offered residents an opportunity to express their opinions on the town’s proposed 2023-24 budget. Many of them urged the town to do more to reduce their property taxes.
The fund balance in the new budget will be 15%, the lowest level under the town’s existing fund balance policy, which requires a surplus of 15% to 25%. The Town Council, at its budget workshop, already reduced the fund balance from just over 16% to 15%.
At Tuesday’s hearing, councilor Michael Colasante proposed further lowering the fund balance, which would require the council to amend the town’s fund balance policy.
“It’s up to the council to set the policy on what the fund balance is going to be, because I know that prior councils, even under President [Henry] Oppenheimer, they went and they adjusted the fund balance percentage… When the auditor came in, I asked her, statewide, what is the average fund balance that a lot of municipalities are holding and she said 10%,” he said.
Finance Director Laura Kenyon interjected.
“I don’t believe she knew about the organizations,” she said. “I have actually reached out.”
The consequence of reducing the fund balance to 15% would be felt next year, Kenyon explained.
“It’s a one - time use of funds, so you would have to do something in your budget the following year to offset that $250,000,” she said. “Either your fund balance is going below that 15% which means that the third year during the policy, you then have to replenish that as well, or you just make it to the level that it becomes the 15%, but you’re going to raise taxes for whatever the differential becomes.”
Kenyon presented an overview of the proposed budget at the start of the public hearing.
The total proposed budget is $29.4 million, an increase of just under 5%, or $370,000.
The municipal budget is $7.8 million but the town’s share of the Chariho school budget is up by 4.85%, or just over $1 million. The total amount paid by Richmond to Chariho will be $21.7 million.
The new budget contains no property tax increase.
“They offset the $228,000 with fund balance. The estimated tax rate is $14.75,” Kenyon explained.
However, the final property tax rate is still to be determined.
“All of the assessments and exemptions are still being evaluated,” Kenyon said. “Just for everyone’s information, the assessments, with the reval [revaluation] went up an average of 39%.”
The good news is that state aid for education is expected to increase by $775,000, although the state budget could still change before it is passed, in June, by the General Assembly.
The capital budget, Kenyon said, will decrease.
“There’s a transfer to capital projects just shy of half a million dollars,” she said. “That’s down from $725,000 in Fiscal Year ’23. It’s been recommended from department heads for this year. It’s to help maintain our infrastructure.”
In anticipation of the payment of road bonds, the town’s debt service will increase by just over $300,000.
“There was an approval of $2.5 million dollars for road bonds and this would be the debt service for the issuance of those bonds,” Kenyon said.
Department heads level-funded their budget requests, but costs will still rise with a 3% cost of living increase for personnel. Health insurance is up 1.6% and dental is up 8.9%.
“Dental is a much smaller number so while it says 9%, the impact is not that much,” Kenyon explained.
The details of the proposed budget can be found on the town’s website.
The residents react
Several residents attending the hearing told the council that they were not pleased with the budget.
One man, who bought his house about 20 years ago, said his taxes had gone up every year.
“Right now, I’m working all the overtime I can at Kenyon Mill as a mechanic, textile mill, to pay my taxes in this town,” he said. “I don’t want to move out of this town but it seems like I’m being driven out. You have to listen to the little people. All of us aren’t rich in this town.”
Colasante said he agreed.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s like an illegal squatter in your home, okay? That’s the way I classify it,” he said. “Think about that, and don’t lose that image in your mind, okay? They’re like a squatter in your home, because if you don’t pay your taxes, they’re going to take your house.”
In a separate interview two days after the budget hearing,
Town Administrator Karen Pinch said the reduction of the fund balance had been necessary to offset the impact of an increase in the Chariho budget.
“We had an increase in expenses, which was offset by increases in revenue,” she said. “So, the town was at a zero increase, but the school had an increase, and the will of the people, as evidenced in the [Chariho budget] vote, was to increase the school budget – to pay more taxes through the school. In reducing the fund balance, we’re basically erasing the schools’ increase.”
Kenyon said she believed the council might consider amending the fund balance policy.
“The issue is, the council can vote to use as much of the unassigned fund balance as they choose in the budget, it’s just that they have guidance with their own fund balance policy as to what would be the consequence of the decision,” she said.
It should be noted that the Government Finance Officers Association recommends that a city or town have a reserve that would be sufficient to cover two months of expenses. In the case of Richmond, that would be a fund balance of 16.6%.
What’s next in the budget process
A second and final public hearing on the budget will take place on May 2 at 6 p.m.
Residents approved the abolition of the town’s annual Financial Town Meeting, which has been replaced by a budget referendum on June 5. Voters will be able to cast their ballots from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Town Hall.
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for April 18, 2023
Council votes to challenge Beaver River solar ruling
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 19th 2023
RICHMOND – A council meeting that lasted nearly four hours Tuesday concluded with a vote to launch a legal challenge to a recent court ruling on a commercial solar energy application.
Issued on March 31 by Superior Court Justice Sarah Taft-Carter, the decision upholds an appeal by GD Beaver River I LLC of the Zoning Board’s denial of an application to build a solar array in a field owned by William Stamp Jr. at 172 Beaver River Road.
The judge’s decision is described in detail on the Beaver River Valley Community Association website.
Named as a defendant in the appeal, in addition to the Town of Richmond, members of the board, and a former zoning official, was John Peixinho, one of the founders of the Beaver River Valley Community Association.
Peixinho has hired appellate attorney Tom Dickinson, of Providence, to file a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to review the lower court decision.
The council voted Tuesday to ask Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to file a separate writ of certiorari on behalf of the town.
The council vote was three to two, with Council President Mark Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox voting in favor.
Councilman Michael Colasante, who, with councilor Helen Sheehan, was opposed, said he did not see why the town was involved in an issue involving land it did not own.
“Why are we going into executive session over this?” he said. “We lost the case. That’s public information and there’s nothing to do with town lands or anything like that.”
“Because we would be discussing our strategy for the appeal and the likelihood of success.”
Reached Wednesday, Peixinho said,
“I am grateful for the support of Mark Trimmer, Richard Nassaney and Samantha Wilcox. Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan, who voted against the resolution and who frequently stress the urgent need to attract businesses to Richmond, might better focus their efforts on areas of town zoned for business rather than supporting the permanent destruction of open space that has been included on the National Register of Historic Places, and the peaceful, rural nature of our community that is so important to so many of us taxpayers.”
At the first of two public budget hearings, several residents weighed in on the 2023-24 spending plan. A story on the budget will be posted on the BRVCA website later this week. The proposed budget can be found here:
Colasante presented a report on Town Council priorities for economic development.
“Actually, it’s titled ‘Richmond Town Council Priorities for Economic Development Multi - Faceted Approach.’ That’s the title of it, and some of the things that we discussed here tonight, it goes through it,” he said. “Economic development at this time needs to be addressed with a multi – faceted approach with the main players being the taxpayers of Richmond, the school system funded by our taxes, and businesses considering making an investment in the Town of Richmond,” he said, reading from his report. “These three entities need to be addressed through responsible consideration of their needs.”
Colasante’s suggestions include: stabilizing property taxes by further reducing the town’s unrestricted fund balance, introducing a moratorium on new town hires, directing Town Administrator Karen Pinch to complete a five-year capital improvement plan, addressing the needs of business owners who might be considering investing in the town, addressing the Chariho budget, giving the Economic Development Commission increased authority and appointing a Town Council liaison to the commission. The council did not appoint a liaison, but Colasante said he would attend commission meetings.
With Wilcox, a Democrat, opposing, the four Republican members of the council voted to support a resolution by the Town of Burrillville opposing proposed state gun control legislation.
“What that bill would do, if I have a permit to carry, then I would have to leave either my gun at home or leave my gun locked in the trunk, and I wouldn’t be able to walk into the school and pick up my child,” Colasante said. “There hasn’t been one incident where a law-abiding citizen, parent or guardian has walked into a school and shot up the school. Never once. But you know something? I would want to carry my gun into the school to pick up my grandchild and God forbid, if there was a lunatic inside that school, I would not think twice, all right? About putting my life in jeopardy, all right? To try and take that person out, okay? to prevent a very horrific incident.”
There was a lengthy discussion of the town’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA funds, and how they might be allocated.
There were plenty of ideas. Trimmer proposed using $50,000 of ARPA money to hire a consulting company to attract more businesses to Richmond.
Colasante proposed using $25,000 in ARPA funds to hire an auditor to review the town’s zoning and planning ordinances, an initiative originally put forward by the EDC.
Colasante also wanted to use $125,000 of the ARPA funds to hire a two-year contract employee to attract economic development in the town.
Councilor Sheehan said the town needed a dedicated economic development director.
“We need somebody whose job it is to make sure it goes through,” she said.
Ellsworth said the approval procedure was not overly burdensome, to which Sheehan replied,
“Well, it’s not happening. Not happening,” she said.
“But that’s not why. It’s not because there’s 150 steps.”
There is also the issue of whether ARPA funds can even be used for the councilors’ proposed initiatives. Ellsworth said she had been discussing the matter with Pinch and Finance Director Laura Kenyon.
“We are not certain that the ARPA money can be used for this type of economic development,” she said. “We think that it might, but we need to speak to the consultants who are administering the federal [funds].”
Ellsworth said the council would have an answer soon, but recent EDC appointee Louise Dinsmore still berated the council for not prioritizing economic development.
“I’m really disappointed that that we didn’t advance the economic development conversation further tonight,” she said. “It’s really obvious to me who are the economic development proponents in this town, and that would be, obviously, Councilwoman Sheehan and Councilman Colasante. I’m disappointed in Mark, Rich and Samantha that we’re not prioritizing this a little bit more.”
“The reason we pushed it off is because we’re waiting for an answer regarding whether we can use ARPA money,” she said.
Dinsmore did not seem to hear her.
“It’s obvious to anybody sitting here who are the economic development champions and who are not,” she said.
Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Chariho School Committee Case
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 13th 2023
PROVIDENCE – Oral arguments were presented Thursday before the Rhode Island Supreme Court in the case of Richmond School Committee candidate Jessica Purcell, who is 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 who came third in the Nov. 8, 2022 election, lost her bid for a School Committee seat by just 27 votes. When Richmond committee member Gary Liguori announced in January, 2023 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 appointed Republican political operative Clay Johnson to the vacant seat.
Purcell hired attorney Jeffrey Levy and took her case to the Supreme Court.
Named as defendants and represented by attorney Joseph Larisa are Johnson, the Richmond Town Council and the Chariho School Committee.
Several Johnson supporters were in the court room, including Town Council members Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan, both of whom voted to name Johnson to the School Committee.
Also present were Chariho School Committee attorney Jon Anderson and attorney Mark Reynolds, the current Richmond Town Moderator.
Anderson said he had been instructed by the committee not to comment on the case.
“The School Committee voted for me to take no position,” he said.
Each attorney had 20 minutes to present his case and an additional 10 minutes each for rebuttals. Levy presented his arguments to the five Justices, Chief Justice Paul Suttell and Justices Maureen McKenna Goldberg, William Robinson III, Erin Lynch Prata and Melissa Long.
At issue is whether the town charter or the Chariho Act takes precedence. The three council members who voted to appoint Johnson, who did not run for election, over Purcell, who received 1,469 votes, defended their decision on the grounds that the Chariho Act, state legislation passed in 1958 governing the Chariho Regional School District, took precedence over the Richmond Home Rule Charter, which was approved by voters in 2008 and ratified by the state legislature.
The charter states that in the case of a vacancy on the 12-member Chariho School Committee, the person who received the next-highest number of votes should be named to fill the seat – in this case, Purcell.
Levy’s argument is 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 chosen by the council should be the next-highest vote-getter.
Justice Lynch Prata posed a question that lies at the heart of the case.
“Is that what the voters of Richmond intended, in terms of having the next vote-getter win, and if that’s what they intended, did the General Assembly ratify that piece?” she asked Levy. “Because I don’t think that anybody’s trying to say that you were intending to repeal the Chariho Act.”
Levy replied that harmonizing the Chariho Act and the town charter would eliminate the need for the specific ratification of certain provisions.
“This court’s analysis, to me, seems to be that it’s possible to comply with both laws here,” he said. “It’s possible to comply with the Chariho Act in that the council appoints the replacement, and it’s possible to comply with the charter if the council appoints the runner-up from the last election.”
Goldberg, who was critical throughout Levy’s argument, said she believed that Richmond voters wanted the Chariho Act to prevail in cases where the act and the charter were incompatible.
“You have a provision in the Chariho Act that dictates how vacancies on that board are to be filled, period,” she said.
Levy countered that the town charter was not inconsistent with the Chariho Act.
“The charter provision is not inconsistent with the Chariho Act. It is consistent with the Chariho Act,” he said.
“No, it’s not,” Goldberg replied.
The justices questioned Levy’s assertion that when the General Assembly approved the town charter, it was, in effect, ratifying it in its entirety.
Justice Lynch-Prata asked what would be necessary for the state to specifically validate the town charter.
“What’s required for express validation?” she asked.
Levy replied that the General Assembly had ratified the entire charter, making further ratification unnecessary.
“The General Assembly ratified the entire charter in all respects which require ratification,” he said.
Goldberg pointed out that the Chariho Act applies not only to Richmond to all three Chariho towns, including Charlestown and Hopkinton.
“We have a charter and we have a state law that doesn’t just apply to Richmond,” she said. “It’s three towns, and it specifically says how vacancies are to be filled.”
Levy concluded his argument by alluding to the politics motivating the three Republican council members to name fellow Republican Johnson to the School Committee.
“There’s a political motivation here, but that’s beside the point,” he said. “The point is…”
Goldberg broke in,
“There’s more than a political motivation,” she said. “This is not a happy marriage over at Chariho, but that is not before us, happily.”
Central to Larisa’s arguments is the assertion that the Chariho Act and the town charter cannot, as Levy had argued, be harmonized because they are fundamentally incompatible.
“Why is it not?” Justice Robinson asked. “Why don’t the canons [ordinances] apply if they’re both actions of the General Assembly? ... Taking the two actions of the General Assembly, the Chariho Act and the charter, which it ratified, why doesn’t the charter control this issue, because it’s so specific, and because it’s later in time?”
Larisa responded that the General Assembly had never ratified the charter provision in question. He also cited case law showing the diverse ratification mechanisms employed by the General Assembly.
“As this court knows, a home rule charter community has certain rights in areas of local concern. It has no rights for ordinance and charter in areas of statewide concern,” he said.
Robinson questioned Larisa’s assertion that state law trumped the town charter.
“Where has that ever been said?” he asked.
“It was ratified,” Robinson continued, referring to the town charter, “so therefore, it becomes state law for Richmond. It’s an act of the General Assembly.”
Larisa said that the General Assembly had to specifically ratify the provision of the charter in order for that provision to be state law.
“The way a charter, or a provision of a charter, becomes state law is express ratification of the provision…saying all laws are repealed,” he said. “Without the ‘all laws are repealed’ in consistent … language or without express ratification… the provision at issue, the Chariho Act’s vacancy – filling provision, has simply never been repealed by the General Assembly and since it’s an inferior charter provision, or ordinance, it succumbed to the Chariho Act.”
(It should be noted that it would not be legally possible for Richmond to unilaterally repeal any provisions of the Chariho Act, since any and all amendments to the act require the consent of all three towns.)
Robinson also took issue with Larisa’s description of the charter as inferior.
“What do you mean an inferior charter provision,” he said. “The charter commission worked hard to come up with the charter. They went to Providence, to the General Assembly, and they passed it. It’s not inferior. It’s later in time, more specific, and, frankly, superior.”
Outside the Licht Judicial Complex after the arguments had concluded, Levy repeated his assertions that the charter and the Chariho Act are compatible and the charter had become state law when it was ratified by the General Assembly.
Levy also repeated that no part of the Chariho Act could, as Larisa suggested, be repealed because all three towns must agree on amendments.
“You can’t repeal the Chariho Act provisions, because then you would be leaving Charlestown and Hopkinton hanging without a way to replace, or fill vacancies,” he said. “So, the fact that there was no repeal is irrelevant here, from my perspective.”
Purcell, who was in the court room, said the legal arguments differed from her perception of her case.
“A lot of words, a lot of analyzing that is much different from the way I look at it and the way I think most people I speak to look at it,” she said. “I think it was very simple and clear what the Town Council should have done from the start and it’s unfortunate we’ve had to go through this many months of additional analyzing and back-and-forth and legal fees, honestly. So, I’m not sure how the judges will decide. They seemed sort of split about what they felt was the best way to interpret the conflict or the lack of conflict or what takes precedence, so I’m really not sure what’s going to happen.”
Johnson and Larisa did not speak to reporters after the proceeding.
The court is expected to issue its decision in the coming weeks.
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for April 6, 2023
Council to reconsider Richmond Commons solar proposal
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – The Town Council agreed at the April 4 meeting to hold a workshop with the Planning Board to reconsider an application for a zoning change for a solar energy project at the Richmond Commons site.
Council members also agreed to engage the Church Community Housing Corporation to assist the town in procuring and administering Community Development Block Grants.
It was hoped that the 294-acre Richmond Commons property, located on Route 138, would be transformed into a mixed - use development, with 400 housing units and retail and office space.
The Planning Board created a special Planned Unit Development-Village Center zone in 2002 to accommodate the proposed project, but the plan failed to attract tenants. Since that time, the land has remained largely vacant and owner John Aiello has sold a portion of the west side of the parcel to a gravel company.
The Town Council first denied a zoning amendment proposed by BlueWave Solar, of Boston, to allow solar in Feb. 2021, but with a different council now in place, the developer intends to apply once again for an amendment that would permit the construction of a commercial solar array on 65 acres on the northwest side of the property.
The PUD-Village Center zone currently prohibits solar energy installations, and BlueWave will ask the town to amend the use code to allow solar.
While the land remains largely vacant and the town is anxious to encourage economic development at the site, the lucrative tax advantages of allowing the construction of the facility no longer exist. State legislation introduced in 2022 requires cities and towns to tax renewable energy facilities at the same rate that existed prior to the developers leasing or purchasing the land.
A joint Town Council - Planning Board workshop to discuss the pre- application will take place on May 2 at 5 p.m.
Community Development Block Grants
Bob Plain, representing the non-profit Church Community Housing Corporation, told the council that his group, which is based in Newport County, was interested in administering the Community Development Block Grant program in Richmond.
“You have to be able to demonstrate that 51% of the beneficiaries are of low and moderate income,” Plain said. “What people on Aquidneck Island, where we largely represent do with it, it funds the social service agencies, it funds homeless shelters, it funds street scape projects, it funds senior centers.”
The corporation would offer services previously performed by the Washington County Community Development Corporation, where both representatives have retired.
Finance Director Laura Kenyon said the town would welcome a CDBG grant administrator.
“We’ve been waiting for an administrator to come to our door,” she said.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey said CDBG money could also be used for infrastructure improvements.
“If you can demonstrate that sidewalks or water service is benefitting 51% of the population that fall under low and moderate income, that’s a project,” he said.
Following an unsuccessful attempt to form a tri town coalition to fight unfunded state mandates, Councilor Michael Colasante said he was now asking state Rep. Megan Cotter (D- Dist. 39) to submit legislation requiring that state mandates be funded with state money.
“She is going to draft legislation for the mandates, for the unfunded mandates and basically, it will read that any new mandates that the General Assembly will pass will have to come with funding,” he said. “It will be a very, very simple bill, and then, Senator [Elaine] Morgan will do it on the Senate.”
At this point, the bill is far from reaching the floor of the General Assembly. Submitting the proposed legislation would first require a resolution approved by the Town Council asking Cotter to draft the bill, and no such resolution has been passed or proposed.
Economic Development Commission Vice Chair Joseph Reddish presented a report on the “Richmond Open for Business” campaign.
The commission’s mission is to attract new businesses to the town and to support existing businesses.
“How do we focus ourselves, as a town, to create revenue so that we can offset, in the future, our residential taxes,” he said. “And the way to do that, as we’ve determined, is really through economic development and growth in the town of Richmond. Our mission is to encourage and attract new businesses to locate in Richmond.”
The commission recommends that the town allocate $20,000 to $25,000 of its remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to hire a firm to audit Richmond’s planning, zoning and building ordinances to determine whether they are business-friendly. Reddish said the commission had also determined that the town’s website needed an upgrade.
In addition, the commission proposes that the council use some of the ARPA money to hire an Economic Development Director.
“When I talk about the successes of other states and other towns, they have a Director of ED on their staff,” he said. “That person’s job is to go out and identify businesses and opportunities for bringing businesses, whether small or large. We have Richmond Commons, which has been a process, for, going on now, 30-plus years. Empty space. I think we get 10, maybe 15 grand worth of taxes. Imagine if we could fill that with the right businesses and that would probably go up by 100 times and that right there would lower the taxes on the bottom line of the residents.”
Reddish also repeated a proposal, first made by commission member Louise Dinsmore, that town administrators be accountable for development objectives.
“We recommend that you develop a set of performance-based objectives and accountability of job descriptions for our Town Administrator and Town Planner related to economic development. I’m not saying they’re doing a bad job, but if we don’t set goals, it’s just like any other business out there,” he said.
The Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need, which has received approval from the town for an $80,000 grant from the town’s ARPA funds for improvements to the building, asked whether some of those funds could be reallocated from the proposed rooftop solar panels to other projects.
It has been determined that the roof of the building, which houses a food pantry and thrift shop, will not support the weight of the panels.
RICAN President Scott Straight asked the council to approve the reallocation of the funds.
“We are asking to re-allocate that money to other projects that we have identified,” he said. “A new well – our well is not sustainable for us going forward. It actually dried up on us. Solar light for our parking lot – that’s about $14,000 right there.”
Another $20,000, Straight said, would be used to make structural improvements to the roof on the RICAN building.
The council declined to approve funds for parking lot lighting, but agreed to the request for $14,000 for the well and $20,000 for the roof.
Council President Mark Trimmer said,
“I’m looking at the needs, and the $20,000 for the structural repairs is definitely a need. The $14,000 for their well is a definite need. The lighting in their parking lot, I’m not feeling that’s something we should pay for, so my thought would be to allocate them the $34,000, which would cover their well and their structural needs.”
The council approved the amended motion, made by Colasante, to approve a $34,000 allocation to RICAN.
Chariho Budget Passes Easily
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 5th 2023
RICHMOND – On Tuesday, voters in Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton approved the Chariho budget by nearly 800 votes – 1,950 to 1,336. This year’s budget referendum was a far cry from last year’s vote, when voters rejected the proposed spending plan.
After all the cuts, the new budget is $57 million, a 1.74% increase over the current budget.
In this year’s referendum, in Charlestown, 670 people approved the budget and 182 voted against it. In Hopkinton, 610 voted to approve and 596 were opposed, a margin of just 14 votes. In Richmond, the vote was 670 in favor and 558 opposed.
Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney, a budget supporter, said she was encouraged by the higher voter turnout in the three towns, including Charlestown.
“It’s good to see so many people come out and vote,” she said. “On a personal note, I’m glad that the budget passed.”
Why was this year different?
To understand the significance of this year’s voting shift, it is helpful to look at previous years, when the budget was rejected, or barely passed.
Voters soundly rejected the proposed budget last year, not once but twice, with Charlestown the only town to approve it. That defeat resulted in a level-funded budget for the current year.
In 2021, Hopkinton was the only town to reject the budget, but there was sufficient support from the other towns for it to pass.
A list of budget votes doing back to 2018 is on the Friends of Chariho Facebook page.
In the weeks leading up to the most recent referendum, there was considerable rancor on both sides
On March 29, School Committee member Clay Johnson, of Richmond, sent a letter to unaffiliated and Republican voters urging them to vote against the budget.
Johnson’s letter concludes with,
“Vote NO on Tuesday April 4th on the school budget. Send a STRONG message that we, the taxpayers, will NOT STAND for any more budget games, un-American teaching or inefficient spending. YOUR vote matters!”
The letter was paid for by Johnson’s Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers political action committee. The cost of printing and mailing it is unknown, since the PAC is not required to record the expenditure on the Rhode Island Board of Elections website.
Johnson owns a Goddard School franchise in South Kingstown. The Goddard School is a nationwide franchise of 600 private, “early child education centers” in 37 states.
Despite his vocal opposition to the budget, he did not attend the March 14 School Committee meeting during which it was adopted by committee members.
Chariho supporters reacted to the vote with a combination of relief and caution.
Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard was encouraged by the increased voter turnout and said she hoped to continue to demonstrate the value of the district to the community.
“I think, for me, the goal will be to continue to ensure that our community sees our district as one of its greatest assets,” she said.
Picard did note, however, that the district’s healthcare fund balance, which was reduced by $877,725 to $6.2 million during the budget process, will have to be monitored.
“The one I’m probably most concerned about is the healthcare fund balance that was cut, because we did see additional monies in that fund, because people were not utilizing those services throughout COVID,” she said.
The fund balance could be depleted by healthcare claims that have not yet been submitted, Picard warned.
“It could be something that costs us more money than people expect and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but we’re going to have to keep a close eye, because we may have to move some money back into that,” she said.
School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti, of Hopkinton, said the budget referendum could be viewed, in a broader sense, as a referendum on public education.
“That’s really what this came down to is, a community understanding that education is important, and a cornerstone of our community,” she said.
Giusti said she believed that voters had realized how much was at stake in this referendum.
“This is the first year in many where we have had to say ‘if this budget doesn’t pass, there will be catastrophic changes made,’ and I think that always motivates a community,” she said.
Picard agreed that voters appeared to realize what the district stood to lose if the budget did not pass.
“We all saw that elections have consequences, that the votes have consequences, and when our parents saw how class sizes had risen last year and while it was just a few, it was enough to notice, and our world language program was cut out of elementary, [and] there is a reduction in the way we can do business around buses. I heard a lot of parents say last year ‘if I had only known. I didn’t realize,’” she said.
Friends of Chariho versus Forgotten Taxpayers
After the Chariho budget was rejected last year, the Friends of Chariho group was resuscitated to counter the efforts of budget opponents, including Johnson’s Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers PAC.
The mother of two children attending Chariho schools, Jessica Purcell is a member of the Friends of Chariho.
“Last time, we were taken off guard when it didn’t pass the first time, and also, when it didn’t pass the second time, and I think that gave us a rude awakening that if we want this budget, we have to work harder for it,” she said. “We have to counter some of the information.”
Purcell was also the next highest vote-getter for a vacant Richmond seat on the School Committee, and has fought the Town Council’s decision to instead appoint Johnson. Oral arguments in the case will be heard next week in Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Purcell said she did not expect the budget battles to end with this vote.
“I don’t think the fight is over,” she said. “I think it’s going to be an ongoing discussion about what is public education for, how do we provide it, how do we show our appreciation and value of it? It’s not going to end.”
Beaver River Road Solar Developer Wins Appeal - April 3rd 2023
Solar developer wins appeal
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – A commercial solar developer that appealed the Zoning Board’s denial of its application has won its appeal of that decision in Rhode Island Superior Court.
The appeal lists as defendants: the Town of Richmond, Zoning Board Vice Chair Jeffrey Vaillancourt and board members Sean Carney, Chelsea Battinger, Daniel Jarstfer, and Lindsay Hannon. Also named as defendants are former zoning official Russel “Bo” Brown, and abutting property owner John Peixinho, founder of the Beaver River Valley Community Association.
The 32-page decision, issued on March 31 by Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter, concludes that the board’s reasons for denying the application were “factually or legally unsupported,” and therefore, the application should have been granted. The decision orders the Zoning Board to issue the special use permit required for the project to proceed.
The beginning: 2018
The developer, GD Beaver River I, LLC, and property-owner William Stamp Jr., applied for a special use permit to build a commercial-scale solar array in a field that Stamp owns at 172 Beaver River Road. A special use permit was required because the property in a low-density residential zone.
The 5.3-megawatt array would occupy about seven acres of the 41-acre property, located in the Beaver River Valley which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Richmond’s zoning official 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.
Two months later, at a public hearing on Brown’s decision, Brown asked the board to deny the GD Beaver River’s appeal of his decision, because the developer had missed the 30-day deadline for its appeal. The board continued the hearing for another month, but in the end, maintained its denial of the application because the developer had missed the 30-day window. The developer appealed that decision, and the application nevertheless continued to move forward with the Planning Board conducting the mandatory development plan review.
In addition to reaffirming the Zoning Board’s decision that the facility would be outside the two-mile radius from the nearest substation, the Planning Board denied the application on the basis that it 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 developer appealed the case to Rhode Island Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board. During several public hearings, board members heard testimony many expert witnesses called by the developer as well as residents who, with the exception of a single farmer, opposed the project.
The Zoning Board voted to deny the special use permit, and the developer appealed, once again, to Rhode Island Superior Court, challenging the three reasons for the denial: that the proposed project would harm the “appropriate use of surrounding property,” that the array would produce noise that would be a health hazard to people living nearby, and that the facility would not be entirely within the two-mile radius from a substation.
Taft-Carter wrote that the board had not produced evidence to support its first two conclusions and the third conclusion, pertaining to the utility substation, “was affected by error of law.”
The decision states,
“Because all of the grounds upon which the Zoning Board relied in denying the Application were factually or legally unsupported, the Application should have been granted. As a result, Plaintiffs’ substantial rights have been prejudiced.”
Attorney John Mancini, who represents the developer, said that despite the lengthy process, he was satisfied with the decision.
“You hate to go through the process as long as we did, to be held up like that, but we’re glad that the decision came down as it did,” he said. “I think it’s the right decision, because of the amount of testimony that was provided to the board over the course a few years. We have been at this for quite some time, and a lot of effort was put into screening and buffering, and the board really dismissed the effort that we put into that.”
Neither Town Solicitor Michael Cozzolino, who represented the town in the case, nor Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth would comment on the decision. It is unclear whether the town, or Peixinho, will pursue further legal action, which would entail petitioning the Rhode Island Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision.
Richmond Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he remained opposed to converting open space and woodlands to commercial solar energy facilities.
“My family settled in Shannock in the late 1600s,” he wrote. “Once you take pristine rural land and develop it, you can never get that pristine land back again. I do not believe that the Beaver River Valley area should be developed with solar, a vineyard, or a brewery.”
Trimmer proposes introducing tax incentives for the owners of farmland.
“There is tremendous pressure placed on farm owners in Richmond,” he said. “The ballooning school budget and municipal budget drive taxes up. The taxes to fund these budgets become a burden to anyone who owns rural land in the town. The solution might be to offer tax incentives to these farm owners to encourage them not to develop their properties.”
Richmond Planning Board Update for March 28th 2023
Planning Board gives final approval to new dog park
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
March 29th 2023
RICHMOND – The March 28 Planning Board meeting was unusually brief – just half an hour.
Members gave their unanimous approval to the plan for a new dog park, near the Heritage Trail at 3 Country Acres Road.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey briefed members on the history of the new dog park.
“Last year, the town was awarded a DEM [Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management] recreation grant of $71,000,” he said. “That was awarded specific to the development of the Richmond Dog Park which is currently operating at Buttonwoods next to the DPW offices.”
(The exact amount of the DEM grant is $71,580. The town is responsible for a 20% match, which will be made in the form of in-kind work on the park.)
The dog park will comprise about 40,000 square feet of the 45-acre property, and 30,000 square feet of the park will be enclosed by a fence.
Approved by the Dog Park Committee at the March 16 meeting, the dog park site plan was prepared by a consultant hired by the town.
Board member Dan Madnick asked about securing benches and trash receptacles. Lacey said the town’s Department of Public Works would maintain those components of the park as it does all town facilities.
Madnick and board Chair Philip Damicis asked about the six parking spaces on the plan and whether there would be enough parking. Additional parking for people walking the Heritage Trail is available.
“I just want to make sure there’s enough parking for everyone,” Madnick said, “because the Heritage Trail is really nice and people use it a lot.”
One parking space will be ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, compliant.
Lacey said he expected the park to be completed well before the end of the year.
“I think we should be done long before 2024, because the reality is that this is kind of the last stop for permitting, because we’re outside of DEM jurisdictional boundaries,” he said. “So, there’s no DEM permitting, which in reality, would be the longest permitting stage. “… Essentially, once the board signs off on it, the Town Council has already approved it.”
In the audience were members of the Dog Park Committee, who applauded after the vote. Also present was Town Council member Samantha Wilcox, who was on the committee from 2021 until she was elected to the council in 2022.
Reached Wednesday, Wilcox said the new park had been 10 years in the making. More recently, the committee had received assistance in preparing the grant from Lacey, Town Administrator Karen Pinch and former council member, Lauren Cacciola.
“The committee itself has been together for a decade or more and Victoria Vona has been a part of it since the beginning and she’s still a member, so it’s really exciting for everybody,” she said.
Wilcox said she was looking forward to the opening of the new dog park, which will replace the current park, situated on a former landfill.
“I’m mostly excited it won’t be on an old landfill. The giant puddle in the middle will be no more,” she said.
Wilcox also noted that the road to the new dog park will bring people into town, and hopefully, to local businesses like the pet supply store, Fetch RI.
“Now, dog owners are going to be driving right past Fetch, right past a couple of local restaurants, instead of driving through our industrial district, because people come from out of town to go to the park more often you think,” she said. “So that will be good for us, and it might enhance the Heritage Trail. They complement each other very well.”
A public informational meeting on an application for a housing subdivision and vineyard on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was continued for a second time at the request of the developer, Punchbowl Development Corp.
The meeting was re-scheduled to the April 25 Planning Board meeting.
Members briefly discussed new developments in proposed state housing legislation, and the parameters of a possible housing needs survey of Richmond residents.
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for March 21, 2023
Council rejects “tri town” proposal in meeting marred by skirmishes
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
Wednesday March 22nd 2023
RICHMOND – The acrimony between members of the Town Council reached an all - time high at the March 21 meeting. Before the meeting even began, councilors squabbled over the new seating arrangement, introduced at the previous meeting by council President Mark Trimmer because some council members did not feel comfortable sitting next to councilor Michael Colasante.
Recounting the incident on the condition of anonymity, several sources said Colasante became angry when he entered the council chambers and saw that he would not be in his original seat, but had instead been moved to the end of the table.
Refusing to take his seat, Colasante instead stood closely behind the seat of council Vice President Richard Nassaney, who found his behavior threatening. He eventually took his seat, but expressed his frustration, another source recounted, by flinging a paper copy of the agenda at the other council members, whom he referred to as ”f*****g” babies.”
In an interview on Wednesday morning, Nassaney described the scene before the meeting began.
“I sat where the V.P. would usually sit, and Mr. Colasante was not very happy with that seating arrangement and chose to stand over me for an extended period of time in a semi-authoritative manner, demanding that I move, and I informed him that the President, multiple members of the public and other council members had asked me to sit in that seat, so I obliged,” he said. “Colasante was asked a week or two before to move his seat, which he declined to do, so we made the move and last evening, after a very contentious standoff, he finally moved himself to the far side of the table.”
“Tri-town” is now just one town
A majority of three council members voted in favor of a motion made by councilor Samantha Wilcox to decline a proposal to endorse a “tri town collaboration” with Hopkinton and Charlestown.
The collaboration, spearheaded by Colasante, began with a discussion at the annual Chariho Omnibus meeting in January about how the three Chariho towns might work together to oppose unfunded state mandates and support funding for the regional school district.
The group has met twice, the first time at a Richmond restaurant and the second time at Colasante’s residence.
There were concerns, expressed by some members of the Chariho School Committee and members of the three Town Councils, that the group was not posting meeting agendas or holding public meetings with published minutes.
Wilcox noted that information about the meetings was not publicly accessible.
“… I had to really fish for information, I had to do an APRA [Access to Public Records Act] request to get information on this, and once I saw that information, it was, for me, the fact sheet was just something I couldn’t agree with,” she said.
Colasante vigorously defended the collaboration, insisting that council members’ concerns were unfounded.
“I don’t know how you can make this up in your head,” he told the council.
“There is a reason why we have these ridiculously laborious rules to follow and so on, and it’s so that everybody stays involved, knows what’s going on makes informed decisions, and so on,” he said. “This situation wasn’t done that way, and so I don’t care if the commission [collaboration] meets a hundred more times. I personally, as Town Council President and I personally, as one of the five Town Council members, can’t say ‘hey, I’m going to … give the endorsement of the Town Council to this group.’ “
Councilor Helen Sheehan, who attended both meetings, praised Colasante for taking action when others had not.
“Everybody has talked about we have all the unfunded mandates and everybody says we should do something about it, and nobody’s done anything about it – I should say, nobody but Mike has done anything about it,” she said.
Trimmer suggested the items of concern to the town be added to a future Town Council agenda so the entire council could address them.
The motion to decline to join the collaboration passed with Trimmer, Wilcox and Nassaney voting in favor. Sheehan voted against the motion. Colasante was reluctant to cast his vote, but when pressed by Town Clerk Erin Liese to record a vote one way or the other, he voted nay.
With the Charlestown Town Council voting to take no action on the collaboration, only Hopkinton has endorsed the group, leaving its future in doubt.
Technical glitches prevented the town from video- recording the meeting, but some residents who were in the council chambers when the vote was taken clapped in approval and were then mocked by Colasante who mimicked their applause.
Councilors and Town Hall staff
The disagreements continued when the council discussed an agenda item, added by Trimmer, regarding interactions between council members and Town Hall staff.
“We as a council need to agree on, we can’t just go and assign a job to somebody or tell somebody they need to do a job differently,” he said. “One individual can’t say ‘this should be your responsibility or what have you’. It is up to the council as a whole, put it on the agenda, discuss it, to pass it…It’s not up to us. It’s a threatening work environment at times.”
Some members of town staff, who spoke off the record to protect their identities, said Colasante had made comments that they had found threatening. One comment, confirmed to have been made by Colasante to several staffers, was,
“Don’t worry about a thing. I give people enough rope to hang themselves.”
There was, not surprisingly, continued disagreement over whether council members could or should direct town employees.
“Now, it’s my responsibility, however, to go in and talk with you from time to time, to ask you certain things,” Colasante said. “Certain people on the council are getting the feeling that certain people are being dictatorial and demanding that things have to be done, and, I mean, you just have to go back to the Town [Home Rule] Charter, because everybody’s trying to dodge that we’re the hire and firing agents and nobody has the authority to send out a letter of denial, but they’ll scoot around that and say ‘no the town, the way it’s been working for years, we haven’t done that’. Well, if you want to follow the town charter, then follow it 100%, everybody, okay?”
Council members debated what they could and could not ask town employees to do.
“I think that being a councilor and going into the Town Hall and you have to have the utmost respect for the people working there and not make them feel uneasy in any way, shape or form,” Nassaney said. “You are a servant. You’re a public servant. They are the employees of the town.”
Former council President Nell Carpenter said whether interactions with town staff were appropriate depended to a large extent on the council members’ intentions.
“It’s what your intentions are,” she said. “It’s what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it for the greater good?”
Mark Reynolds, who served on the town’s Charter Review Commission, said the role of the council did not include managing the daily operations of the town.
“Your role is the big picture, policy-making,” he said. “’What can we do to bring business into town? What can we do to lessen regulations on businesses?’ Big picture. Policy. You’re like the Board of Directors of a publicly-held company. Those are the kinds of decisions you should be talking about, not who we should hire as a clerk in the Planning Department.”
In other business, the council hired Jeffrey Vaillancourt as the part-time electrical inspector with Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante voting in favor, Nassaney abstaining and Wilcox voting no.
The council also approved the hiring of a part-time Wellness Director, a position that was approved by the previous council.
Council members received an update from representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation on the upcoming roundabout project at the intersection of Routes 138 and 112. Work is expected to begin this summer, but will stop during the Washington County Fair which takes place from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20.
It was evident Tuesday that the divisions on the council were, if anything, deepening. Asked whether he believed council members would be able to work together, Trimmer said he hoped the bickering would end so the council could attend to business.
“Now that we’ve put all that rancor behind us, we can get down to the work the people elected us to do,” he said.
Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for March 14th 2023
Board hears developer’s aquifer ordinance comments
By Cynthia Drummond for the BRVCA
March 18th 2023
RICHMOND – Members of the Planning Board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting listening to input on proposed amendments to the aquifer protection ordinance from Paul Mihailides, the developer of The Preserve Sporting Club & Residences, and his attorney, Americo Scungio.
While the amendments to the ordinance have not yet been approved by the Town Council, Mihailides is concerned that they will hamper his future development plans.
The proposed changes, intended to protect the town’s groundwater, divide activities in the aquifer protection zone into three categories: permitted, permitted with a special use permit, and prohibited.
The Planning Board has also recommended the creation of two sub-districts within the aquifer protection overlay district, often referred to as the APOD. Sub-district A, with the most restricted use regulations, includes the sole source aquifer and well head protection areas. Sub-district B comprises groundwater recharge areas.
Scungio began by reminding the council that the board’s approval of Phase 2 of the development had required a hydrogeologic study, which he hoped would not have to be conducted again.
“This was back in 2018, and had specific findings in those reports and in those hearings that there was no adverse effect upon the aquifer – all of the uses that were proposed in the master plan, so if you pass the APOD and apply it to the master plan approval, you’re basically requiring The Preserve to do the exact same work again, subject to your review again, which you’ve already reviewed,” he said.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said the town did not intend to require another study.
“We’ve already said that we’re not going do that,” she said.
“Anything that received master plan approval under the regulations and the ordinance, as they existed at that time, is vested.”
Board Chair Philip Damicis added,
“As long as it’s a use that was proposed in the master plan. If you deviate from that, then you would have to do a hydrogeologic study to determine what the impact of that change is.”
One issue is a proposed brew pub, which the board approved in the master plan, but only for beer sold on the premises. Brew pubs are known to consume a lot of water.
“The concern with the brew pub is, brew pubs can often start off relatively small,” Damicis said. “Take the Tilted Barn. [located in Exeter] It started out very small and I’m glad they were successful, but they got very successful and the concern is, you could reach a point where you’re pulling a significant of water out of the aquifer.”
Town Planner Shaun Lacey said the brew pub activity was not in the town’s zoning use code and unique to the “planned development resort” zone created especially for The Preserve.
“The benefit, I think, of having the brew pub as a unique use within the PDR district allows you to position yourself to allow that type of application, that type of use, with a special use permit within the confines of your own property, as long as it’s outside of sub-district – A, which is the wellhead protection.”
Scungio asked several questions about water - use benchmarks and how the town would determine whether too much water was being withdrawn.
Mihailides told the board that he already had permission from the state to withdraw 600,000 gallons of water per day to irrigate his gold course.
“We’re not using a fraction of that,” he said. “600,000 gallons a day. So, I don’t know how many six-packs of booze that makes.
We could never get to that point, and to take away something that we already have. It’s nuances.”
Damicis said the overarching purpose of the amendments was to protect the town’s water supply, and that he and Ellsworth would contact the town’s consulting engineers, GZA GeoEnvironmental, to try to get an idea of a water - use limit that would protect the town and satisfy The Preserve.
Mihailides also wanted assurances that the two helipads on the property would not be impacted.
“We don’t want to be limited where a member can land a helicopter on the property,” he said.
Ellsworth replied that the ordinance amendments would not affect the helipads that were already there.
The concern, she and Damicis told Mihailides, was the potential for spilled fuel contaminating the groundwater. Mihailides replied that helicopters would not be fueled on the pads.
Board members moved on to the planned equestrian complex which will include polo grounds.
Board member Dan Madnick said the equestrian complex was already a permitted use.
“I’m trying to make it work for you and work for the town and try not to make it too difficult for you to do business there, and also protect the water resource,” he told Mihailides.
Ellsworth reiterated that the uses already approved in the master plan were permitted, but if Mihailides wanted to build a second hotel in Sub-zone A, over the aquifer, he would need to apply for a special use permit.
Damicis said the board would consult with GZA and submit a revised draft of the amendments at the board’s first meeting in April.
In other business, Lacey presented a brief overview of new development applications and members discussed the 14-bill package of proposed state housing legislation.
Before the meeting adjourned, Damicis introduced the newest board member, Daniel Ashworth, a Pawtucket police officer who also works part time as a firearms instructor at The Preserve.
Ashworth did not recuse himself from the proceedings pertaining to The Preserve, and did not speak during that segment of the meeting.
Ashworth was advised by Ellsworth when he was first appointed to request an opinion from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission regarding his participation in matters relating to The Preserve, and he is reported to be waiting for the commission to issue an opinion.
Chariho School Committee Meeting Update for March 14th 2023
Still Only One Town in “Tri-town” Coalition
By Cynthia Drummond
March 15th 2023
RICHMOND – School Committee members voted at Tuesday’s meeting to adopt the proposed 2023-24 schools budget. The vote was nine in favor, with one Richmond member, Kathryn Colasante, opposed and Hopkinton member, Polly Hopkins, abstaining.
Richmond member Clay Johnson, a vocal opponent of the budget, did not attend the meeting.
Reached the morning after the vote, School Committee Chair, Catherine Giusti, said she was surprised that committee members who had opposed the budget throughout the process had voted to adopt it. Giusti also noted that she hoped those members would end their efforts to defeat the budget.
“I expressed that if someone voted for the budget at the public meeting last night, but then went out into the public and tried to get the budget defeated, it would be really disingenuous,” she said. “I was surprised at the vote.”
Before voting to adopt the budget, members agreed to add some funds back to the $57 million spending plan.
“We restored about $70,000 back into the budget so that we would not have to make cutes to the transportation,” Giusti said. “And really, what we saw last night is how the routes were going to change and committee members were worried, really, about kids having to walk a longer distance, but also, some of the main road stops made people nervous.”
Giusti added that the committee agreed to cut about $14,000 in funds for the purchase of books, but a motion to further reduce the district’s unassigned fund balance from 2.25% to 2% was defeated.
More information on the budget, which will be put to a vote on April 4 by residents of the three towns can be found on the Chariho website.
Hopkinton is the only Chariho town, so far, to have officially joined the “tri town” coalition promoted by Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante and more recently, Hopkinton Town Council member, Sharon Davis.
Despite efforts by Colasante and Davis at Tuesday’s meeting to persuade school committee members to name members to the proposed coalition, the committee took no action.
This followed a similar decision by the Charlestown Town Council on Monday to take no action on coalition membership. With the Richmond council yet to decide on whether to join the group, that leaves only one member town, Hopkinton.
Davis described the two previous meetings of the coalition as informal get togethers of town representatives to address common concerns.
Davis told the school committee that leading the coalition’s list of concerns is the need for a “forensic audit management study” of the school district, an idea long touted, but not described in detail.
It should be noted that although the term “forensic audit” does not automatically imply fraud, it differs from a “management study” and is defined by the Corporate Finance Institute as follows:
“A forensic audit is an examination of a company’s financial records to derive evidence which can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding.”
“I will keep trying to move forward on this issue, and look forward to creating an RFP [request for proposals] with the Chariho Director of Finance, once we are sure of obtaining funding,” she said. “My estimate is approximately $75,000.”
Davis said Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-Dist. 34) had been asked to try to raise those funds.
Another concern of the coalition is unfunded state government mandates, which place unsustainable burdens on the towns.
The third concern is the Chariho teachers’ contract, which the coalition believes is too generous.
Colasante distributed a 14-page document to school committee members, which states the group’s objectives and asks people to submit their opinions.
The name of the group appears to have been changed from “coalition” to “collaboration.”
Colasante told the committee that despite its Republican origins, the group is not political. Colasante said he first brought up a collaboration between the towns and the school committee in January, at the annual Chariho Omnibus Meeting.
“It’s a culture of collaboration and it’s our opportunity, really, to work together to really humanize the process because it’s really not Democrat or Republican,” he said. “I feel that we have an opportunity, looking at the school committee, looking at the make-up now of the Town Councils. I got to know Sharon Davis, I got to know Steve Stokes.
[Stokes, a member of the Charlestown Town Council, attended the first meeting, held at the Dragon Palace restaurant in Richmond. He did not attend the second meeting, which took place at Colasante’s residence.]
Colasante then recounted an analogy, in which he referred to Charlestown.
“Even in Charlestown, if you have a gentleman – this is my analogy – he’s worth $10 million,” he said. “He sees a $10 bill on the sidewalk. Even though that guy could be worth so much money, is he not going to pick up that $10 bill off the sidewalk? So, everybody can benefit by it, even Charlestown can benefit by it.”
Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney told the committee that she remembered a tri-own/ school district committee which was formed about 20 years ago.
Those meetings, she said, were posted and public, with both agendas and minutes.
“What bothered me personally was reading in the paper that Charlestown was part of this tri town collaboration, because it had been given a name when I knew nothing about what was being discussed, so I, too, had my own issues with the way this was originally presented because in my mind, it was not what we discussed at the Omnibus meeting.”
Carney said her council had taken no action regarding joining the group, but had drafted a motion to discuss, if a tri town group is eventually formed, unfunded state mandates, and a possible management study.
Richmond councilor and staunch Colasante ally Helen Sheehan said the collaboration was addressing a need.
“Everybody agreed that something needed to be done, but nobody did it,” she said. “So, Mike started this collaboration. So [there was] a little bumbling about getting all the right forms and everything in order. So, I would like you not to throw the baby out with the bath water, because it’s a really good idea.”
Charlestown committee member Andrew McQuaide pointed out that the coalition’s actions to date had not been collaborative.
“You could have met in a public meeting and you chose not to, and that was a choice,” he said. “You could have vetted this publicly and you chose not to, and that was a choice. And when you cherry-pick individuals to participate, that is not how you develop a concentrated effort for collaboration and it’s definitely not how you develop a culture of collaboration. That’s not bumbling. Those are intentional decisions, and it has clearly impacted the ability for us to move forward. With that said, I share the sentiments that many other people have shared which is, let’s try this again and let’s see if we can do this in a public fashion, in a way that truly develops a culture of collaboration.”
Kathryn Colasante moved to elect two school committee members to participate in the coalition, but there was no vote.
Town Council and Chariho Meetings Updates for March 7th 2023
Council meeting, Chariho budget hearing expose ongoing divisions
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Tuesday evening was a busy one for members of the Town Council, who first attended an early council meeting and then headed over to the Chariho Middle School for the public hearing on the schools budget.
At the council meeting, there was a change in the councilors’ seating arrangement, after one council member stated privately that they were uncomfortable sitting near council member Michael Colasante.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney now sits in the center, between council President Mark Trimmer and Colasante, councilor Samantha Wilcox has moved to the far end of the table and councilor Helen Sheehan is at the opposite end.
Council members briefly debated the recommendation of Town Planner Shaun Lacey to hire Michael Rosso as the town’s part time electrical inspector, but in the end, they decided to reject it.
Lacey’s March 7 memorandum to the council and Town Administrator Karen Pinch stated that after conducting interviews with several candidates, the Building, Planning and Zoning Department recommended Rosso, who has been doing electrical inspections for the town since the previous inspector, Al Vennari, retired.
Lacey said that Rosso, who has 40 years of inspection experience, had performed well while he was acting inspector and proposed that he be hired.
However, Colasante, backed by Trimmer and Sheehan, proposed that the town hire Jeff Vaillancourt instead and added that the council, not town administrators, should have authority over hiring and firing.
(Vaillancourt, the current Vice Chair of the Zoning Board of Review, is a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Town Council in the last election.)
“In the town charter, the Town Council is the body that hires and fires, and up to this point, when I get just the recommendation, without having the person’s, the whole set of applications and resumes,” Colasante said. “It kind of puts me at a disadvantage to really picking the most qualified person in my view. I asked Ms Pinch [Town Administrator Karen Pinch] if she would please in the future submit to the council all the resumes and all the applications, so that way, we can see who applied. “
Nassaney disagreed, arguing that prospective hires should be vetted by the administrators with whom they will be working.
Colasante, Sheehan and Trimmer voted against a motion to hire Rosso and immediately after that vote, Colasante moved to hire Vaillancourt.
Since the Vaillancourt appointment was not on the agenda, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth suggested the council consider the proposal at the next meeting. The resumes of all the candidates will be attached to the agenda.
Council members also discussed Colasante’s “Tri Town Coalition” which has met twice, once at the Dragon Palace restaurant in Richmond and the second time at Colasante’s residence. The purpose of the coalition, as Colasante has often stated, is for the towns to band together to require that state mandates be funded by the state.
The coalition was first proposed at the annual Chariho Omnibus meeting in January.
“I floated the idea that basically, proposing legislation requiring all future mandates be accompanied by state funding,” Colasante said.
Colasante also stated, incorrectly, that recent revaluations would result in significant property tax increases. The mil rate, which is still to be determined, will be adjusted to mitigate the impact on property tax bills.
”It’s only a short span of time before they’re going to see big increases, - all right? - to their taxes again because of …the high reval,” he said.
Trimmer said he was uncomfortable with the coalition meetings taking place out of public view and without the agendas posted.
“The whole idea of getting together with a few people and discussing things is one thing, but all of a sudden, it morphed, without any discussion in the council at all, it morphed to ‘Richmond has joined this tri-town coalition,’” he said.
Colasante replied that the Hopkinton Town Council had voted in favor of joining the coalition at its most recent meeting, and the matter was on the agenda for Charlestown’s March 13th Town Council meeting.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox, said she wanted to know more about the coalition and what it stands for before deciding whether to support it.
Colasante responded by introducing Hopkinton Town Council member Sharon Davis, who had brought with her some written material about the coalition. Davis also told the council that she had contacted the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office and had been told that as long as only two members from each public body attended, there would not be a quorum (which is three members) and therefore, no Open Meetings Act violation.
Davis read a statement that included Charlestown, which has not joined the group.
“Several Town Council and School Committee representatives from the three towns, Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond, would like to meet and form an informal tri-town collaboration group to lobby for or against potential state legislative issues,” she said. “We would also encourage our state legislative representatives to create the legislation that we support.”
Trimmer said he supported the goal of working together to effect change, but he wasn’t comfortable with the process.
“The process needs to be laid out,” he said.
Wilcox said she supported the idea of reaching out to state representatives.
Colasante said that the coalition had already had an impact on the state legislature.
“In just the short time that we spoke, and, you know, some of us have gone to the State House for these hearings and listened to Speaker Shekarchi - all right? - on his proposals and whatnot, what has happened when they heard of our getting together and discussing these things as a collaborative, all three towns in sync with one another, it’s really, I mean, about that legislation, all right? Where they’ve kind of watered it down a little bit because of our concerns. …It’s going to help us out in the long run and I met some very wonderful people from Charlestown and Hopkinton and if these issues didn’t come up, I don’t think I would have met Councilor Davis, and she’s a wonderful person, Steven Stokes, from Charlestown, and that’s what I mean about bringing the humanization to politics.”
Long time Richmond resident Iva Lipton said,
“I think it’s a good idea too, but you don’t represent the town without telling the town, and I think that, Mike, you overstep in so many ways,” she said.
Former council President Nell Carpenter said she supported Colasante’s initiative.
“The start of something always begins somewhere, and this is the start, so I actually commend councilman Colasante for initiating this,” she said.
Trimmer asked councilors whether they would be interested in serving on the coalition.
Wilcox said she needed to know more about it before making a decision. Sheehan told her that the information had been provided that evening.
“So, let’s take our time and see a nice mission statement and what the group’s going to be and formalize the group,” she said.
Colasante said he would provide more information on the coalition at the next council meeting.
“More issues will come up over time, and the town councils will decide what’s in the best interest of all three towns, because it’s the only way we’re going to do things as long all three towns – it benefits all three,” he said.
Trimmer said he wanted a consensus of council members and assurance that “the tri-town coalition doesn’t become a shadow council, or secondary legislative body.”
Trimmer also resisted urging from Davis that the council vote to approve the coalition and said he wanted to put the item on the agenda of the next council meeting.
Wilcox, the only Democrat on the council, said both parties should be represented on the coalition.
“There should be a couple of different party members from each town to make sure that it’s completely balanced,” she said.
“That was always my idea from the get-go,” Colasante replied. “That why we approached councilor Davis and Ms. [Deborah] Carney from Charlestown, who is also a Democrat”
Carney said Wednesday that she was incensed that her town had been mentioned as being part of the coalition, when she had not yet submitted the item as part of the council agenda.
Carney sent a written statement to the BRVCA which reads:
“I was not present at any of those so-called tri-town collaboration meetings. I have not met with Mike Geary, Sharon Davis, Michael Colasante, Helen Sheehan Kathryn Colasante or Clay Johnson. [Johnson is reported to have been present at the most recent meeting at Colasante’s home.]
I do not know what was discussed or decided at these meetings, as I was not present.”
Chariho Public Budget Hearing
The public hearing, required as part of the Chariho budget preparation process, took place in the auditorium of the Chariho Middle School. Despite a strong showing by both supporters and opponents of the 2023 budget, the room was only about half full.
Before the meeting began, budget opponents were offered orange T-shirts that read: “Another Forgotten Taxpayer.”
The discourse was polite, considering the deep divisions in the community that touch many aspects of life in the three towns, particularly the public school system.
Town Moderator Mark Reynolds allowed three minutes for each comment, although several residents spoke for much longer.
Several people said the rejection of the budget last year, which resulted in level funding for the current year, was already hurting the district’s eight schools and urged the approval of the new spending plan, which, at just over $57 million, is a 1.45% increase.
Some, like Hopkinton council member Sharon Davis and Hopkinton resident and former councilor Barbara Capalbo, said they supported the budget but suggested that the school district further reduce the fund balance.
Davis asked the School Committee to consider reducing the fund balance to 2% which would save the district $148,000. The current fund balance is 2.25%.
Capalbo agreed on a 2% fund balance.
“I think that’s a reasonable request from Sharon Davis and from some of you,” she said.
Several Chariho teachers and support staff said they were already having difficulty maintaining the same level of performance with a level funded budget and worried what would happen if there were more cuts.
One Charlestown resident who has two children at Chariho schools has also worked as a substitute teacher.
“I had absolutely no idea how incredibly difficult it was to work in schools until I went inside,” she said. “I’ve seen, just over the past four years, our staff being constantly asked to do more with less, and they do it. They do it every day, for these kids.”
Other residents said it was important to support public education, but others, including Sen. Elaine Morgan, (R-Dist. 34) said the increase, even at 1.45%, was more than the taxpayers in the three towns could bear.
“We have the best school system in the state, but enough is enough,” she said. “We cannot pay any more.”
But Richmond resident Jeff Noble said any further erosion of the public school system would hurt the community.
“We’re falling behind,” he said. “Everyone else in the world is investing in their schools. Those nations wanting to complete with us are not sitting around whimpering about investing in the future for our kids or their kids. They’re going to be competitive, we’re going to end up not being competitive, and then what’s going to happen?”
One Chariho parent warned that if the schools declined, parents would send their children to out of the district schools, or move out altogether, which would in turn hurt home values.
Carney told the committee that she supported the proposed budget, as did Richmond councilor Samantha Wilcox.
Colasante repeated several statements, including another description of a “tri-town coalition” that does not include Charlestown.
“We have a tri-town collaboration that Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown are discussing right now, to support our state legislators,” he said.
One teacher said that instead of blaming the school district, the towns should be bringing in businesses to alleviate the burden on taxpayers.
Colasante noted that one of his challenges was fighting for businesses.
“What the heck have Hopkinton and Richmond been doing in promoting economic growth in the last one to two decades?” he said. “I agree with them 100%. I am fighting - all right? - the conservation elite in Richmond. They don’t want any development.”
Voters will have the final say on the budget at an all-day referendum on April 4.
Richmond Planning Board Meeting for February 28th 2023
Board continues vineyard, mulls housing survey options
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
March 1st, 2023
RICHMOND – A public informational meeting on an application for a housing subdivision and vineyard was continued at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting at the request of the developer.
Attorney Steven Surdut, representing the Punchbowl Development Corp. of Westerly, requested the continuance to allow his client to address concerns expressed by board members when they first heard the application last June.
Surdut said he would be ready to present the amended application at the board‘s second March meeting.
A site walk, which gave board members an opportunity to visit the property, took place on Feb. 18, but Surdut offered to organize a second site walk for recently - appointed members who have not visited the 9.47-acre site.
One of those new members, Daniel Ashworth, who was appointed at the last Town Council meeting, did not attend Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, which would have been his first. Ashworth, a Pawtucket police sergeant, was working on Tuesday evening.
The second newly-appointed member, Kevin Stacey, was present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Board members resumed their discussion, which began at the Jan. 10 meeting, of affordable housing and accessory dwelling units.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey recalled that at the January meeting, the board had learned of a housing survey of residents of the town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
“The board wanted to see other examples from other communities that have done similar surveying of its residents to gain more public opinion and understanding of what their housing goals and needs might be,” he said. “So, working with Bryce [board member Bryce Kelley] included with your packet materials tonight are two surveys on housing, from the towns of Little Compton and Warren, for you to review and consider.”
Lacey proposed that the board work with the town’s Affordable Housing Committee to draft a survey.
Board Vice President Dan Madnick said he favored a joint workshop, which would help determine the parameters and goals of the survey.
“What we really have to try to figure out in all these surveys is, how narrow or how broad we want to have this survey and what our goals are,” he said. “We’ve got the data. We’ve got very little rentals in Richmond, very little deeded affordable housing.”
Kelley, a research analyst at HousingWorks RI who also serves as the Planning Board’s liaison on the Affordable Housing Committee, proposed that the survey be framed as a housing needs survey.
“Getting a sense of what Richmond residents’ needs are in this day and age, as it pertains to housing, without drilling as deeply into deed restricted affordable housing,” he said.
It would be useful, Kelley added, to determine which Richmond residents are facing housing issues
“Are older adults experiencing housing trouble? Are kids having to leave because they can’t afford housing and there’s no rental stock? So, we really need to drill into those pockets,” he said.
Members then began a discussion of an issue that has vexed Richmond leaders for many years: creating more affordable housing in a rural town that lacks many municipal services, including public transportation.
Madnick wondered how the town could encourage the construction of more affordable housing.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to be able to guide development in that direction, or what mechanisms we have to do that,” he said.
Board President Philip Damicis said ordinances could be amended to encourage affordable housing construction.
“We have ordinances, regulations that we could change to incentivize people to develop differently,” he said.
But Damicis also made it clear that he would resist any initiatives that would alter Richmond’s rural character.
“Honestly, there’s a lot of people like myself that live in Richmond because we don’t want to live in North Kingstown,” he said. “I want to live in a rural area. I like the idea that I’ve got some acreage. I like the idea that we have 2,000 acres of open space. That’s why I moved here. That’s why I stayed here.”
Also attending the meeting was Town Council member Michael Colasante, who expressed his views on the housing issues facing the town. Each of Colasante’s assertions, however, was disputed by board members and Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth.
Consulting what appeared to be notes on his cell phone, Colasante said he had recently spoken with Paul Mihailides, the developer of the Preserve at Boulder Hills who also built the Fox Run condominiums on Jupiter Lane.
“There were two units put aside, and Paul mentioned to me not too long ago that there were people who didn’t even fit the income value to buy those units, and they were empty, the last time I talked to him about those low to moderate income units, and on top of that, not only were they not filled, bought, what ended up happening is, I don’t know if many people know this, but say, hypothetically, they were to buy that unit at $210,000, they cannot ever reap the benefit of the property value going up, so if they buy it for $210,000, if they live there for 10 years, they have to sell it for $210,000,” he said.
Ellsworth was quick to correct him.
“Mike, that’s not correct,” she said. “It doesn’t stay at the original price.”
“Well,” Colasante replied, “it doesn’t go up proportionately… A lot of times, those people are kind of stuck there.”
Kelley joined the discussion.
“That’s not really the spirit of those units, to make a windfall,” he said. “It’s giving those people who are in those income brackets the opportunity to own a home. I don’t think it’s necessarily directed at building wealth at the same appreciative value as the neighbors, per se. I think it’s to discourage flipping.”
Ellsworth said the the Fox Run units didn’t sell because the asking prices were too high.
“The problem is that Paul had priced them at the higher end of what he can charge, based on family incomes,” she said. “And people who are eligible to buy those are not going to buy those units when they can spend a little bit more and get a unit that’s not deed restricted. And Paul knows that’s what the problem is.”
Colasante then turned his attention to open space.
“We’re talking about affordable units and what not and not having enough units, another thing too is the Land Trust, they have over 12,000 acres in Richmond that is put aside,” he said.
This time, it was Madnick who pointed out the inaccuracy.
“The Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust, the board of the town, they have less than 600 acres,” he said.
Colasante replied that 12 housing units had been proposed for a property behind his house until the Land Trust swooped in a bought it.
“They went out and they bonded for $1.2 million to buy land in Richmond,” he said. “They took it off the tax roll, so those [sic]10 or 12 cluster development behind me never came to fruition because they bought it.”
Ellsworth again stepped in with a correction.
“Mike, that’s not what happened with that development,” she said, noting that the developers realized they would not be able to afford to develop the property, so they asked the Land Trust to purchase it.
“What’s your point?” an irritated Damicis asked Colasante.
“Well, they took 12 units off the tax roll here,” he said. “We’re talking about not having enough units here in Richmond for people to be able to come in here and buy, and another thing, when your cluster developments…”
Damicis broke in.
“I don’t want to sit and argue all night about this, but that 100 acres pretty much abuts De Coppet, [the estate now owned and preserved as green space by the state]. It’s a crucial conservation open space and it’s what we keep hearing overwhelmingly from the community here is that they … love the rural character of this town, and they value open space. They value conservation,” he said.
Colasante continued to argue his point, proposing a zoning policy that fell out of favor about 20 years ago.
“Instead of doing the cluster, you do the two acres, two and a half acres, that way, out of the whole development, the town would have garnished [sic] at least another $30,000 to $50,000 in property values and just because that house is a three bedroom compared to a two bedroom, it would just put the same amount of kids in the school system…”
Kelley broke in,
“That’s sprawl you’re dealing with as well, though,” he said. We want to limit sprawl as much as possible.”
“That two-acre zoning, we don’t allow anymore,” she said. “We don’t allow people to develop like that anymore. We do conservation developments.”
As Colasante continued to speak, Damicis interrupted him with a suggestion that he talk with Lacey about conservation development subdivisions and why the town encourages them.
“There’s a lot more to that that I think you’re not understanding, quite honestly,” he told Colasante, before ending the discussion.
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 21, 2023
Councilor loses bid to scrap wellness director
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 22nd 2023
RICHMOND – Town Council member Helen Sheehan lost her bid at Tuesday’s meeting to eliminate the newly-created position of Wellness Director and allocate the American Rescue Plan Act funds to another initiative.
The council also made two appointments – one to the Planning Board and the second to the Economic Development Commission, and granted an entertainment license to the organizer of food truck events.
Daniel Ashworth, a Pawtucket police sergeant and neighbor of councilor Michael Colasante, was not appointed at the Feb. 9 meeting because he was not present, but his appointment was approved on Tuesday, with councilor Samantha Wilcox casting the only dissenting vote. (Council Vice President Richard Nassaney was absent.)
One concern regarding Ashworth’s appointment has been his connection to the largest developer in town, The Preserve, where he is a firearms instructor. Ashworth did not disclose his position at The Preserve on his application, nor did he reveal that connection until Wilcox asked him specifically about it.
“When I Googled your name, you came up as a trainer at The Preserve,” she said. “That’s not a position you’re paid for? You’re not an employee there?”
“No, I’m also there as well. I’m sorry,” Ashworth replied. “So, I am a firearms instructor there. I also do some transportation services, things like that, for The Preserve - it’s four hours a week, maybe hours a month. It’s very limited. It’s firearms training.”
Wilcox said she was concerned about an employee of The Preserve being so closely involved with the Planning Board. (It should be noted that three individuals connected to The Preserve made campaign contributions to Council President Mark Trimmer and Colasante. See the Jan. 3 story on the BRVCA website.)
Trimmer said he did not believe that Ashworth’s position at The Preserve was a problem.
“Honestly, if it were someone who worked in the planning office, management, marketing, etcetera, etcetera, I would probably shy away from it, but it’s such a minimal impact…I’m sure he would recuse himself from issues as such, and I think it would be a really good idea,” he said.
After the vote, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth urged Ashworth to contact the Rhode Island Ethics Commission for advice on recusals.
“The first thing that Mr. Ashworth should do is contact the Ethics Commission and get an advisory opinion so that they can explain to him exactly what it is he needs to recuse himself from,” she said.
Louise Dinsmore, a frequent commentator at council and Chariho School Committee meetings, was appointed to the Economic Development Commission.
Reading from a prepared statement, Dinsmore said the commission needed a written directive from the council, prioritizing the rehabilitation of the largely vacant Chariho Plaza property on Route 138.
“I would strongly recommend that at your next council meeting, your council be specific in your words and go an important step further and put some teeth behind this priority,” she said. “At your next meeting, I really feel that the town council should adopt the specific priority of the development of the Chariho Plaza and direct the Town Manager [Administrator] and the Town Planner to be co-point persons in driving this priority forward. I would go a step further in suggesting that part of the performance evaluations of the Town Manager [Administrator] and the Town Planner include tangible steps that lead to conversations among the Chariho Plaza stakeholders, various town boards and commissions, to ensure the thoughtful development of the Chariho Plaza. Someone has to be held accountable to get this done.”
Dinsmore’s appointment to the commission was unanimously approved, however, her remarks about administrators being held accountable raised some eyebrows.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch pointed out, later in the meeting, that accountability for the success or failure of Chariho Plaza development initiatives was not included in either her or Town Planner Shaun Lacey’s job descriptions.
“It was something that was said earlier that I can’t let go,” Pinch said. “… It’s a private entity. They will do what they want to do with their own property. Whether they develop that or not to the liking of the public has nothing to do with our performance. In fact, there is nothing in the Town Administrator job description that says anything about economic development.”
“Not myself, not you as a council, not Louise, not anyone in this audience, nor in this room, can force a private property owner to build.”
The Wellness Director
After describing the services provided by agencies and organizations to Richmond residents, Sheehan repeated a proposal she made at the beginning of her tenure: abolish the newly-created position of Wellness Director and use the federal grant money elsewhere.
The position, which pays $75,000 per year and can be renewed or terminated after three years, was approved by the previous Town Council on the recommendation of the town’s Wellness Committee. Interviews are set to begin soon.
The Wellness Director would serve as a resource for residents needing social or medical services, but Sheehan said the position was unnecessary.
“The population of Richmond, as of July 1, 2022, was 8,165 people,” she said. “Of those, 1.9% or 122 people, lived in poverty. I think they’d be better served by connecting with agencies that have the ability to give them heat vouchers, pay their rent, give them food, get them into an education program if they’re appropriate for one. Why would we start over with someone when they’re already existing people who already have the training there? ... I feel as if any time you start a new bureaucracy, it never goes away, so I think we should not fund the Wellness Director, because there are so many agencies that can do the job so well.”
Wilcox reminded the council that representatives from several community agencies, including Wood River Health and Police Chief Elwood Johnson, had served on the Wellness Committee and had determined that there was a need for a Wellness Director.
“Two of the people that you mentioned, both the Executive Director of Wood River Health and the police, by way of Chief Johnson, were both on the Wellness Committee and still found that this is a need that the community has to support the town and support the staff,” she said.
Colasante weighed in with his argument, which, like Sheehan, he has made since before taking office; that the position will end up being permanent, adding to the tax burden.
“My question to everybody is, when does it stop? Because it’s a perpetuating problem that just keeps going. Like Ronald Reagan said, ‘government is not the solution. Government is the problem,’” he said.
“On that, I have an answer for you,” Wilcox countered. “It stops after three years. … And I don’t agree that it’s a duplication of services and we can go back and forth on that all day, because there’s a need that Chief Johnson and the Director of Wood River Health found. They’re in the business, they know what they’re doing, and it’s not duplication.”
Several members of the public, some of whom had served on the Wellness Committee, said they supported the director position, and Trimmer agreed. So did Chief Johnson, who said it was difficult to navigate the many agencies who themselves had frequent staff turnover.
“Familiarity. Networking. Professional relationships you develop are how you get things done,” he said. “If you hire a competent person that knows what they’re doing, they’ve been vetted by the people that you put in charge of doing that, I think you’ll have success in at least facilitating somebody with a resource that they need.”
After hearing the opposition to her proposal, Sheehan declined to make a motion to eliminate the position, so Colasante moved to eliminate it and the motion failed.
A tri-town collaboration?
Colasante announced that he had been to a meeting last week with representatives from Hopkinton and Charlestown to discuss state education and other mandates and how to keep control with the towns.
“These other towns, like us, are in the same predicament, and it’s good to work with these towns without the bureaucratic red tape because again, keeping it local, local town councils working together, is stronger than any state organization that is given to us to try and coordinate us,” he said. “The other towns know of this and they were very excited to hear that we were getting this started.”
Trimmer said he hoped the coalition was not a political strategy.
Colasante replied that it was not.
“At that first meeting, we had Democrats, Independents and Republicans at the meeting and everybody was in sync with one another and nobody really cared what the heck the letter was at the end of their name,” he said.
Contacted Wednesday, Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney said she had not attended the meeting, and had no knowledge of the tri town coalition, nor had a senior Hopkinton administrator, also contacted on Wednesday.
Food Trucks to return
The council approved an outdoor entertainment license for P&EE Consulting Inc., which operates “PVD Food Truck Events.”
This year, the events will take place in the parking lot of Pasquale Farms at 421 Kingstown Road, the site of the former John and Cindy’s Harvest Acres Farm.
Council members agreed that unlike the former site, near the Town Hall, there would be more parking and fewer traffic safety concerns at Pasquale Farms.
Is Chariho’s Per Pupil Cost Really That High?
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 17th 2023
RICHMOND – At the Feb. 7 meeting of the Chariho School Committee, newly-appointed Richmond member, Clay Johnson voted against adopting the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.
Johnson cited the cost per pupil as one of the most important factors to consider in evaluating the proposed budget.
“There’s been a lot of focus on percentage increase, and I think that’s the wrong way to look at budgets,” he said. “When we look at the Uniform Charter of Accounts, that’s a way to compare budgets across the state, and nowhere on there is a comparison with a percent increase. So, there’s two important factors for schools. One is the academic performance and second is efficiency in how we’re spending our money, and when we look at the best-performing school districts in the state, they’re performing efficiently, at a much lower rate per pupil.”
Johnson pointed to the Barrington and East Greenwich school districts as examples of high-performing districts with lower costs.
“That’s the key way to look at budgets and in the private sector, you look at benchmarking, and I would recommend benchmarking against the best in the state, and those are East Greenwich and Barrington right now, from an academic standpoint,” he said. “If we look at their per pupil rate and applied it to Chariho, we’d be spending six to eight million dollars less in this district. So, what I would recommend, as we start to look at our budget for next year is, we start to look at what those districts are doing, how they’re allocating for these budgets and setting limits and caps on these line items so we’re not just guessing where we’re going to end up on each line item, and padding each line item and having to go through the budget and pull the padding out to get where we want to go.”
The per-pupil numbers
A chart on the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website provides a complete list of all the public school districts in the state and each district’s cost per pupil.
The most recent document, released in 2021, confirms what Johnson stated; Barrington and East Greenwich do indeed have lower costs per pupil - $16,551 and $16,841 respectively. (They are not the lowest in the state. Cumberland’s cost is $14,998.)
Rhode Island’s four regional school districts are grouped together on the chart, and Chariho, which is considered a high-performing district, fared well, with the second-lowest cost per pupil, $19,083. Foster-Glocester was the lowest, $19,061, Bristol-Warren had the second-highest cost, $19,321, and the highest cost per pupil was the Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District, at $21,042.
It should also be noted that Westerly’s cost per pupil is higher than Chariho’s, at $24,510.
“I think that there is this misconception that we are very expensive in all areas at Chariho and that’s just not the case,” School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said. “Our teachers are not the highest paid in the state. We do not pay the highest sub [substitute teacher] rates in the state, and our per pupil cost is not the highest in the state at all. I think that people are quick to throw out information that will get the taxpayers’ backs up, and I think that there are people who are very skilled at giving only part of the picture, and I think that’s what we are seeing now, is people who are giving part of the answer and hoping to upset people. I can’t think of any other reason. We have members of the school committee who have been very clear that their goal is to level-fund this budget again. They feel that it is the only avenue that they have to show their displeasure with Chariho which is unfortunate, because I think consistently under-funding a consistently high-performing school district is not the way to get anything accomplished.”
The regional school districts comprise larger geographic areas and several schools. Three of the four regional districts have six schools apiece, and Chariho has eight schools.
Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard and Director of Finance and Administration Ned Draper pointed to disparities between the demographics of the Barrington and Chariho districts, which make it difficult to compare the two.
“He used Barrington as an example,” Picard said, referring to Johnson. “When you look at Barrington, the average median income in Barrington is what – about $125,000?”
The most recent Census data show the median household income in Barrington is even higher, $130,455.
Incomes in the three Chariho towns are lower. In 2022, Richmond’s median household income was $100,493, Charlestown’s was $86,023 and Hopkinton’s was $87,712.
Draper also noted that the North Kingstown School District was more comparable to Chariho in terms of the geographic area covered.
“They’ve got a lot of land mass, so Chariho and North Kingstown share some interesting similarities in that regard,” he said. “Same thing with Exeter-West Greenwich. In terms of size, we’re a little closer to NK, too.”
The budget that the School Committee adopted at the most recent meeting is $63.5 million, a 1.45% increase. The committee still has time, until March 14, to make changes to the spending plan.
Last year, voters in Richmond and Hopkinton rejected the proposed budget twice, and with only Charlestown residents approving it, the district was level-funded.
There are efforts currently underway to ensure that voters reject the budget again.
Johnson has launched a political action committee “Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers,” and is seeking members - and donors - to oppose the budget. The PAC was registered with the Rhode Island Board of Elections in January, around the same time the Town Council appointed him to the School Committee.
“We are looking for support now to prepare for a school budget fight in April,” the message on the PAC’s website states.
In a recent letter to the editor, posted on the same website, Richmond Republican Louise Dinsmore blamed Chariho teacher contracts for “unsustainable” costs.
“Contrary to the rhetoric and propaganda pushed by the ‘Friends of Chariho’ in the community, I am not out to ‘destroy the schools’,” she wrote. “I realize that a strong community = strong schools. That's why I moved here in the first place. But we can't just sit by while the NEA [union] shark negotiators for the teachers force our community to pay bills that are unsustainable.”
Picard said she remained hopeful that this year, the budget would be approved, but she admitted she was concerned.
“My hope is that we can continue to share the information that shows the parents and the taxpayers the investment that we’ve made in education, and that the cost of education in general has increased, just like everybody else’s household budget, but I think we do a good job of providing a high - quality program for our kids,” she said. “With that said, we recognize there’s a balance. Are we concerned that the budget will not pass? I think there’s always a concern.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 9th 2023
Council gets down to (some) business
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 10, 2023
RICHMOND – While they are still divided on some issues, the five members of the Town Council were able to get through their agenda at Thursday’s meeting. The meeting was re-scheduled from Tuesday, when an overflow crowd in the council chambers forced the postponement.
The meeting began with an announcement from council President Mark Trimmer that the public forum would be moved to the end of the meeting.
“The last time, we had it, it took up most of the meeting and we had to shut down,” he said. “It stopped us from doing the business. We had people to hire, we had bills to pay.”
Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she opposed moving the forum.
“It was one of the first things we did as a group, moving it to the front, because everyone felt that public input was really important and valued.”
The motion to move the forum to the end passed, with Wilcox and council Vice President Richard Nassaney opposed.
Finance Director Laura Kenyon proposed, and the council approved, several dates for municipal budget workshops.
The April 4 council meeting, which would have been on the same day as the all-day Chariho schools budget referendum, was re-scheduled to April 5.
Budget workshops were scheduled for April 5 and April 10, and there will be two public budget hearings, on April 18 and May 2. The all-day budget referendum will take place on June 5.
Information on the dates and times of budget workshops and hearings is available on the town website.
The council considered applications for appointments to several boards and commissions, including the Economic Development Commission and the Planning Board.
There are two vacancies on the Planning Board. Four residents submitted applications: Josh Comerford, Raymond Pouliot, Kevin Stacey and Daniel Ashforth.
Comerford, who has served on several board and commissions, withdrew his application. Pouliot, a retired post master who applied to several boards, was appointed to the Economic Development Commission. Stacey, who works in the communications department at the University of Rhode Island, was appointed to the Planning Board.
Ashforth was not present at the meeting, but despite his absence, Colasante, who in the past has insisted on meeting candidates in person before voting on their appointments, said he supported Ashforth’s appointment and would be willing to postpone the vote until he could be present.
“Any other time, when someone’s not here at the meetings…and the people who do show up are here, it’s disrespectful to any of the people that are here that showed up to be appointed to that position – any position, so you have two people that are here: Mr. Pouliot and Mr. Stacey,” he said. “Both of them could fill any one of those positions. You just heard Mr. Stacey speak very eloquently. Mr. Pouliot spoke eloquently. He’d be willing to be on any of these boards. Why would you hold up? If Mr. Ashworth wants to be the second position, fine, but why would you hold up tonight’s vote?”
Colasante said he had known Ashworth for several years and wanted to hold open one of the Planning Board positions for him. In the meantime, he made a motion, which was defeated in a four-to-one vote, to nominate Pouliot to the Planning Board.
Nassaney made a motion to nominate Stacey to the Planning Board, which passed with only Colasante opposed.
A single open Planning Board seat remains to be filled, but there are questions regarding Ashworth’s suitability for the position.
A member of the Pawtucket Police Force, Ashworth also works as a firearms instructor at the Preserve. That association would require Ashworth to recuse himself from matters relating to The Preserve, which appears often before the Planning Board.
Helen Sheehan presented a list of goals that she would work to achieve as a council member.
“What I wanted was for each of us to talk about what we wanted to achieve in the next two years,” she said.
Sheehan’s overall goal is economic development, which would include the repurposing of the derelict Chariho Plaza and creating more affordable housing.
“I would like for us to get credit for affordable housing that we already have in the town so that we wouldn’t have so far to go to get to the 10% [the affordable housing goal set by the state],” she said. “In conjunction this goal, we can get together as a group and think about doing something with Chariho Plaza. We could put in a 62+ housing facility that could take care of some of affordable housing numbers and not increase the number of children in the schools.”
Colasante said he would present his goals at the next meeting.
Wilcox agreed with the need to create more affordable housing, and rehabilitating the Wyoming corridor. Her additional goals are transparency in town government, increasing housing for seniors and broadening access to health care.
Nassaney said his goal was to have council members work together for residents.
“If the five of us can work together to actually get work done without small time bickering, we can actually get something done,” he said.
Trimmer’s goals also include affordable housing and economic development, and reducing the property tax burden.
“I really, really want to stop bickering, and what I’d love is for five people to find some common ground, work together and get it done,” he said.
Trimmer also introduced a proposal for an “enterprise zone,” which would offer incentives to upgrade neglected commercial properties, and a second initiative, which would create an “urban blight” zone.
“We have blight right here in town,” he said. “It reminds me of West Warwick and the Arctic section of West Warwick in the ‘70s, where we have a rundown, unoccupied shopping center. We really need to do something with it. It makes our town look hideous. It stops other people from locating here and developing here. It’s just, kind of, almost an embarrassment. I’d like to find some way to incentivize the landlords and owners of that property to upgrade it in such a way that it makes our town proud.”
The crowd that had packed the council chambers forcing the adjournment of Tuesday’s meeting did not materialize at the rescheduled meeting on Thursday. However, despite the talk of overcoming ideological differences and working together, hackles were quickly raised once more during the public forum.
Laurie Barrett, a spokeswoman for the group, Parents United RI, who does not reside in Richmond and was participating remotely, said her group supported the council’s hiring of attorney Joseph Larisa, and then listed several issues that her group has “under investigation.”
“The legal fees and apparently unconfirmed representation of the Chariho Regional School Committee by Jon Anderson, who, by the way is more expensive than Joe Larisa,” she said.
Barrett warned the council that her group would be submitting public records requests relating to Town Moderator Mark Reynolds.
(The complete story of the hiring of Larisa can be found in the Jan. 24 story on BRVCA.org.)
Reynolds had strong objections to the council’s paying Clay Johnson’s legal fees and engaged in a verbal skirmish with Colasante, in which he pointed out that Colasante had not revealed his council goals.
“It was very disappointing that councilor Colasante did not contribute to the discussion that Ms. Sheehan brought to the table,” he said. “All of the members of the council were discussing their goals. He couldn’t be bothered to do his homework, basically.”
Resident Cynthia Reiser said she would not accept the council’s appointment of Clay Johnson to the Chariho School Committee after Jessica Purcell, who is challenging the appointment in court, had come less than 30 votes from winning the seat.
“We voted, and three of you, in your ultimate wisdom, said ‘you’re wrong – you did say it through your actions – you’re wrong. You voted for the wrong person. We don’t want that person. We found a way we can have a loophole, and we’re going to vote and we hope it goes our way but meantime, we’re using taxpayers’ money to defend the town. I was disenfranchised. Over 1,400 people were disenfranchised in your actions.
“Id like you to answer why you think you know betterthan we do.
“It’s up to the courts to decide.”
“Well, it is,” and it’ll be very interesting and if it doesn’t go the way I hope it does, I certainly hope there’s a recall, that there’s a way to say ‘some people elected you. Great. But we elected Purcell and you didn’t care.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 7th 2023
Overflow Crowd Prompts Another Council Meeting Postponement
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 8th 2023
RICHMOND – Once again, angry residents packed the Town Council chambers and forced the adjournment of the Tuesday February 7th council meeting. With more than 60 people packing a room with a maximum capacity of 52, the council was required to adjourn the meeting, as it had adjourned the Jan. 17 council meeting - for the same reason.
It is likely that opponents of the council had planned to pack the meeting, however, reached Wednesday, council President Mark Trimmer said he believed that many of the residents in the council chambers had come to support Jordan Carlson, the owner of a dirt bike track who is involved in a legal dispute with the town. Carlson was on the agenda for the executive session which follows the council meeting but is not open to the public.
“The Democrats that packed in early on to express their anger and so on, in a rather uncivil fashion, they didn’t themselves present enough to overwhelm the system, but unfortunately, when the dirt bikers arrived, we had to shut things down,” he said.
A new council meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. Additional space will be available upstairs in the Town Hall to accommodate an overflow crowd, should there be one.
The Residents Vent
A couple of agenda items, such as a public hearing on changes to the ordinance pertaining to the Emergency Management Director were heard. However, the remainder of the meeting, which ended after just 35 minutes as more residents arrived, consisted of the public forum.
Some residents remain angry about the council’s failure to reappoint Nancy Hess to the Planning Board. Others are angry about the council’s appointment of Clay Johnson, rather than Jessica Purcell, to the Chariho School Committee.
Tensions were further inflamed when Trimmer, with councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan, erected a large sign next to the town’s busiest road, calling themselves the “Gang of Three” and reminding residents that they had promised that “it wasn’t going to be business as usual.”
Trimmer said the sign, installed on Jan. 28 next to a package store in Wyoming, was in retaliation for a letter to the editor by Kristen Chambers, in which she called the three councilors “the Gang of Three,” invoking China’s infamous “Gang of Four.”
“Slanderous comments, calling people criminals, thugs, and comparing them to the Gang of Four, that were responsible for 10 million deaths, isn’t the way you get compromise,” he said.
Contacted Wednesday, Chambers said,
“I’m like ‘wait a minute. What are they calling me out for? They’re the ones who took the name and ran with it, on a giant sign,’ and they also tied it in with that I’m on the Richmond Democratic Town Committee, which I already in a different letter said ‘I’m not writing for the Democratic Town Committee.’ So, I felt like I just had to get up and say, you know, ‘I wrote the letter. I wrote it on my own behalf, and you’re the ones who used it on your sign.’”
Town officials, including zoning official Josh Jordan, received complaints about the sign, which, as it turned out, had been installed without the necessary permit. It was subsequently removed, by Trimmer and Colasante, about a week later, on Feb. 5.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, resident Joyce Flanagan derided the three councilors for failing to obtain a permit before they put up the sign.
“You paid for and condoned the installation of the large sign in Wyoming,” she said. “We all know it’s not there anymore. Here is my question: are you really so uninformed and uninterested in following procedures that you never applied for a sign permit?”
Trimmer replied that he had not personally installed the sign and had not applied for a permit.
Former council President and Democratic Town Committee Chair, Joseph Reddish, reminded council members that they had sworn to represent the interests of all the members of the community.
“No matter how pissed off you are, how you feel you’ve been attacked, [you] always have to address the individuals behind me and the ones that are not in this room right now with respect,” he said. “Each of you are elected officials. You’re to be at a higher standard. So, I encourage you, step back, think about what you’re saying. You can’t be defensive.”
Trimmer said later that Reddish’s comments had struck a chord with him.
“His comments were sobering, and I hope that the Democrats, under the party he is chairman of, listen to those words and temper their words as well,” he said.
The Hiring of Joseph Larisa
Attorney Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Board of Tax Assessment Review and ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in the last election, brought up the issue of the council’s approval, at a special council meeting on Jan. 25, of the hiring of attorney Joseph Larisa to represent the town in the Rhode Island Supreme Court case involving Jessica Purcell.
“The terms of the contract with that attorney were not disclosed at that meeting and I’d like to know what the terms of that contract with attorney Larisa are,” Reynolds said.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said Larisa would be charging the town an hourly rate of $225. Reynolds asked how Larisa’s rate compared to those charged by other outside attorneys, and
Ellsworth said Larisa would be paid more than outside attorneys hired to represent the town in tax appeals cases, and also considerably more than the rate she herself was paid.
“It’s certainly higher than the hourly rate that I get,” she said.
“How much higher?” Reynolds asked.
“I get $120 an hour,” Ellsworth said.
Reynolds also noted that the council had not issued a request for proposals for the position, but had simply hired Larisa, without public scrutiny, at the higher hourly rate.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but councilor Samantha Wilcox said on Wednesday that she hoped the council would be able to get its work done when it meets again on Thursday.
“I think people are upset about different things, and they’re all coming together for that reason,” she said.
Trimmer said he had seen indications that residents were prepared to put their politics aside and work together.
“I had three Democrats who were at the meeting complaining last night contact me within the last 12 hours and we had civil, reasonable, intelligent, adult conversations that in no way impugned anybody,” he said. “It’s absolutely possible, but the people throwing the rocks and telling us not to throw rocks have got to stop throwing the rocks.”
Potts Foundation kicks off new campaign - February 4th 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 4th 2023
RICHMOND – Fundraising for the Maddie Potts Memorial Field House was a challenge made even more daunting by the chaos and delays caused by the pandemic.
After taking a break, Stephanie, Dan and Julia Potts and Maddie Potts Foundation Treasurer, Melissa DeJoseph, recently launched a new campaign to raise money for scholarships and local projects.
Stephanie Potts said she and her family needed time to recover from the pressure of raising money for the field house.
“That recovery’s actually taken a lot longer than I expected, and just kind of re-focusing,” she said. “I felt I needed to let our foundation board and our friends kind of recover from that, because they’d given everything they had to give.”
Stephanie and Dan Potts’s 17-year-old daughter, Madeline, was captain of the Chariho soccer team when she collapsed on the field from an asymptomatic brain aneurism. Maddie later died, on Sept. 24, 2017, at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
The sudden death of the popular student athlete drove the Chariho community into mourning. Determined to create something good from the tragedy, the Potts family started the Maddie Potts Foundation and began raising money for scholarships for Chariho students and a new field house for the Chariho campus. The Maddie Potts Memorial Field House was officially dedicated last August.
Back to basics
The Maddie Potts Foundation board met in November - the first meeting in the new fieldhouse.
“We had our first board meeting there, and it was just a whole different feeling and atmosphere and to me, it really empowered us to continue to find ways to give back even more,” Potts said. “…I felt that we all needed to take time and be reminded that we’re here because of a monumental loss that has affected thousands of people and five years later, still does.”
With the field house open and paid for, DeJoseph explained that the foundation board will now broaden its donation focus.
“I think the field house was so huge, but I think we’re almost kind of like ‘what now?’” she said. “We all have so many ideas and of course, we wish we could just help everybody and do everything, but I think it’s important, too, to get back to the smaller things – not that scholarships are small, but compared to a $2 million fieldhouse, it’s smaller. So, I think that’s why we talked about expanding the scholarship program and expanding the donations to Unified Athletics, to local schools and also increasing the donations and the supply drives for the local animal shelters and the local food pantries. So, we’re getting back to basics.”
(The fieldhouse is valued at $2 million but donations of goods and services from contractors reduced the actual cost of construction to $1,258,696.11.)
Organized by DeJoseph and now in its second year, the Jail and Bail campaign has already raised more than $3,000 of the $111,000 goal. (Maddie’s team jersey was Number 11.)
“The whole reason we did ‘Jail and Bail’ again is because it was so incredibly successful last year as an inaugural event for us. She raised over $25,000,” Potts said.
Donations can be made to the general campaign, or to a specific “prisoner,” a participating volunteer from the community.
The funds will go towards scholarships, which, in addition to Chariho students, will now be awarded to students in South Kingstown, Middletown and Narragansett. The foundation will also raise funds for the Westerly and South Kingstown Jonnycake Centers and RICAN, and collect food and supplies for the Westerly animal shelter and the Charlestown animal shelter.
Potts said the foundation was also in the early stages of discussing a possible program with Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
“We’re trying to increase awareness even further of brain aneurism, and Hasbro has reached out to me on a number of occasions, so we are trying to figure out how we can help with their needs – very early talks, but we’re trying to figure that out,” she said.
The time off after the dedication of the field house has given the foundation leadership a much-needed energy boost.
“I’m hopeful that that re-group will allow us to come back even stronger and do more diversified good,” Potts said. “You know, this isn’t just about athletics. This is about all the things that were valuable to Maddie as far as art, and, just, community and animals and the elderly, and she just supported every single underdog in every way, and that’s the intention of the foundation.”
Richmond Councilors Double Down with Sign - January 29th 2023
Richmond Councilors Double Down with Sign
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
January 29th, 2023
RICHMOND –Richmond residents hoping to get a weekend break from the recent political skirmishes that have roiled their town were confronted with a large sign that went up on Saturday next to the package store in Wyoming.
The sign is a jab at Democrat Kristen Chambers, who, in a Jan. 22 letter to the editor to The Westerly Sun, described Town Council President Mark Trimmer and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante as a “Gang of Three” for their support of conservative activist Clay Johnson over Jessica Purcell for a vacant Chariho School Committee seat.
The Richmond Home Rule Charter states that the council should choose the next highest vote-getter for the seat, but Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante have said that the Chariho Act, as state law, supersedes the town charter – which was also ratified by the state.
Purcell and the town have both hired attorneys, Jeffrey Levy for Purcell and Joseph Larisa for the town, to argue their cases before the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
(Please see the Jan. 24 story on the BRVCA website.)
The sign, featuring a large photograph of Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante, reads: “’Gang of 3’ Proudly representing the TAXPAYER! Stand with us, Richmond. We told you it wasn’t going to be business as usual.”
Reached Saturday, Trimmer said the sign had been a response to recent suggestions that the councilors should be recalled.
“There have been multiple sources within the town’s Democratic party that talked about a recall for the Gang of Three,” he said. “In many cases, we’re doing what’s best for the town, and a lot of this has been given nefarious undertones. It’s not. So, we were quoting the Democrat, Kristen Chambers, and the others that have made these statements. We were following the Chariho Act regarding the appointment. The Court should bear [that] out in the end, and I think that we’ll be validated in the end by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.”
Asked who had come up with the idea for the sign, Trimmer said,
“I don’t know. I think we just talked about it and it kind of organically came up. I didn’t like the term ‘Gang of Three,’ because I studied history and the term is a negative, Communist term.”
The sign was paid for by the three council members.
“I think each of us paid $47 apiece,” Trimmer said. “I think I had $42 left in my campaign account. Mike and Helen had a little bit more, and we’re each chipping in and we’re paying for it, because we’re expecting the recall. We can’t just disagree or not agree all the time. We have to go to extremes.”
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Joseph Reddish was seeing the sign for the first time when contacted by BRVCA on Saturday evening.
Reddish said the current situation in the town stemmed from the appointment of Johnson, which amounted to disenfranchisement.
“Taking away the voters’ rights to selection is what they’ve done,” he said. “This is not ‘business as usual’. They disenfranchised the voters, is what they did.”
Chambers said she found the new sign shocking.
“Shame on them for their lack of shame,” she said. “They used that term because I used it in a letter to the editor so my friend sent it to me and I said ‘hmm, maybe I used it the wrong way.’ But I looked up ‘gang’ and the definition of gang is an organized group of criminals, so I did use it the right way.”
Reddish said he does not believe the town is divided over the school committee issue, but he stressed that not enough moderate – leaning residents took the time to vote and express their views.
“What’s taken place is, yes, they [the Republicans] got out the vote of a select group of people,” he said. “If you look at the percentage of voters, 31% of the voters voted. That is not a representation of the opinion of the Town of Richmond.
…People can’t be passive. They have to be engaged.”
Trimmer still hopes that both sides will be able to cooperate for the good of the town.
“The two extremes, left and right, can’t coexist,” he said. “Somebody has to move a little bit. That’s how I feel. I’m hoping that I can convince the two edges of the spectrum to kind of edge towards the center and we can get some things done.”
But Chambers said she felt that the sign had exacerbated the divisions.
“It’s like a slap in the face, not just to Democrats but to Richmond residents. They’re proud of everything that they’re doing that people are getting angry about,” she said.
Work Progresses at Shannock Village - January 28th, 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
January 28th, 2023
RICHMOND – After decades of neglect, the center of Shannock Village is now being cleaned up and brought back to life.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the village contains important examples of mid-19th Century Greek revival architecture, including homes built for the mill owners, George H. Clark and his son, George P. Clark.
Bordered by the Pawcatuck River and known for the iconic Horseshoe Falls dam, the village spread across the river into Charlestown back when the mill, the Columbia Narrow Fabrics Company, expanded.
The Clarks sold the mills in 1964 and the Columbia Narrow Fabrics mill closed in 1968.
The Shannock Mill Project
The goals of the Shannock Mill Project are ambitious: clean up and repurpose the site, and redevelop the property, which is just under three acres, as mixed - use.
The man behind the Shannock Mill revitalization is the property owner, Jeffrey Marlowe, who, in 2020, received $235,280 from the Brownfield and Economic Development Fund of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. An earlier grant of $429,000, also from RIDEM’s Brownfield and Economic Development program, was already in place to fund the initial remediation work.
In addition to the former mill property, Marlowe owns three nearby buildings. He is also planning to open a café in one of the buildings.
“Nothing fancy,” he said of the café. “We want to use locally grown and milled grains keeping either a flatbread or pizza as our base, it’s possible to do a decent job with a small staff making the dough in-house so that it’s something special – high hydration using a natural leavening that results from a sourdough starter.”
Marlowe lives in Newport, but at one time, he lived in one of the houses that overlook the mill property and he still appreciates the historic qualities of the village.
“I bought some property here in the late ‘80s,” he said. “I was working for a company in Hope Valley and I was living in Newport at the time. I had a junk car, a cheap car, I was in my 20s, and so I needed a place that I could be a little closer to my work in Hope Valley and there was a cheap rental here in the village and I found it and I moved in. About the same time there was a couple of properties for sale down the street.”
Marlowe bought those properties and began rehabbing them.
“…It was a real homesteading mentality here in the village,” he recalled. “People were buying property. It was cheaper than anywhere else in the area, but you had to manage a water system and everything else that went along with that, and the sense of community was really something special. We were trying to keep this whole thing up and going, keeping a water system that was completely put together with plastic well pipe, galvanized steel pipe and some copper tubing. Every time the water pressure would be turned up so people with second floor showers could get some pressure, we’d blow out another leak. Neighbors would have to run around, figure it out, and the sense of community that was developed during that stage was something that I’ve never seen or felt anywhere else.”
The first step in re-developing the village was modernizing the water system, and in 2013, under the guidance of Geoffrey Marchant, the Director of the Community Development Consortium at the time, the Shannock Water District completed a new, $1.7 million water system.
Marlowe purchased the mill property at the center of the village in the spring of 2020. He didn’t know then what he would do with the parcel, but he believed the time was right to get the remediation started.
“I was frustrated nothing was happening with the site, and I was concerned that if DEM reallocated this funding, it would tarnish the community’s standing for any future remediation funding and we’d be stuck with this hole in the middle of the village a site that would remain contaminated and unusable.”
Unfortunately, after sitting vacant for 50 years, the mill building, and several adjacent structures, could not be saved.
“Our history in the village is, we’ve tried to save these structures as much as we could, because an existing building is always the greenest one, but in this case, there wasn’t much savable about them,” he said. “The exterior masonry walls had extensive water damage and if we had tried to reinforce the walls, it would have been like building a new building inside an old one.”
In addition to taking down the crumbling buildings, the team had to remove all the trash that had been dumped on the property; refrigerators, couches, underground storage tanks and 125 tires.
Soil remediation work was the first task to be initiated. Some of the soil had been contaminated with oil, so that had to be dug up and removed. The remaining contaminated soil is scheduled for removal this spring.
The next challenge involved finding a contractor to remove the asbestos and demolish the building ruins.
“The actual physical work takes a matter of days, but the paperwork to get everything in order for the asbestos abatement approval and the demolition permits, those just take months and months,” Marlowe said.
Once the site has been cleared and remediated, Marlowe is proposing to build homes and two commercial spaces.
“Our goal is to create something special right here in the middle of the village,” he said. “And this is what is so common with brownfield sites. Typically, they’re located in important areas. They’re in the center of town or on a waterfront or in this case both. And if you can get them cleaned up and repurposed, they can really have a positive effect on the surrounding community.”
The plan calls for workforce housing, with public, riverfront access. Of the 14 planned housing units, four will be deeded affordable, but Marlowe said even the market-priced units will be reasonably priced.
“What’s needed most in South County is that ‘missing middle,’” he said. “The missing middle is duplexes, maybe townhouses, small cottages, bungalows in the 1,200-square foot range that are still affordable.”
Green space and “village scale” businesses are also planned. Commercial spaces would include small retail and arts and crafts production studios and a coffee shop. The green space would provide public access to the river, and the plans include a pedestrian bridge that would link both sides of the village.
Marlowe has not yet appeared before the Richmond Planning Board, however, Town Planner Shaun Lacey said the town would be considering a comprehensive permit, which requires that 25 % of the housing units on the property be deeded affordable – something the proposed plan already includes.
“Comprehensive permits would need to set aside a minimum of 25% the total number of units to be designated as affordable,” he said. “The remainder of the units themselves would be market rate. I think it is interesting, and maybe notable, to mention that all the units in their entirety, especially the large buildings, they’re not especially large dwelling units individually, so I think Jeff’s belief is that even a market rate home in Shannock Village, would, I think, lend itself to a great starter home opportunity for new home-buyers that live in the region.”
The project has also received support from the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, which, in 2013, built a fish ladder to allow migratory fish to pass over the dam.
WPWA Executive Director Christopher Fox said his experience working in the village had convinced him that its revitalization, while worthwhile, is a complex, long term project.
“Something’s always getting started, work is always being done,” he said. “It’s usually at a slow pace, because of funding, but always continues to push forward. …My understanding is, a handful of people who live in and love the village looked at the whole big picture of the village and said, ‘this is all the things that need to happen to bring this village back to the heart of the community that it once was’.”
What began with Geoffrey Marchant putting together the funding for the water supply has continued to grow with Marlowe’s vision.
“One of the things I really love about the village of Shannock’s overall revitalization is that you have different people championing different aspects of bringing that village back to a gold standard of a revitalized industrial village that could have just completely fallen apart,” Fox said.
Marlowe and the town are currently considering options for a road through the mill property.
“The town of Richmond would like to see the re-development include a drive-through,” he said. “In other words, you would come in maybe right across from North Road and then drive through, versus a cul de sac.”
Amtrak owns the land that would be necessary for the construction of a drive-through. Lacey said he and Marlowe had agreed that the ideal solution would be a second point of access, which would require agreement from Amtrak.
“Considering the proposal and the design concept and the site layout that was presented, two points of access, certainly in my mind, would better serve the site,” he said.
Fox said he respected Marlowe for persisting with his project and overcoming state and municipal roadblocks.
“Any profiteer would have given up long ago,” he said. “It’s just that history is a clear indication that he’s doing this because of his love of the village, not because of his love of the almighty dollar.”
Jeffrey Marlowe at the Shannock Village site.
Richmond School Committee Meeting Update for January 24th 2023
Plenty of Discussion, But Not Budget Cuts at Chariho Budget Workshop
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – With continued controversy over the appointment of Clay Johnson to fill the vacant Richmond seat on the Chariho School Committee, many of the 50 or so residents who came to the middle school auditorium on Tuesday were eager to express their opinions on the issue, even though the meeting was advertised as a budget workshop.
After Board Chair Catherine Giusti opened a public comment period, more than an hour was taken by people telling school committee members, and Chariho solicitor Jon Anderson, how they felt about the district’s initial resistance to seat Johnson, who was appointed by a majority of Richmond Town Council members on Jan. 19. Jessica Purcell, a Democrat received the second-highest number of votes, losing by a margin of just 27.
Supporters of Johnson’s appointment have argued that the district must follow the Chariho Act, which requires council members to vote for a replacement for a school committee seat. The town’s Home Rule Charter states that the council should select the committee replacement with the next-greatest number of votes.
While Johnson supporters, including three of the five Richmond council members, have stated that as state law, the Chariho Act supersedes the town charter, Anderson and others have countered that the two statutes are compatible, because the council would be voting for the replacement member, and also, the replacement would have the second-greatest number of votes.
The Supreme Court
There were several developments before the meeting.
Purcell announced that she had hired attorney Jeffrey Levy to file a writ of “Quo Warranto” in Rhode Island Supreme Court, which asks the court to determine whether Johnson should hold the school committee office.
Soon after the meeting had begun, attorney Joseph Larisa, hired to represent Johnson, appeared briefly before the committee to announce that he, too, had filed a Quo Warranto.
“I just wanted to make the committee aware that the matter is before the Supreme Court, both parties claiming the right to the position are represented,” he said. “There is no injunction whatsoever by the court against anybody, so you should proceed, in my view, exactly as you are with the budget workshop.”
It is not clear who will be paying Larisa’s fees for representing Johnson, but Larisa has previously represented the conservative group, the Gaspee Project, which Johnson chairs.
Purcell said she had received no financial assistance to pay Levy’s fees.
“I asked around, I networked, to see if anyone knew a lawyer for advice, and on Friday night, I finally found someone who would represent me,” she said. “I’m not receiving financial backing from anybody.”
Tuesday’s meeting revealed the extent of the political divide in the three Chariho towns. Supporters of Purcell were far outnumbered Tuesday by school committee critics, who largely focused their attacks on Anderson, for writing a legal opinion opposing Johnson’s appointment without first having obtained the authorization of the school committee to post it.
(See the Jan. 19 post in the BRVCA blog.)
Several members of the public, and school committee members, raised the same argument: that Anderson had acted inappropriately, violating the school committee’s code of conduct, when he submitted a legal opinion to the council on Jan. 17, without first obtaining the approval of the committee.
Anderson’s written opinion stated, in part:
“… the Council need only follow the plain language of the Chariho Act and the Richmond Home Rule Charter and appoint the next highest vote getter. There is no need to explore the rules of statutory construction as suggested elsewhere.”
Hopkinton school committee member Polly Hopkins, representing Hopkinton led the charge and was joined by several others, including former Hopkinton school committee member David Stall, who currently serves as the Hopkinton Town Moderator.
Stall called for both Anderson and committee chair Catherine Giusti to resign.
“What happened is a legal action and a letter on behalf of the entire school committee without any meeting of the school committee,” he said. “That is a violation of this board’s procedures, practices and policy, and I think, the Open Meeting [sic] Act. And I think it’s egregious, and I think it was intentional and strategic, and I give you enough credit to know the rules to believe that you broke them intentionally. Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Giusti, I believe it calls for your immediate resignation.”
Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante, who, with council President Mark Trimmer and councilor Helen Sheehan, had voted to approve Johnson’s appointment, said he believed having Johnson on the school committee would be beneficial, because the committee would be more balanced, with equal numbers of liberals and conservatives.
“When we look at the next election, when you have six people from each side – whatever you want to say – they’re conservative or liberal, it will give the voters a good chance to see who is pushing what, what agendas and what is actually the best for the Chariho School District as a whole,” he said.
With Johnson now on the school committee, there is a question of what will happen if the Supreme Court rules that his appointment is not valid.
Charlestown member Craig Louzon asked what would become of committee decisions that Johnson had voted on.
“They don’t make a decision on this until, hypothetically, July, or August, or something of that nature, and we made a bunch of decisions involving Mr. Johnson’s participation in those decisions…what do we have to do about those decisions?” he said.
“All those decisions become void, because Mr. Johnson’s vote would not properly count,” Anderson said.
The committee would then have to vote again, with Purcell and without Johnson, on every decision.
The comment period ended and committee members and administrators turned their attention to the Fiscal Year 2024 schools budget. The committee has not yet begun making cuts to the proposed, $60 million spending plan, which represents a 6% increase over the current budget. The towns have asked the district to make reductions that will bring the budget under the 4% tax increase limit set by the state.
Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard will present budget scenarios to the school committee at the next workshop, including an alternative budget that is level-funded.
“We would need about $3,800,000 in cuts to get to level funding, so I’m going to put together what gets to $3,800,000, and they will determine what they want to do, based on what they want to cut,” she said Wednesday.
Picard also told the committee on Tuesday that the proposed state budget, if it passes in June, includes significant increases in state aid to the towns, in addition to the transportation aid they already receive.
Charlestown would receive $60,283, Richmond, $564,248, and Hopkinton, $552,571.
The next budget workshop is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, in the Chariho library, at 6 p.m.
Richmond Town Council Update for January 19th 2023
Council names Clay Johnson to School Committee
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Amid a chorus of boos, three of the five Town Council members rejected the second-highest vote getter, Jessica Purcell, and quickly moved to appoint Clay Johnson to the vacant seat on the Chariho School Committee.
The meeting was continued from Jan. 17, when an overflow crowd in the council chambers necessitated the postponement.
About 70 people attended the council meeting on Thursday, in the auditorium of Chariho Middle School.
The discussion of the selection of a replacement for departing school committee member, Gary Liguori, has centered on the legal obligations of the town, but it is also evident that politics have played a pivotal role.
The debate has centered on which statute applies in the school committee case; the Chariho Act, which is state law, or the Home Rule Charter.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth has stated that the Chariho Act supersedes the charter, but others, including attorney and Town Moderator Mark Reynolds, and Chariho School Committee attorney, Jon Anderson, have submitted written opinions stating that the Chariho Act and the Home Rule Charter do not conflict and that Purcell, who received the second-highest number of votes, should be appointed.
Purcell out, Johnson in
With most of the audience attending the meeting for the school committee discussion, the school committee item was moved up to the top of the agenda. The ensuing discussion, which continued for nearly an hour and a half, was, at times, rancorous.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox opened the discussion by stating that she had been elected to the council to uphold the town charter and because of that oath, as well as town precedent in following the charter for past appointments, she was making a motion to appoint Purcell, who lost the election by a narrow margin – 28 votes.
“The voters want her,” Wilcox said. “1,469 taxpayers voted for her. We should not ignore their wishes. “
Michael Colasante countered, citing Ellsworth’s memo and then reading an opinion authored by retired justice Robert Flanders that affirms that as state law, the Chariho Act supersedes the town charter.
After reading a list of Flanders’s legal, political and academic accomplishments, Colasante said,
“Mr. Flanders opinion states, ‘yes, I confirmed that state law generally trumps contrary local laws and I do consider these two laws to be contrary, because the council would deprive the council of the discretionary choice that the state law provides as to the selection of the replacement for the resigning member’.”
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney, a Republican, implored the councilors to put aside their personal political opinions and respect the will of Richmond voters.
“You need to do the will of the people and that is, put Ms. Purcell on the seat,” he said. “Yes, I may not have voted for her but that’s irrelevant and quite honestly, it would be quite shameful for us to kind of spat [sic] I the person’s face. I know that some of the councilors here at this table don’t believe that. They think that they need to put in someone with a different political view. This isn’t politics. This is your children. This is their education.”
But Colasante and councilor Helen Sheehan, who, with council President Mark Trimmer are members of the conservative education lobbying group, Parents United R.I., countered that Richmond voters had demonstrated that they wanted to elect more conservatives to the school committee.
“The voters very clearly voted two conservative candidates and there were also four conservative candidates for Town Council , and the voters very clearly voted for the four conservative voices, so I take my responsibilities very seriously so, I would say that the Chariho Act, I follow what Chief Justice Flanders said, that the Chariho Act gives us responsibility to make the best decision that we can for someone to be on an important position of school committee,” Sheehan said.
Colasante said he had heard from residents during the election campaign who told him that they wanted a “more conservative-minded person” on the school committee.
“Many, many of these people brought up the point that the Department of Justice, with the NEA [teachers’ union] drafted a letter stating that anybody – all right? – that pretty much went against a school committee – all right? – in their opinion, was considered a domestic terrorist,” he said.
As his comments were greeted by groans from audience members, Colasante persisted.
“With all these things, we can’t have our heads in the sand,” he said.
Trimmer cited another legal opinion supporting Ellsworth’s memo, this one from attorney Joseph Larisa whose clients include the Town of Charlestown where he is the “Town Solicitor for Indian Affairs.”
Trimmer noted that he had no personal opinions of Purcell.
“I don’t know Jessica Purcell,” he said. “I’ve never spoken to her in my life.”
(He was immediately corrected by Purcell, who noted that the two had spoken.)
During the public forum, former school committee William Day described Purcell as the most qualified person for the committee position and blamed politics for the reluctance of some members to appoint her.
“I’m a registered Republican, but right now, I’m very embarrassed about being a registered Republican, because Jessica is the most qualified individual that I’ve heard out there in the community to be our next school committee representative” he said.
Several residents, including former town officials, urged council members to follow the provisions of the charter.
Former council President Nell Carpenter said,
“…as a Richmond Town Council member, just as I did when I raised my right hand, I swore to uphold and preserve the town charter rule of Richmond, not the Chariho Act.”
Trimmer closed the forum and called for a vote on the motion to appoint Purcell. Wilcox and Nassaney voted in favor and Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante were opposed, defeating the motion.
Immediately after the vote, Colasante, who, on several occasions has said that he is new to the council and therefore needs additional time to do his due diligence on important matters, quickly and without hesitation made a motion to appoint Clay Johnson to the committee, taking many residents by surprise.
Several people, including Nassaney and Wilcox, objected, arguing that the motion could not be voted on because the Johnson’s appointment was not on the agenda, but the discussion continued.
Clay Johnson and the Gaspee Project
Johnson, who served on the school committee from 2016 to 2020, chairs the conservative group The Gaspee Project, which donated more than $20,000 to the printing of flyers distributed to voters on Oct. 14, before the November election.
The flyers urged voters to reject Purcell, a Democrat, and independents Ryan Callahan and William Day and vote for Republicans Patricia Pouliot and Kathryn Colasante (the wife of Michael Colasante).
The full story on the flyers can be found on in the Nov. 5 edition of the BRVCA blog.
It is also important to note that there is a connection between the Gaspee Project and attorneys Larisa and Flanders, whose opinions Colasante and Trimmer submitted as supporting Ellsworth’s memo. -Link Here- and -Here-
Flanders and Larisa represented the Gaspee Project in a 2019 lawsuit, in which the group challenged the state requirement that required the organization to report expenditures made to support issues or individuals.
The challenge was unsuccessful, both in the U.S. District Court in Providence and later, in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, in which the Gaspee Project was represented by Larisa.
Council precedent ignored
Several residents, including former council President Joseph Reddish, asked the council to delay Johnson’s appointment and advertise for the position.
“As a former council member, it has been the pattern of this council for many, many years that if we have an opening on a board or commission, that we advertise it for a minimum of at least 30 days,” he said. “It has not been advertised for this position for the school committee, so you’re going out of order with past precedent…Tonight, what’s been displayed, except for a couple of council members, is that we’ve lost our integrity in listening to the people of the town of Richmond…And let it be known, I am sure that there are people in this community that will be suing the Town of Richmond for a poor decision that’s unauthorized. Lastly, you are violating OMA [the state Open Meetings Act]. It was not advertised that you would be selecting anybody else. “
The debate ended and Colasante announced that it was time to vote on the Johnson appointment. With Trimmer, Colasante and Sheehan voting in favor, Nassaney and Wilcox, who voted against the appointment were outvoted and the motion passed, as furious residents shouted “shame,” and “recall.”
Asked how he felt about the hasty and unexpected appointment of Johnson, Nassaney replied,
“For once in my life, I think I’m actually speechless,” he said. “I’m disgusted, actually.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for January 17, 2023
Overflow Crowd Forces Postponement of Council Meeting
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – The old adage of crowds packing Town Council meetings when people are angry held true on Tuesday, when the Town Council meeting did not take place because the number of residents packing the council chambers exceeded the 52-person limit.
It appears that two recent developments have struck a chord with residents: the apparent reluctance of some members of the council to elect or appoint Jessica Purcell to the Chariho School Committee, and the decision not to renew the appointment of Nancy Hess to the Planning Board.
The council meeting was re-scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in a much larger venue, the Chariho Middle School auditorium.
The school committee appointment
Some residents are voicing their collective support for Purcell, who was expected to fill a seat on the School Committee vacated by Gary Liguori.
Purcell, who received the second-highest number of votes, would have filled Liguori’s seat under the terms of the Home Rule Charter. However, council President Mark Trimmer and council member Helen Sheehan asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth for a legal opinion, and Ellsworth stated that because it is state law, the Chariho Act supersedes the town charter. The council is not required, therefore, to name Purcell to the position.
Others have publicly disputed Ellsworth’s opinion. Attorney Mark Reynolds, who serves as the Town Moderator, stated in a Jan. 11 letter that the council should appoint Purcell to fill the vacancy.
“The Chariho Act simply states that a vacancy is filled by the Town Council,” he wrote. “The Richmond Home Rule Charter dictates how the Town Council makes the appointment. The Home Rule Charter states that if ‘a school committee seat becomes vacant, the Town Council shall appoint the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the most recent general or special election.’ So, although the Town Council makes the appointment, it must follow the Home Rule Charter when doing so. The unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes in the November 2022 election was Jessica Purcell. Therefore, the Town Council must appoint her to fill the vacancy.”
The council also received a dissenting legal opinion from Jon Anderson, the attorney representing the Chariho School committee.
In a letter submitted to the council on Jan. 17, Anderson wrote,
“…I fear that there is some confusion that there is a ‘conflict’ between the Chariho Act, 1958, Pub. L. ch. 55, § 10[c]
[‘Chariho Act’], and the Richmond Home Rule Charter, 2009, R.I. pub. L. ch. 12, §§ 1-2 [‘Richmond Home Rule Charter’]. In fact, there is no conflict whatsoever between the Chariho Act and the Richmond Town Charter when it comes to filling vacancies on the Chariho School Committee. Consequently, the Council need only follow the plain language of the Chariho Act and the Richmond Home Rule Charter and appoint the next highest vote getter. There is no need to explore the rules of statutory construction as suggested elsewhere.”
Anderson warned the council that he would advise the school committee “not to recognize any person putatively appointed to the Chariho School Committee in violation of both the Richmond Home Rule Charter and the Chariho Act because both can be read together. I have no choice in the matter to give such advice. Otherwise, every decision of the Chariho School Committee would be void…The one simple way to avoid any disputes is to read the Richmond Home Rule Charter and the Chariho Act consistently, as this Town Council most recently did in 2016 and appoint/elect the next unelected person who received the most votes.”
The Hess reappointment
Nancy Hess, one of the longest serving volunteers on the Planning Board, was not reappointed to the board, infuriating other Planning Board members, who at their Jan. 10 meeting, voted Hess board President until her term expires on Jan. 31.
The decision not to reappoint Hess was supported by councilors Helen Sheehan, Michael Colasante and council President Mark Trimmer, who just days earlier had assured Hess that he would support her.
The Town Council-Planning Board workshop
Earlier in the evening, council members and members of the Planning Board held a joint workshop to discuss the Planning Board’s proposed amendments to the town’s zoning map, zoning ordinance and the aquifer protection overlay district. (Hess did not attend the meeting.)
“We spent quite a bit of time on it,” Board Chairman Philip Damicis told the council. “We think it’s changes to the ordinance that both protect the value of the aquifer as well as foster our economic development.”
Town Planner Shaun Lacey presented an overview of the proposed amendments. In response to a question from Trimmer about how the amendments might pertain to the special resort district zone that the town created for largest development in town, The Preserve at Boulder Hills, Ellsworth said the board had made special “accommodations” for that property.
“They have a heliport there already and that heliport is in the district of the aquifer,” she said. “The problem with a heliport is not that helicopters land on it, it’s that sometimes, they have gas tanks. We suggested that we change the definition of heliport in the resort section of the zoning ordinance to exclude refueling facilities, and The Preserve agreed to that.”
Ellsworth noted that the brew pub at The Preserve was also an issue, and that The Preserve had agreed to limiting consumption of brew pub beverages to its own property.
“Breweries use an inordinate amount of water, a lot of water, and they agreed to limit that use to their purchases that are manufactured on the premises but not sold for consumption off the premises.”
“We spent quite a bit of time on The Preserve itself, and looking at all their use codes, because we do appreciate them.”
Trimmer said he wanted to solicit further input before advertising for a public hearing.
“I’d still like to get some input, I think, before I go out [to public hearing], he said.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox said the council would receive that input at the hearing itself.
“We’re supposed to offer a public hearing and tonight’s not really the public hearing,” she said.
“So, it would be inappropriate at this time to ask for public comment,” Trimmer said.
While the workshop agenda did not include a period for public comment or a public forum, Preserve Developer Paul Mihailides, accompanied by his attorney, Americo Scungio, rose and asked to speak.
Trimmer recognized Mihailides, who said,
“We were invited to the workshop, to participate, so I brought my lawyers and our engineers. Are they not going to be able to participate?”
It was not clear who had invited the representatives from The Preserve, but Ellsworth said the decision would be up to Trimmer, who said he would have to limit comments to three minutes.
Although earlier, Ellsworth and Damicis had described agreements with The Preserve that had been reached on several aquifer-related issues, Mihailides said he did not agree with most of the amendments.
“I am not in favor of the [aquifer protection] overlay district, and I am not in favor of what we had to acquiesce to, and the changing of our zone, he said. “We really weren’t given a choice. As everybody knows, on our Master Plan, we’ve asked for a gas station. It says that everything that we touch in the overlay district is going to be constrained. That’s already approved on our Master Plan. Helipads, the ability to gas our vehicles is currently in place. We have three tanks currently that are more than 10,000 gallons, that are permitted by the state, that we use to fuel our vehicles. This would be a significant change.”
Several minutes later, Wilcox reminded the council that it would soon be time to close the workshop, since the council meeting was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Colasante said he needed more time to consider the changes.
“Being on this council for all of 20 seconds, I cannot – all right? - in good faith, look at this document and say that we should make a decision on this,” he said.
Damicis responded that there would be time to consider the document before the public hearing but Colasante said he wanted to consult business owners.
“It took a lot of time on your part. I have to be given enough time to do my due diligence and be able to say that feel easy sending this off,” he said.
Damicis suggested the council take time to study the document, and Trimmer proposed six weeks.
Wilcox recounted an incident at the start of Tuesday’s soon-to-be adjourned council meeting in which Colasante attempted to silence her. Wilcox said she had asked Trimmer, in his capacity as President, to allow her to speak but he did not intervene.
“I felt that as the minority [Democrat] on council, I wasn’t being heard, and Robert’s Rules is there to make sure that I’m being heard,” she said. “You can hear in the audio that Mr. Colasante and I were trying to talk at the same time, so I went to Robert’s Rules of Order and tried to get the floor from the President, at which time Mr. Colasante told me to stop talking and Mr. President did nothing about it, so it’s disappointing.”
The agenda for Thursday’s Town Council meeting can be found here: https://clerkshq.com/richmond-ri
Crowd Expected at Tomorrow’s Town Council Meeting
January 16, 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND -- Residents angry about the failure to reappoint Nancy Hess to the Planning Board will be joined Tuesday evening by residents demanding that Jessica Purcell fill the school committee seat vacated by Gary Liguori.
The regular Town Council meeting, at 6 p.m., will follow a joint workshop at 5 p.m. during which the council and members of the Planning Board will discuss proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance and zoning map for the aquifer protection overlay district and the planned development resort district.
Jessica Purcell, who, last November, narrowly lost her bid for a seat on the Chariho School Committee, believed that because she had received the next highest number of votes, she would be next in line to fill the seat vacated by Gary Liguori, who is loving out of state.
Reached on Jan. 13, Purcell said she had been contacted on Jan. 5 by Town Clerk Erin Liese, who informed her that according to the town’s Home Rule Charter, she was next in line for the position and that she needed to formally accept or decline the appointment.
Purcell said she told Liese the next day that she would accept the appointment, but a few days later, she was informed that she would not automatically fill the seat.
Town Council President Mark Trimmer and councilor Helen Sheehan had requested a legal opinion from Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth on whether the Chariho Act, which is state law, or the town’s Home Rule Charter, applied to choosing someone to appoint to a vacant school committee seat.
In a Jan. 10 memo, Ellsworth advised the council that state law supersedes the town charter.
“I believe that if a court were asked to decide this issue, the court would find that when the General Assembly ratified the Richmond Home Rule Charter in 2009, the General Assembly did not intend any provision in the charter to supersede the Chariho Act,” the memo states.
The Chariho Act requires that the person filling the vacant seat receive a majority vote of the Town Council. Ellsworth concludes that the council “is not required to appoint the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the November 8, 2022 election.”
Purcell, who was planning to attend the council meeting, accept her appointment and be sworn in, will now watch as the council discussing the appointment.
Purcell said she emailed Trimmer and Sheehan, both of whom told her that they were following the rule of law.
“I just feel like Erin Liese told them what the agenda item was, and then they enlisted the help of the Town Solicitor to change the agenda item,” Purcell said. “That’s effectively what happened. She told me one thing, they did another thing, and it changed the whole presentation.”
Reached Monday, Liese said that contrary to Purcell’s assertion, she had not had any contact with members of the Town Council regarding the Purcell appointment.
“To this day, I have not had any correspondence with the council on this matter, and the reason why the agenda reflects the way it appears today is because of the legal opinion from Karen Ellsworth, and not influenced by any council member, nor was I aware of any inquiry,” she said.
Purcell’s supporters have submitted letters to the council. Among them is attorney Mark Reynolds, who also serves as Town Moderator.
In a Jan. 11 letter to council members, Reynolds wrote that both the Chariho Act and the town charter should apply.
“The Chariho Act simply states that a vacancy is filled by the Town Council,” he stated. “The R