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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...
Court Rules for Town on Purcell Legal Fees
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
September 28th 2023
RICHMOND – The Rhode Island Supreme Court has denied a motion by Jessica Purcell to require the Town of Richmond to pay her legal fees in her challenge of the appointment of Clay Johnson to the Chariho School Committee.
Three of the five members of the Richmond Town Council, Council President Mark Trimmer and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante, voted on Jan. 19 to appoint Johnson to the school committee seat vacated by Gary Liguori.
Purcell, who received the next-highest number of votes, maintained that the town’s Home Rule Charter stated that she should be named to the committee.
The brief Supreme Court decision, released Wednesday, states that Purcell’s motion was denied and the matter was closed. Justice William Robinson III was the lone dissenter.
Asked to comment on the decision, Purcell said her attorney, Jeffrey Levy had not charged a fee to represent her.
“When I first discussed the situation of the Charter violation with Mr. Levy in January, I made it clear that I did not have the funds necessary to employ his services,” she said. “I am very fortunate that he understood the necessity to seek legal recourse on the matter and he agreed to represent me pro bono for his services, but that I could pay for expenses. I raised money through my campaign finance account for legal and campaign expenses, and will utilize those funds.”
The town has paid Johnson’s legal fees, for the services of attorney Joseph Larisa, which total $22,242.50.
Purcell, a Democrat, lost her bid for a School Committee seat by 27 votes. When Richmond committee member Gary Liguori announced in January that he was moving out of Rhode Island and vacating his seat, it was believed that under the provisions of the town’s Home Rule charter, Purcell, with the next-highest number of votes, would be named to fill the seat.
But Trimmer, Colasante and Sheehan instead appointed Republican, Clay Johnson, to the vacant seat.
Named as defendants in Purcell’s Supreme Court case were Johnson, the Richmond Town Council and the Chariho School Committee.
Oral arguments were presented in April and in July, the court granted Purcell’s petition, with Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissenting.
Levy based his argument on the compatibility of the Chariho Act and the town charter, because the act requires the Town Council to fill a vacant School Committee seat and the charter states that the person the council chooses should be the next-highest vote-getter.
Larisa argued that the Chariho Act and the town charter could not be harmonized because they are fundamentally incompatible. In their opinion, the four justices concluded that the charter superseded the Chariho Act.
The Town’s Responds to the Decision on Fees
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said she was not surprised by the decision.
“This is good news for the town, and it is the decision I expected,” she said.
Trimmer said the case had been complex and had exposed the divisions on the Court.
“The Rhode Island Supreme Court decisions and the dissenting opinions show just how difficult a decision this situation was,” he said. “The whole situation was not clear-cut at all.”
Purcell said she had not expected to win her motion for legal fees.
“Jeff [Levy] said it was a long shot, but I felt we should try because his services were invaluable in doing the right thing for the town and our voters,” she said. “A violation of the Charter was a dangerous precedent.”
Planning Board Considers State-Mandated Zoning Changes
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
September 27th 2023
RICHMOND – Planning Board members devoted the entire Sept. 26 meeting to a workshop focused on zoning ordinance amendments proposed by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth in response to state land use legislation passed during the last session.
The town is amending its zoning ordinance to comply with the legislation, which will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
After going through Ellsworth’s proposed amendments, board members agreed to study the three most significant changes and discuss them at the next meeting. Once they have agreed on the amendments, they will make their recommendations to the Town Council. The memo explaining Ellsworth’s amendments can be found here:
For Richmond, the most significant changes will be the replacement of development plan review with a similar process that Ellsworth calls “site design review,” as well as amendments to the ordinances pertaining to accessory dwelling units and inclusionary zoning.
The new law governing accessory dwelling units prohibits cities and towns from placing “excessive restrictions” on additional housing structures built on a property. It is unclear what the state considers “excessive.”
The old law required that the people occupying accessory dwelling units be family members, including those who have disabilities or are over the age of 62.
The amendment permits non-family members in addition to family.
Inclusionary zoning, as it exists now, requires that 10% of the units in a development be affordable. The new law, which applies to projects with 10 or more housing units, raises that number to 25% and requires towns to allow the developer to add two market-priced units for every affordable unit.
Ellsworth’s memo states,
“The developer is allowed to increase the density of the development to provide the extra lots. … In other words, the law is no longer intended to help cities and towns maintain their share of low or moderate income housing when new developments are built. Instead, it is intended to substantially increase the number of affordable dwellings.”
Rural Towns Not Considered
Ellsworth told the board that the state legislation appears to have been drafted from an urban perspective, without regard for the infrastructure limitations of smaller, rural towns.
“I think the biggest problem is the people who are in charge of passing this stuff have an urban outlook and not a rural outlook,” she said. “They’re writing all of this stuff for Cranston, Warwick, Pawtucket. They’re not writing it for the small towns.”
Board Chairman Philip Damicis agreed.
“It’s certainly more potentially harmful to us than it is to urban areas,” he said.
A major concern is the higher densities that will be permitted.
“Almost all of the small towns in the state, there are no sewers and there are no water systems, or very few water systems, Ellsworth said. “If you don’t have the infrastructure, you can’t have the same density of housing.
The changes are expected to have major impacts on development in the town, but as Board Vice Chairman Dan Madnick pointed out, only one person attended the workshop.
“We’ve got this workshop. The entire town was notified,” he said “There’s only one guy sitting here right now. These changes are going to affect you more than you realize.”
Richmond to Partner with Hopkinton on Community Center
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
September 20, 2023
RICHMOND – Members of the Town Council voted at Tuesday’s meeting to partner with neighboring Hopkinton on a long-awaited community center.
The council also approved zoning amendments for cannabis retailers.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch described the proposed community center partnership to the council.
The state, she explained, has federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds for community projects. Richmond has already declined the funds, because there is no “shovel-ready” project as required.
“The funding has to be for construction or renovation of a community center,” she said. “Those community centers have to provide three specific types of learning, so to speak. One is education, one is health monitoring and one is workforce development. Those things have to be carried out for a five-year period after the center opens.”
Pinch noted that Hopkinton was already planning to build a new community center at Crandall Field.
“They have asked us if we would, since we had already said we were going to give up our funding, if we would designate our funding to their community, so that our residents could share in the use of that facility,” she said.
Richmond has been allocated $569,284 in federal ARPA money for this initiative and Hopkinton was allocated $627,315. The applications are due by Oct. 6.
If Richmond declines its share of the funds, that money will be distributed to other cities and towns. However, the town can give its share to Hopkinton.
Under the partnership, Hopkinton, which has three full time recreation department employees (Richmond has one part time recreation director) would welcome Richmond residents to the new center. There might even be buses to transport Richmond residents to the Hopkinton facility.
Council members were unanimous in their approval of the allocation of the town’s funds to Hopkinton and the town’s support of the “Community Center Learning Compact” that specifies the three learning services that the community center will be required to provide.
At a public hearing at the start of the meeting, the council discussed where recreational cannabis sales should be permitted in the town.
Council President Mark Trimmer said that neighboring Exeter is offering recreational cannabis sales, and residents are driving there to purchase it. Richmond, he said, is missing out on tax revenue, which is 3% for the hosting town.
“I just think it’s an opportunity that we need to jump on before somebody else eats our lunch – again, because so many places have come wanting to locate in Richmond, and because we moved too slowly or we put too many stipulations on it, before you know it, they’ve moved somewhere else. We’ve lost out on the tax revenue and everybody gets to pay more taxes next year,” he said.
The amendment would allow retail cannabis sales in several zones: general business, light industrial, industrial, planned development, planned unit development-village center and by special use permit in the neighborhood business zone.
Two new use codes were created, cannabis retailer and cannabis business.
Councilor Helen Sheehan, who opposed cannabis sales in the town’s general business district, said she would nevertheless approve the motion because she intended to respect the will of voters, who had approved it. Councilor Michael Colasante and Council Vice President Richard Nassaney voted no with Colasante turning to Sheehan after the vote and gesturing his disapproval.
Agreement with YMCA
There was a lengthy discussion of a proposal to rent the new Community Room at the Arcadia branch of the Ocean Community YMCA.
The room would be used for learning activities associated with the state’s Learn365RI initiative, which Richmond has agreed to join.
The room would be available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The rent, $350 per month, is covered by the state Learn365RI grant.
Trimmer said he welcomed the opportunity to partner with the YMCA.
“We have long talked about partnering with the YMCA,” he said. “This is a first step, and Capstone, who holds the lease on that building, is looking for town participation in that building as well.”
Sheehan said the two-day arrangement would not adequately serve the students.
“It may serve the seniors, two days a week, but it’s not going to really serve the students,” she said.
Colasante repeated his earlier proposal that the Learn365RI activities should take place in a school.
“Teachers are there, some of the aides are already there,” he said. “The buses are going to be there to bring the kids back. …The big thing is, the kids are already there, they’re there for a reason, and it would be easy to shuffle them over to one or two empty classrooms at that point.”
Trimmer said that while the funds had been given to Richmond, two other towns, Hopkinton and Charlestown, were also part of the school district.
“Running that program at a Chariho school would be an expense to all three towns,” he said.
Resident Louise Dinsmore suggested the town contact Wood River Health Services in Hope Valley, which has recently expanded its facility and will have a new community room, due to open this month.
“My understanding is, it’s at no cost if it’s something during the day,” she said.
Human Services Director Kate Schimmel, who is overseeing Learn365RI and the state grant, told the council that the school district would use the community room at the YMCA as a quiet homework room, two days a week.
With Sheehan and Colasante opposed, Trimmer, council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox approved a motion, made by Wilcox, to approve the rental agreement with the YMCA.
In the interest of increased transparency, Wilcox introduced a motion to un-seal minutes from the council’s executive sessions of Jan. 3, Jan. 25 and June 6, 2023.
Trimmer said he believed that executive sessions, which often addressed sensitive personnel matters or legal topics, should remain sealed, except in the case of a federal investigation.
“We speak freely with the expectation that what we say in those executive sessions are never going to make it to social media, make it to the public,” he said.
Trimmer added that the only purpose he could see for un-sealing executive minutes would be “a political one.”
“I don’t appreciate that you’re claiming it’s political,” she said. “We entered executive session specifically to discuss a job performance, and then when we left, we continued to discuss it in open session. I thought to myself ‘why did we even seal those if it’s all public anyway?’”
Wilcox said opening the minutes would improve council transparency, but she did concede that un-sealing the Jan. 3 session would not be feasible, because it involved pending litigation.
Colasante moved, and Sheehan seconded, a motion to keep the minutes sealed.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth added that there were circumstances under which the discussions of matters, such as the possible purchase of property, should stay sealed but can be released after the purchase.
“But, whenever you’re talking about someone’s character health, job performance, I think sometimes things are said during a closed session with the expectation that they will remain in private,” she said.
Dinsmore told the council that information about the town’s embattled electrical inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, had appeared on the Beaver River Valley Community Association website and asked how that information had come to light, implying that the information could have been leaked from the executive session.
“There was a post by the Beaver River Valley Community Association on August 30 saying the following: ‘Vaillancourt, who was hired in March, is currently under probation following an incident at Pasquale farms during which he is said to have been impolite to the owner,’” she said. “Now, I went through all of the Town Council meetings from open session. I don’t ever remember or I could not find – I went through this painstakingly and it took a long time to go through these Town Council meetings, that there was no discussion in open session about Pasquale Farm – that business. So, that would lead me to believe that if Pasquale Farm was discussed in executive session, that someone disclosed that to the reporter from the Beaver River Valley Community Association. …I would like to understand how Miss Drummond and the Beaver River Valley [Community] Association was privy to this information.”
Trimmer responded that the information was “all around town” and “common knowledge,” and that he had had people approach him about the incident before the council discussed it.
Resident Bob Sayer raised the possibility that representatives of Pasquale Farm could also have spoken about it.
The council voted unanimously to keep the executive session minutes sealed.
The council discussed a resolution authorizing the town to issue up to $2.5 million in general obligation bonds. Finance Director Laura Kenyon explained that the funds would be used for road improvements. Voters approved the issuance of the bonds at the June, 2023 Financial Town Meeting.
Colasante said he had obtained $404,000 for road repairs under the state’s RhodeWorks initiative and suggested reducing the bond by that amount.
“My idea is to save the townspeople money, is that they voted to go out to bond for $2.5 million so with that $404,000, that was a big windfall to the town, so it’s my idea, and I’m just throwing it out there, that we should actually just go out to bond for $2.1 million.”
Kenyon said the authorization was for up to $2.5 million and added that she would talk with Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber to determine how much work the roads would need.
The motion passed, with Colasante and Sheehan opposed.
Pinch updated the council on progress on the Beaver River playground. The old equipment has been removed and the installation of the new equipment will begin this week.
Town Grapples with Legislative Changes
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
September 14, 2023
RICHMOND – The 2023 state legislative session ended with a flurry of changes to the state’s land use regulations.
The purpose of the amendments is to increase the housing stock available to low and moderate -income families, but the changes are a source of consternation for the more rural towns, which must comply by Jan. 1. 2024.
The changes will impact towns’ zoning ordinances, which govern which uses are permitted in which zones and subdivision regulations, which pertain to the procedures for developing land, including the different stages of review.
With just three months remaining until the deadline,
smaller towns such as Richmond are finding that understanding and complying with the many changes in the eight bills is a challenge.
In an e-mailed comment, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth noted that in some cases, the amended legislation is confusing.
“I think that many cities and towns will have a difficult time complying with this legislation, which takes effect of January 1, 2024, not only because they will have to amend a substantial number of ordinances and regulations in a very short time, but also because first they will have to figure out what the new laws actually mean,” she said. “Some of the legislation is so poorly written that it’s difficult to understand the intent.”
Ellsworth has been asked by officials in Hopkinton and Exeter to help those towns draft the required ordinance changes.
“It will be easier to do the Exeter and Hopkinton drafts after I have finished the Richmond drafts, but they won't be identical,” she wrote. “Each town's ordinances and regulations reflect policy decisions that have been made over a period of time by the planning boards and town councils, and I need to make sure that the draft amendments I prepare for each town are consistent with those policy decisions.”
Here is a summary of the eight bills, all of which have been passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate. Links to the full texts of House bills are underscored.
Bills H 6058A and S 1051A
Inclusionary zoning requires developers of large residential or mixed-use projects to include affordable units in addition to market-priced units.
Most towns require that the number of affordable houses or apartments equate to 10% or 15% of the number of market-
rate houses or apartments. The amendment increases the number of affordable units to 25%. Towns will also be required to allow developers to build two additional market priced units for each affordable unit.
Ellsworth said a consequence of this change will be much larger residential developments.
“As a result, a town [like Richmond] with inclusionary zoning would have to allow large developments with substantially more homes than the number that would ordinarily be allowed in the zoning district. The only alternative would be to repeal the town’s inclusionary zoning provision,” she said.
Bills H 6059A and S 1032A
This amendment makes it easier for a property owner to obtain a dimensional variance to build on a lot that does not have the required setbacks or because of other factors, such as the location of a septic system or another building on the parcel.
The amendment will make it easier to obtain dimensional variances and will require towns to allow construction, without Zoning Board approval, on lots that do not meet the dimensional requirements in the existing zoning ordinance.
H 6061Aaa and S 1034A
This legislation redefines the procedures for the stages of approval of subdivision applications; development plan review, minor land development project approval, and major land development project approval.
A streamlined approval procedure known as “unified development review,” already in effect in Richmond, gives the Planning Board the authority to issue variances and special use permits for projects that need land development project approval, eliminating the need for the applicant to appear before the Zoning Board. Unified development review will now be mandatory. The amendment also gives the Town Planner the authority to approve some applications that currently go to the Planning Board.
Low and Moderate Income Housing Act:
H 6081A and S 1037A
Planning Boards will be able to approve comprehensive permits for developments to be built at greater densities, as long as 25% of the units are affordable.
The bill mandates increased densities based on the percentage of affordable units and the availability of public water and sewers.
H 6083A and S 1050A
The State Housing Appeals Board, or SHAB, the state body charged with hearing appeals of denials of comprehensive permit applications, will cease to exist. All appeals will be heard in Superior Court.
Land Use Calendar:
H 6083A and S 1050A
This bill establishes a new land use calendar in Superior Court for appeals of planning, zoning and comprehensive permit decisions and state disapprovals of comprehensive community plan amendments. One judge, who is still to be named, will hear land use appeals and issue expedited decisions.
Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act:
H 6086A and S 1038A
This amendment took effect upon passage, so it is already in effect. The legislation changes the notice requirements for public hearings on comprehensive plan amendments, major land development projects, subdivision regulation amendments, and zoning board hearings. Towns will be required to post notices on their websites, which Richmond already does.
H 6090A and S 1035A
This bill allows conversions, by right, of non-residential buildings such as schools and factories to residential, or mixed residential-commercial use if at least half of the gross floor area will be residential.
Legislative Changes on Planning Board Agenda
Town Planner Talia Jalette did not comment on the amendments, saying only that the Planning Board would be discussing the matter at its next meeting.
“The Planning Board will be discussing these myriad legislative changes, which will govern land use state-wide, at our September 26, 2023 Planning Board meeting,” she stated in an emailed response. “I would invite all interested parties to attend this meeting, so that they may learn more about the new rules that were enacted during the 2023 Legislative session.”
Big Ramifications for Small Towns
The bills appear to have been conceived with cities rather than towns in mind, with an emphasis on land development in urban communities. Towns like Richmond, and neighboring towns in the southwest corner of the state, do not have the infrastructure to service larger developments, nor do they have public transportation.
Rep. Megan Cotter, D-Richmond, said she was concerned about what the changes will mean for rural areas. Cotter also represents Hopkinton and Exeter.
“I am concerned that there may be some unintended consequences that could alter [the] vision called for in the 2025 State Land Use Plan, she said in a written statement.
“This plan called for an innovative urban/rural approach where future growth would be concentrated within an urban services boundary where development could be adequately served by supporting infrastructure. My district is outside the urban services boundary and is very rural.”
“The State required towns to adopt land use policies in the rural areas that accommodate residential and recreational land use while preserving natural resources and open space to avoid sprawl. The intent was to conserve essential natural resources and support resource-based economies. Farmland and forests will surround centers that are infused with greenways and greenspace.”
“It is too soon to know for sure what the impacts of the new legislation might be. I will be closely monitoring this situation and be seeking input from municipal officials in my district.”
Council tables Town Administrator review
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
September 9th 2023
RICHMOND – Town Council member Michael Colasante continued his effort to question the job performance of Town Administrator Karen Pinch at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Pinch’s annual performance review takes place in December, but Colasante added a performance review to Tuesday’s Town Council meeting agenda.
The discussion took place in Executive Session, but no action was taken. Council Vice President Richard Nassaney recused himself from the discussion, because it involved Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt’s work at the Washington County Fair, where Nassaney has a booth to sell his hot sauce.
Vaillancourt has been observed doing electrical work for Colasante, but despite that business relationship, Colasante did not recuse from the Pinch discussion.
Reached before the council meeting took place, Town Council President Mark Trimmer described Colasante’s effort as retaliation on behalf of Vaillancourt. While not his immediate supervisor, Pinch is ultimately responsible for all employees.
“This retribution/harassment goes right over the top,” Trimmer said. “It is highly unusual for a councilor to request a performance review based on retribution for his friend.”
Vaillancourt, who was hired in March, has been admonished for his comportment with local business owners, prompting several complaints to the town. He received an extension of his probation period after the town received additional complaints about his behavior from officials at the Washington County Fair.
The council discussed the situation in executive session, but did not take any action.
Colasante requested another agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting which stated that council members should be involved in all hiring decisions.
The agenda item read:
“Request of Councilor Colasante for the Discussion and Consideration of creating a policy for the Town Council to be involved in all new hires including receiving all applications, resumes, and to be involved in the interview process if they so choose.”
However, the authority of the Town Administrator was confirmed in Nov. 2022, when residents voted on a referendum question pertaining to administrator’s role, as defined in the Home Rule Charter.
By a margin of 2,389 to 1,049, voters approved a measure that prohibits members of the Town Council from influencing hiring decisions.
Colasante’s proposal did not sit well with one resident, Christopher Kona, who, in an Aug. 19 email to the council, published with the council agenda, reminded members of the referendum vote.
“The opinion of the Richmond voters on the role of the Town Council in hiring is objectively documented from the November 2022 election, during which 69.4% of voters responded ‘yes’ to the question:
‘Shall the Charter be amended to prohibit Town Council members from attempting to influence the Town Manager’s decisions on hiring, promotion, and removal of Town employees?’
Kona’s letter also states,
“During the Aug. 15 meeting, Councilor [Helen] Sheehan remarked that Richmond did not vote her to Town Council to refrain from influencing hiring. This is factually incorrect – the residents of Richmond did vote for her and other council members to office with the expectation that they should not influence town hiring and firing.”
After a lengthy discussion, which included input from audience members, the council voted to continue the matter until Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth had prepared a new draft of the proposed policy.
Notices to Landowners
Colasante proposed that the town “send notice to landowners of any potential changes discussed regarding regulations, ordinances, regarding land use at the beginning of the discussion phase and throughout the process in order to solicit their participation and input. This would apply to the Town Council, Town Planner, Planning Board or any other town official or body that has authority to begin such a process.”
Colasante stated that he had been in contact with several large commercial landowners who had no idea that the town was planning to amend the “aquifer protection overlay district” ordinance, or APOD.
“These large landowners, that a lot of people around the state have said were waiting with baited breath, had no idea that something was going on with the APOD,” he said.
Trimmer interrupted Colasante, saying that he had had conversations with several developers about the ordinance amendments.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth pointed out that agendas were already posted publicly in advance of meetings, as required by law. She also noted that notifying every landowner by registered mail, as required by law, would be very costly.
“Every time one of those is first discussed, that individual notice be given to every property owner, I would say that you would probably have to add $60,000 to the budget,” she said. “…You would have to continually send notices all year, to probably half of the town, and that would require another clerical employee.”
Council members agreed to ask the Economic Development Commission to prepare a list of the town’s large developers and work with them to they are informed of proposed changes that might impact their businesses.
At a public hearing that took place earlier in the evening, council members approved proposed comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance amendments to allow a motocross track on Buttonwoods Road.
The 14-acre property owned by Jordan Carlson, is located in an R-2 or residential district, which Carlson, represented by attorney John Mancini, sought to change to a Flex Tech zone. The council has received a positive recommendation from the Planning Board, which heard the application in August.
The council approval paves the way for Carlson to go through the development plan review process, however, in order to complete the review, he will have to obtain a Rhode Island Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or RIPDES permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. RIPDES permits are required for projects that are larger than five acres.
Carlson has already been cited by DEM for altering freshwater wetlands on his property and on Aug. 9, 2022, the agency issued a cease-and-desist order.
The Town of Richmond has also filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court for zoning violations.
Asked at Tuesday’s hearing about the remediation he will be required to do in order to receive his RIPDES permit, Carlson said,
“As far as DEM goes, we’ve actually not been served with any formal violations at all,” he said. “It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve had any contact with DEM, and the question at issue would be a boundary issue.”
“I believe that there is a violation,” she said. “The DEM has not taken formal legal action against Mr. Carlson. I suspect that’s probably because they’re short-handed, but they went to Superior Court and got a search warrant to search the property to determine the extent of the wetlands violations and they filed a return on that warrant that indicated that there were extensive wetlands violations.”
Mancini reminded the council that wetlands violations were not on the meeting agenda.
“What we’re asking is simply for the town to look at your land use map, your comprehensive plan, the Planning Board recommendation and the zone change, and you make the determination as to whether or not all those things are aligned, according to the request,” he said. “The request is simply to do that, R-2 to FT. It’s not to use this as a way to circumvent DEM regulations.”
After a brief discussion about noise generated by the track and the addition of a helicopter landing pad to transport injured riders, council members approved the comprehensive plan and zoning amendments.
Forest Experiment to Take Place in Richmond
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
September 2nd 2023
RICHMOND – A 45-acre site at the former de Coppet estate, now known as the Hillsdale Preserve, is part of a forest health project that will help researchers determine which tree species will best adapt to the hotter, drier conditions that come with climate change.
This is the first project in Rhode Island to partner with the North American experimental forest management network, Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change, or ASCC.
Working with the ASCC on this project are the University of Rhode Island, the University of Connecticut and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
Christopher Riely, Forestry Specialist and Research Associate at the University of Rhode Island, said the project, on the south side of Old Mountain Road, will involve removing some dead and live oaks, but many dead trees, or snags, will be left to provide wildlife habitat.
“Most of the snags, or the forest woody debris, are going to be left on site,” he said. “They provide different types of habitat when they’re standing and start to lose their branches, then they fall and provide habitat for other types of creatures and life cycles. It’s not a project to remove the dead trees. That’s not the focus of it at all.”
The forest restoration project involves using different management approaches in forest parcels in the United States and Canada to determine ways to help forests adapt to changing climate conditions.
“We know that our woods are a big part of the solution, the answer, if you will, to climate change, but they’re also stressed by some of the changes that we’re seeing, and just what those stresses are will depend on what ecosystem you’re in,” Riely said.
Some History of the Hillsdale Preserve
A successful investor and ardent conservationist, Theakston de Coppet died in 1937. His will stipulated that the land, at 156 Hillsdale Road, was to be managed, in trust, by the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, and that the property would eventually be transferred by the trustee to the state, after the General Assembly had passed a bill authorizing the state’s acceptance of the land and agreeing to the terms of the will, which read, in part,
“It is my special wish that the wilderness features within this special area shall be kept unmodified; that this area shall be kept free of all commercial uses, and that the sanctuary and scientific values thereof shall always take precedence over purely recreational values; that the recreational uses of the area shall be so limited as to interfere with the major sanctuary and scientific purposes for which the reservation and sanctuary are dedicated.”
In 2014, after the death of the last beneficiary, whom De Coppet had stated could live in the lodge until his passing, the 1,825-acre parcel was transferred to the state along with a $20,000 annual donation for maintaining the property.
In 2019, DEM notified the Richmond Town Council that the state was planning to demolish the lodge, the only building on the property, which had been damaged by vandals.
The plan, at the time, was to document the historic features of the lodge and then tear it down, however, while it remains closed and in disrepair, the lodge is still standing.
Why Rhode Island?
DEM Chief of Agriculture and Forestry, Ken Ayars, said research on the Hillsdale property will guide management strategies for all state-owned forests.
“Our aim, in part, is to use it as kind of a research facility to test out techniques and strategies to better manage the forest that we do in the state, some 40,000 acres of land that we manage,” he said. “We envision de Coppet, or Hillsdale, being a place where we can experiment with refining the techniques that fit the changing climate, in particular. So, we first of all changed our approach and strategy to de Coppet and decided that that’s how we want to use it. It’s part of where I wanted to go in my new role in taking over forestry. It’s a beautiful place. It’s not taking away any of the other uses.”
The ASCC research project, Ayars said, fits well with DEM’s intended uses for the Hillsdale property.
“We were approached in this regard, to be part of the overall research that’s going on,” he said. “They wanted a Rhode Island site. We said, ‘let’s go with de Coppet,’ and that’s more or less how it came about.”
The Research Plan
Following established research protocols at all ASCC sites throughout North America, the land set aside for this forest restoration project will be divided into four areas, one of which, as the “control,” will receive no management whatsoever.
Riely explained that the remaining three, 10-acre parcels will receive varying degrees and types of interventions.
“One is termed the ‘resistance treatment,’ where you’re trying to hold the line against climate change as much as possible, promote forest health, productive growth of the trees,” he said.
“The next treatment is termed the ‘resilience to treatment.’ Here, it’s more like a rubber band – bend but not break, where either you may have significant ecological disturbances like the significant spongy moth outbreak that we had a few years ago.”
The last area is allocated to the “transition treatment,” which will include planting trees that are from more southerly climates
“Conditions are changing,” Riely said. “We’re not going to be able to maintain historic conditions because of these changing climate and weather conditions, so let’s do everything we can to proactively help the forest adapt to these future conditions.”
The Project Timeline
DEM Supervising Forester Will Walker, who is also involved in the research, said work at the site, scheduled for the end of August, has not begun.
“It hasn’t started yet,” he said. “…There’s a lot of extra work that’s involved and having these three areas manipulated and harvested - the resistance, the transition, the resilience - there’s a lot of groundwork, but then, you get equipment breakdowns. In this case, the logger is doing some maintenance on one of his machines and parts are hard to find.”
The goals of the project are to improve forest health, reduce the frequency and intensity of wildfires, provide habitat for wildlife and protect water quality.
Another objective of the research, Riely noted, is to make the findings available to everyone.
“This is something that other landowners in the region could learn from and emulate,” he said. “We want it to have utility to the typical landowners of the region, the family forest-owners in Richmond and elsewhere in South County and Connecticut, for example.”
Walker said the Hillsdale property offered exciting forest research opportunities.
“This parcel, Mr. de Coppet really set us up and we’re lucky to have it,” he said. “All of the other management areas, we follow rules and regulations, so on this [land] we can do what we want when it comes to scientific research, so yeah, we lucked out for sure.”
Special Richmond Town Council Meeting for August 29th 2023
No Decision on Electrical Inspector Performance
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 30th 2023
RICHMOND – At a special Town Council meeting on Tuesday afternoon, which lasted more than an hour and a half, council members were unable to reach a decision on whether to terminate Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt and agreed to continue the discussion at a future meeting.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney recused himself from the discussion because he has a booth at the Washington County Fair, where the most recent complaints originated.
The meeting was a response to those complaints, which pertained to the comportment of Vaillancourt at the Washington County fairground.
The three written statements, dated Aug. 15 and sent to Town Administrator Karen Pinch, were signed by fair Chairman, Pete Fish, Sean McGrory, the Co-Vice Chairman of the fair, and Andy Lemol, the fair’s electrician.
All three complaints expressed discomfort with Vaillancourt’s demeanor on Aug. 15 and on the opening day of the fair, on Aug. 16.
Vaillancourt cited the fair with three violations, which, Fish wrote, should have been reported before opening day.
“I just feel that finding us with violations should have been reported prior to us opening on Wednesday thus avoiding giving the impression to our patrons that the fair is unsafe,” he said in his written statement.
McGrory wrote that he had been uncomfortable with the nature of Vaillancourt’s questions, which, he stated, seemed to imply that Vaillancourt wanted to be the fair’s electrician.
“In my opinion, it felt like he was trying to push his company/brand on us without going through proper channels (i.e. RFP Bids),” he wrote. “I felt like he was pushing his way to become the next fair electrician.”
Not the First Complaints
Vaillancourt, who was hired in March, is currently on probation following an incident at Pasquale Farms during which, he is said to have been impolite to the owner.
The council determined, at an Executive Committee meeting following that incident, that Vaillancourt could remain in his job, but that his probationary period would be extended, because of his reportedly abrasive demeanor.
That same leniency was not evident in the case of former Planning Board Vice Chair Nancy Hess, who was not reappointed to her position because a developer objected to her demeanor.
On Tuesday, the council once again found itself dealing with complaints about Vaillancourt.
With the complainants from the fair sitting in the audience, Vaillancourt countered some of the complaints, defending his behavior and his actions in citing the three violations and informing the council that the fair had multiple “open” or in-process but still to be approved permits.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she wanted the discussion to focus not on technical electrical issues, but on Vaillancourt’s behavior.
“The issue that I have is not with the electrical outlets, it’s not with the electricity,” she said. “I really just, I respect what you do as an electrician because it’s way over my head. The problem I have is, all of the complainants are complaining about the same thing; difficulty scheduling appointments, showing up unannounced, attitude and demeanor, trying to make sales, and business owners uncomfortable with those sales, and trying to sell his own business as an electrician.”
Council President Mark Trimmer said that receiving the additional complaints about Vaillancourt had warranted an assessment of his job performance.
“When you have a number of complaints and they all pretty much say the same thing, we obviously made a mistake,” he said. “We chose somebody who’s excellent as an electrician, technically highly skilled, but his interaction with the public leaves a lot to be desired and it’s really causing a problem, and that’s what the issue is. It isn’t a violation for a dunk tank or an outlet that’s upside down or a piece of chafed wiring in the wall. What we’re talking about is the way we work with people, the way we deal with people.”
Council member Michael Colasante, a staunch Vaillancourt supporter, deflected the discussion to imply that Pinch had attempted to hand-pick Mike Rosso, her choice of inspector, over Vaillancourt.
“The past inspector, not too long ago, that was the Town Administrator’s hand-picked – he was not qualified and he actually didn’t re-submit his application to us…Then, on top of that, Mr. Vaillancourt was on his way to the fair and he got an email…
Pinch said, referring to Electrical Inspector Al Vennari, “The electrical inspector was hired before I got here. He retired.” Mike Rosso was hired as interim inspector when Vennari retired, and he applied for the permanent position, but the council chose Vaillancourt.
“One of the inspectors,” Colasante replied. “I didn’t say ‘electrical.’”
Colasante pointed out that there were at least 20 unresolved electrical permits at the fair, which, fair representatives countered, were for participating outside vendors and other groups, and not the responsibility of the fair administration.
“There was a lot of pressure on Mr. Vaillancourt when he went into the fairgrounds, knowing that all these open - ended permits were pulled and never closed…and when he went down there, a lot of these permits were not compliant and they weren’t inspected and they continue to do the work, so it just seems like kind of like a rolling thing with the fairground, where people are taking a blind eye, all right? to what they’ve been doing over there.”
Trimmer repeated his concern that Vaillancourt’s behavior, not his technical competence, was in question.
“Again, my concern is behavior, not the violations, and the reason for this meeting is because of the behavior, not the violations,” he said. “We are talking about a continued attitude, or behavior, that began back in May when we had the first complaint when we had the first Executive session to discuss that and we decided, after a long, protracted meeting, that we would do a probationary period and hope that this behavior did not come up again, and now, we have two complaints, and possibly a third, that discuss this kind of behavior again.”
Colasante attempted once more to frame the issue as that of Vaillancourt being an outsider, and not the preferred choice of Town Hall insiders, including former Town Planner Shaun Lacey.
“Right off the bat, he didn’t like Mr. Vaillancourt, because it wasn’t his pick,” he said. “It wasn’t his choice. It wasn’t who he wanted in that office. It’s not up to Mr. Lacey or any department head to say ‘this is my pick’. Again, the Town Council, all right? the town charter, hires and fires.”
Wilcox tried to re-focus the discussion on Vaillancourt’s behavior.
“I find it hard to place blame on anybody else for Mr. Vaillancourt’s actions,” she said.
The council heard Vaillancourt’s responses to the three complaints. They also heard from the complainants.
Then, in an unexpected development, Trimmer, who had insisted that the performance review remain focused on Vaillancourt’s comportment, began talking about how the issue was actually poor communications between the town and the fair and also, how the fair’s infrastructure was inadequate.
Fish, the fair Chairman, said the two violations that Vaillancourt had cited had been corrected.
“We only had two violations – the Verizon truck and the dunk tank,” he said. “Both were corrected, okay? So, to sit here and say that the fair has all these violations that we have never gotten in writing, that we have made major strides to correct our infrastructure, we spent half a million dollars, to sit here and say that we have all these violations that no one has ever cited us for…To sit here and say we have all these infrastructure violations and all this infrastructure problem, I think, is unfair.”
Wilcox proposed continuing the meeting and Colasante proposed that Vaillancourt’s employment status should, therefore, no longer be in question.
Trimmer announced that he wanted Vaillancourt, the town’s two other inspectors, and the fair to work together and come up what he called an “action plan” to resolve any outstanding infrastructure and communications issues.
“At this point, what I’m looking for is a solution, not a termination, not a chop, bam kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t want to harm the fairgrounds by any means, by any way, shape or form. I want to improve what seems to be very poor communication between the town and the fairgrounds.”
Wilcox urged Trimmer to focus on Vaillancourt’s job performance.
“Respectfully, I really think that we should just have the job performance of Jeffrey Vaillancourt, within 30 days, … an open, real discussion about the job performance of an employee who’s still on probation,” she said.
As the chambers filled with people who had arrived for another meeting, council members agreed to continue the meeting to the second council meeting in September.
Colasante tried one last time to circumvent the discussion of Vaillancourt’s employment status.
“September 19, that all parties will get together and resolve this issue and the issue of Mr. Vaillancourt being terminated is a moot issue,” he said, adding that “good faith” discussions could not take place if Vaillancourt’s continued employment was still undecided.
Trimmer and Wilcox disagreed and the meeting was continued.
Cardi Finances Prompt Questions about Roundabout
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 24th 2023
RICHMOND – Work on the roundabout at the junction of Routes 112 and 138 was halted last week, as promised, during the Washington County Fair. Construction was expected to resume this week, but it is unclear what, if any, work has resumed, and there are signs that the contractor, Cardi Corp., is in financial distress.
A visit to the site on Aug. 23 revealed no heavy construction work underway, and only two pickup trucks, both with Cardi Corp. logos, parked in the staging area across from the Town Hall. One of the trucks was empty, except for a section of pipe in the truck bed, possibly for the water line extension, which is also part of the project.
A worker was sitting in the second truck. There was no work taking place outside.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation first proposed the project in 2019. The traffic-calming measure, which will slow vehicles to about 25 miles per hour, has been used successfully in many other cities and towns.
The roundabout will include sidewalks and cross walks for pedestrians. RIDOT also plans to modify Richmond Townhouse Road between Routes 138 and 112, changing the two-way road to a one-way, eastbound direction.
The roundabout will cost $6.5 million and is expected to be completed by April, 2025. A new water line, a town project funded by a $292,660 grant from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, is being built at the same time.
Which company is now doing the work? Cardi or Manafort?
It has been reported that Cardi has handed off the roundabout project to the Connecticut-based construction company, Manafort Brothers Inc.
Asked Wednesday whether work was continuing at the site, the single construction worker in the truck, who did not provide his name, said only,
“My paycheck last week was from Manafort,” an indication that it is likely that Manafort has indeed assumed responsibility for the project.
RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said the state is aware that Cardi is handing over some projects to subcontractors, but he stressed that the timeline of the roundabout project would not be affected.
“The project is on time and on budget and will be built as designed,” he stated in an emailed response. “We are monitoring all RIDOT projects, including the Richmond Roundabout, to ensure they are completed on time, on budget, and to the scope outlined in the contract. We are aware that Cardi has been using subcontractors on some of its projects.”
Richmond Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber said he had been told that the work had not stopped.
“Workers say they are continuing to work, but Manafort has been named as one of several companies taking over the project,” he said.
Barber also noted that the project is bonded, which guarantees there will be sufficient funds to complete the work.
But whether that work has resumed remains unclear. The site was still idle on Thursday morning, and a call to Manafort was not returned.
The Cardi website states that the company, founded by Antonio Cardi in 1903, is the state’s “leading public works and site-work contractor.”
The company has not made any public announcements about its current financial position or possible closing.
Traffic, Illegal Parking Prompt Temporary Closing of Fair
Traffic, Illegal Parking Prompt Temporary Closing of Fair
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 21st 2023
RICHMOND – Officials are at a loss to explain why so many people decided to flock to the 57th annual Washington County Fair on Saturday afternoon, but whatever the reasons, the roads couldn’t handle the traffic.
Richmond Carolina Fire Chief Scott Barber attributed the high attendance to several factors.
“The weather was really good for outdoor activity,” he said. “I think the fair was well-advertised and everybody was looking for something to do, and they all showed up at once.”
Barber said the problems began on Saturday. (Attendance figures were not available at the time this story was posted.)
“Saturday was the problem day. It started to build as the problem, because all the parking lots filled up kind of at once and then the traffic became a problem, so people took it upon themselves to start parking on Route 112, on both sides, and anywhere they could find to park, even the Richmond Elementary School,” he said. “They parked all over the lawn and filled the whole lot up there, west on [Route] 138 and that amount of pedestrians on these major roadways and no lighting to account for pedestrians, there was a safety concern that somebody could be struck, and then the traffic was gridlocked in every direction and if there’s some type of emergency, we couldn’t mobilize.”
In an effort to clear the gridlock, Barber said emergency responders, organizers and fair staff, who were connected at all times by radio, agreed to stop selling tickets at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We were trying to figure out how to get the traffic flowing and it just became apparent that we weren’t making any headway, and I suggested ‘Look, let’s stop the ticket sales for a little bit and see if we can work this whole traffic situation out, and then we’ll reassess,’” he said. “Well, after about 2 ½ hours, it wasn’t getting any better, you know? There are people that sat in line, waiting in traffic and everything, only to find out that they had closed the gates to admission. But they had never had that amount of people show up at once and we just couldn’t overcome the congestion with all the traffic.”
The traffic didn’t clear out until about 8:30.
Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney had his usual booth at the fair, to promote and sell his bottled sauces. Because he was already on the fairgrounds, he was unaware of the chaos on the roads, but he did notice a sharp decline in the crowd after ticket sales were halted.
“You don’t know what’s going on, so all of a sudden, you just see this big drop in people and you’re like ‘wow, there’s not a lot of people here, even though it’s absolutely beautiful here. How come?’ Then you start to hear rumors and everything else…but you can’t make any assumptions. People always jump to conclusions and most of the time, they’re making the wrong conclusion.”
There were plenty of those “wrong conclusions” on social media over the weekend, with one post even claiming, falsely, that a ride had spun out of control and collapsed.
Others said they were relieved that ticket sales had been stopped before someone was struck by a car or emergency responders were unable to get through the traffic to respond to a call.
Barbie - Jo Fratus, the fair’s Director of Communications and Marketing, dispelled erroneous social media reports that the fair had halted ticket sales because it was over capacity.
“Let me just be clear on what happened that night,” she said. “…The decision was made, not on capacity – there’s been some confusion – but the decision was made based on the volume of traffic and of patrons not parking properly outside of the fairgrounds, so, because of that high influx of traffic, and people parking in undesignated areas, the Richmond Police Department made the decision to close the fair. This was not the decision of the Washington County Fair.”
Town Council President Mark Trimmer said the roads to the fair, Routes 138 and 112, had not been designed to handle such a large volume of traffic.
“We have 2023 levels of vehicle traffic on roads that were designed in the 1940s and it’s just simply overwhelming the system when we try and force that much traffic down our rural roads,” he said. “I think the fair was a victim of its own success. We had outstanding weather on Saturday and Sunday and both days an above average amount of people went to the fair, simply because the weather was so beautiful.”
Town Administrator Karen Pinch suggested that it might be useful to explore alternative parking and shuttle arrangements.
“I think we, as a community, being the emergency management community – police, fire and the fair, need to maybe put our heads together before next year’s fair and try to find some additional off-site parking and make sure that the public is aware of it and is encouraged to make use of it,” she said.
“There was a shuttle service this year to bring people from a lot on Beaver River [Road]. The problem is, I think, people coming from [Interstate] 95 have to go by 112 to get to it, and I feel like people think that it’s the path of least resistance to come here and they realize they can’t get in, so they just park wherever they can, which, in this case, was on 112 and 138, from what I’m told.”
Barber, a veteran of countless fairs and other public events, said he had never experienced an influx of traffic like the one on Saturday evening.
“It’s like any other system,” he said. “You don’t know the breaking point, because it’s never hit that point before and they’ve never had it to this degree. We have a playbook, but all the plays got exhausted.”
Endangered Toads Released in Richmond
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 17th 2023
RICHMOND – On a recent muggy morning, a team of wildlife biologists and volunteers gathered at the edge of a property owned by the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust.
(We have agreed not to reveal the exact locations of the release sites.)
The plan was to release thousands of baby toads, or toadlets, on Land Trust property where a spadefoot toad research project has been underway since 2019.
There are only a couple of remnant populations of Eastern spadefoot toads in Rhode Island, so they are considered endangered.
The toads, which spend much of their lives buried in the soil, get their names from the hard appendages, or “spades” on their back feet, which the toads use to dig themselves into the ground.
A DEM video shows adult spadefoot toads and their digging behavior.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Suzanne Paton, who also chairs the Land Trust, stood in a field, awaiting the arrival of the toadlets.
With her were Scott Buchanan, the former Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management herpetologist and several volunteers.
DEM is currently writing a statewide spadefoot reintroduction and recovery plan, but the research is a collaborative effort involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DEM, the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams Park Zoo, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.
As she waited, Paton explained that spadefoots breed when they are between two and three years old, between April and September, in ponds that contain water only for a short time.
“They use ponds that have a very short hydroperiod,” she said.
“It can be as extreme as two to three weeks.”
Paton said a couple of weeks would not be enough time for most other species of amphibians, like wood frogs, to reproduce, but spadefoot toad reproduction is brief and intense, triggered by big rainstorms.
“It’s usually when we have one of those big, flashy thunderstorms,” she said. “That triggers them to go and breed, when a pond fills up, and then it doesn’t last very long. So, it’s not every year that they breed.”
The two shallow breeding pools on Land Trust property were created in 2019, an initiative spearheaded by URI professor, Nancy Karraker. Researchers are still waiting to see if any of the toads released in 2019 will breed.
Lou Perrotti, Director of Conservation at Roger Williams Park Zoo, pulled up to the site and began pulling plastic storage bins out of his car. The bins contained the thousands of toadlets that he had been caring for since July 24, when they were still tadpoles. The tadpoles were rescued, in an effort dubbed “Operation Spadefoot,” from a rapidly - drying pool at a National Wildlife Refuge.
Perrotti explained that feeding the tadpoles was a big job, because they needed to eat twice a day. It was also obvious that he had enjoyed the process.
“In captivity, they’re fed two species of fruit flies and usually pinhead crickets, very tiny, new born crickets that we enrich with calcium and vitamin powder, which gives the toads a nice boost so they can adapt to the environment, which they do really quickly,” he said. “We’ve seen them at our pond releases eating prey right out of the boxes.”
The team split into two groups so they could release toadlets at each of the two Richmond sites. Reaching the first site, it was agreed that the toadlets would be vulnerable to the gray tree frogs and other species living near the pond, so the bins were brought closer to the woods.
“Ten, 20 meters off the edge of the pond is where we should put them,” Perrotti said, before lifting the lid from one of the bins.
Looking like shiny, black dots, the toadlets were surrounded in the bin by moist mosses and had to be carefully removed, counted and placed at the release sites.
Perrotti told the volunteers,
“Don’t be alarmed if you find mortality in the moss, there’s probably going to be some when you’re trying to feed that many animals, making sure they’re all getting two meals a day with that much competition, with me having bins in every room of the house.”
Perrotti reached in the bin and extracted several toadlets. Cupped in his hand, they were counted and then released close to the woods, where they hopped away. Team members were careful to stay clear of the toads’ paths, because they were so tiny and hard to see.
Asked whether saving the toads was worth the time and effort, Paton said it was gratifying to be able to support a native amphibian that had come so close to disappearing from Rhode Island.
“I feel like it’s a species that was native to our area, and part of our native ecosystem, and I just feel like it’s part of our responsibility to help ensure that all those species continue to exist here, and if we can do anything to help, then, for me personally, that’s something I enjoy being a part of,” she said. “As a Land Trust, we’re just super grateful for all the support from all the experts, and people like Lou at the zoo, who actually know how to captive-rear these individuals so we can boost their populations.”
Council Behavior, Tax Rate Lead Meeting Agenda
Richmond Town Council Meeting for August 15th 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 16th, 2023
RICHMOND – Town Council members discussed a letter, at Tuesday’s meeting, from former council member and Democratic Town Committee Chairman B. Joseph Reddish admonishing councilor Michael Colasante for his behavior and urging council President Mark Trimmer to exert more control over council members.
In his letter dated August 4, 2023, Reddish wrote,
“It was disappointing to witness Mr. Colasante’s disrespectful demeanor of shouting on Friday, July 21, 2023.”
Reddish was referring to the special council meeting to swear in Chariho School Committee member Jessica Purcell and approve the hiring of Town Planner, Talia Jalette.
At that meeting, Colasante, the only council member to oppose Jalette’s hiring because the council had not been involved in the interview process, compared the town to “the ship is going to rocks along the shore, because, we’re the number two tax town in the state and it’s the policies of this town that are bringing that ship to rocks.”
Colasante also stated that he believed Jalette’s hiring had been “ a done deal, behind the scenes as usual.”
Reddish, in his letter, requested that council members’ conduct be added as a discission item to Tuesday’s council agenda.
“The Town Council President’s responsibility is to manage meetings and manage behaviors,” the letter states. “President Trimmer, we request that you place an item on the agenda that would begin a public discussion that would address and set the expectations of all Town Councilors [sic] behavior in meetings.”
Colasante asked to respond to the letter and read a prepared statement, in which he was unrepentant and repeated his commitment to easing the burden on the town’s taxpayers.
“I will not back down from pushing back against high taxes and doing all I can to promote fiscal conservatism,” he said. “What is in the best interests of our town and its residents is that we on this council try to work together on issues.”
“…the letter refers to conduct which makes it difficult to work together, so that’s what I was hoping would be addressed, and it wasn’t” he said. “It is a matter of shouting out, interrupting, making inflammatory statements that were matters of concern. When you say the town’s heading for the rocks, do you know how many phone calls I get on that? I mean, you just can’t be making those kinds of statements when there’s no basis in fact for it, and it’s inflammatory, it damages our ability to entice developers into the town and it damages our ability to work as a council.”
Councilor Helen Sheehan came to Colasante’s defense, as did Kathryn Colasante, who frequently defends her husband’s actions.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox described Colasante’s conduct as “aggressive” and “passive-aggressive.”
Councilor Vice President Richard Nassaney added,
“…things can move forward, as long as the vision is for the town and the people of the town, not for ideology, not for partisan, not for one’s personal, or one group of people’s ideas or goals,” he said. “It has to be for the entire town.”
Trimmer asked that Reddish’s letter be filed.
The Finance Director Pushes Back
In response to Colasante’s frequent assertion that Richmond has the second-highest tax burden in the state, Finance Director Laura Kenyon produced figures showing Richmond’s taxes in a more favorable light.
The town’s residential tax rate in Fiscal Year 2023, Kenyon noted, is the seventh-highest in Rhode Island.
“We were 11th in Fiscal Year ’22, 7th in ’23 and now we also called every city and town for the ’23-’24 and we’re 17th,” she said. “…The other issue is the tax levy over the last six years, and from Fiscal Year ’18 to ’24, the total tax levy is up 9% for those six years. I just wanted to also say that when you’re using metrics of states and cities and towns, you have to understand the calculation and the discrepancies that could happen.”
Colasante countered that the “tax burden” as he described it, was, in fact, the second-highest in the state and that municipal spending had increased 38% from 2018 to 2024.
Kenyon pointed out that Colasante’s calculation of the tax burden was based on a median home value of $319,000 when the median in Richmond is lower - $287,000.
Trimmer pointed out that 80% of the town’s budget went to the Chariho Regional School District, and therefore, largely out of the town’s control.
The council approved an amendment to the Rules of Procedure, which would require council meetings to end at 9 p.m. unless a majority of council members vote to extend the meeting.
There was a longer discussion of whether the sealed minutes and materials of executive sessions should remain in electronic form after council members have reviewed them.
Colasante has stated that he wants hard copies of executive session minutes and cited the Chariho School Committee as an example of a public body that receives hard copies of executive minutes in their packets.
“Even the fact that we go into executive session and we come out and we seal the executive session minutes, we can still tell somebody exactly what happened in executive session, so whether or not we get a hard copy of the minutes or not, it doesn’t matter, because it stays within this body,” he said.
After hearing an explanation of the evolution of the current policy from Town Clerk Erin Liese, the council, with Sheehan and Colasante opposed, voted to retain the current policy of sealing the executive session minutes.
Following the council’s appointment of Clay Johnson to the School Committee and the subsequent challenge by Jessica Purcell, which was upheld by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the town must pay the legal fee of attorney Joseph Larisa, who unsuccessfully defended Johnson and the town.
The fee is $22,240.
Wilcox pointed out that Larisa had charged for some work that had not been authorized by the council and that paying for that work would constitute a dangerous precedent.
The council voted to pay Larisa, with Wilcox and Nassaney opposed.
The town may also be required to pay the legal fees of Purcell’s attorney, Jeffrey Levy. Levy’s fee, including the court filing fee and printing costs, is $26,846. Larisa has filed an objection on behalf of the town, but there has been no decision on Purcell’s petition.
(The move by three councilors to appoint Johnson rather than Purcell, who received the next highest number of votes, will end up costing the very taxpayers they have vowed to protect, because taxpayers will foot the bill for that politically-motivated effort.)
The discussion of the council’s authority over the hiring, firing and promotions of staff continued, with a debate over what the town charter requires.
Pointing to what he described as “conflicting language” in the charter, Colasante said the council, not the Town Administrator, should have authority over hiring and firing.
Sheehan suggested that council members should be present during the final interviews of candidates.
Wilcox said she would ask Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft an ordinance amendment, and Ellsworth offered to draft an amendment that would establish a hiring and firing process.
Work Begins at Controversial Solar Site
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 12th 2023
RICHMOND – Once green with rows of crops, the field at 172 Beaver River Road is now scraped bare and studded with heavy equipment.
A construction trailer and a portable restroom have been installed at the entrance, along with a “No Trespassing” sign and a surveillance camera.
Years of opposition from residents of the historic Beaver River Valley, as well as the town government and boards have been futile, and the construction of the commercial solar energy facility has begun.
The town is overruled
The effort to build a solar array in the field dates back to 2018, when GD Beaver River I LLC and property owner William Stamp Jr. applied for a special use permit, which was required because the property was in a low-density residential zone.
The zoning officer at the time, Russel “Bo” Brown, denied the application because it would not conform to a town ordinance requiring that solar arrays be within two miles of a utility substation.
The Planning Board denied the application because the project would not be consistent with the objectives stated in the town’s comprehensive plan, which include the preservation of rural landscapes, cultural resources and the protection of the town’s rural and architectural heritage. In addition, the board said that as part of the federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers system, the scenic qualities of the Beaver River deserved protection.
The developers did not give up their quest to build the commercial solar array, first appealing the case to Rhode Island Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board, which again denied the application.
But the developers appealed yet again to Superior Court and this time, they prevailed.
The decision, issued on March 31, 2023 by Rhode Island Superior Court judge Sarah Taft-Carter, stated that the board’s reasons for denying the application were “unsupported,” and therefore, the application should have been granted. The decision also directed the Zoning Board to immediately issue the special use permit required for the project to proceed.
A final effort to reverse the court decision
In a last-ditch attempt to halt the project, the town has petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, a rarely-granted order to review the decision by the lower court.
Submitted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth on June 30, the Memorandum of Law filed with the petition states:
“The trial court misconceived or overlooked material evidence and made findings that were clearly wrong in determining that the Board’s decision was based on insufficient evidence.”
Ellsworth concludes that a commercial-scale solar facility, while laudable in principle, is inappropriate in a rural community that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There is no question that production of solar energy is crucial to slowing the rate of climate change and mitigating the effects of fossil fuel use,” Ellsworth wrote. “But solar installations are not appropriate in every setting. If there was ever a place where it would be obviously wrong to install acres of solar energy panels, the Beaver River Road Historic District is it. Landscapes such as the one on Beaver River Road are what make each city and town in Rhode Island unique. Richmond has always been an agricultural community. No place in Richmond reflects that history more vividly than Beaver River Road. The Zoning Board’s decision in this case reflects the Town’s effort to maintain its rural character and keep alive a part of its rural past.”
A second petition for a writ of certiorari was submitted on June 29 by attorney Thomas Dickinson, who represents abutting property owner and historic preservationist John Peixinho, who could not comment publicly on the project because his case is before the courts.
After winning their court appeal, the developers wasted no time starting the project. If the rapid pace of construction is any indication, Green Development is not waiting for determinations on the two petitions.
From their home, built in the mid-1700s and located across the road from the construction site, Gail Tibbits and her husband Andy have watched with dismay as the field has been transformed.
“It’s very sad to see what’s happening out there, more so for my husband than for me,” she said. “It was his grandfather’s farm that they bought, back in 1925. His mother and his three aunts were raised here.”
Andy Tibbits’ grandfather sold the land in the 1960s because he was too told to farm it, and it was later sold again, to the Stamp family.
Stamp’s decision to convert the property from farmland to a solar field follows the sale by his daughter, Cindy Duncan, of her Richmond plant nursery to Green Development.
That project drew complaints from neighbors during and after its construction and when it was completed, the Duncans sold what was left of the property to Pasquale Farms and moved away.
“It’s just hard,” Tibbits said. “It’s hard to look out the window. Right now, we’ve got a fairly decent buffer of trees along the road on the opposite side.”
The trees are on town property so the developer can’t remove them, but they are deciduous, so Tibbits said she was expecting the site to be more visible in the winter.
Tibbits also worries about the value of her property and whether it would be negatively impacted if she and her husband ever decided to sell it.
“We’ll see what happens, 10 years, 15 years from now if we want to try to sell,” she said. “We have a historic home here, but that is going to take away from it. That was another thing, when the National Register recognized this road. And now what?”
(A listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not preclude development.)
The real estate tax for the site is still to be determined.
Town Council President Mark Trimmer said it was unfortunate that construction had begun.
“It’s very disappointing that the property owner and the solar developer have chosen to move ahead with this project, given the fact that the public is so dead set against it,” he said. “My feeling is that once this type of land is gone, it’s gone forever. We’re giving away, for small money, beautiful land that will never be replicated again.”
Board Recommends Zoning Change for Motocross Track
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 9th, 2023
RICHMOND – With Chair Phil Damicis absent and Vice Chair Dan Madnick running the meeting, the Planning Board voted at a public hearing to recommend to the Town Council that it approve amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan to allow a race track for motorcycles on a property on Buttonwoods Road.
The board also voted, in a separate discussion that followed the hearing, to amend the zoning ordinance to allow the race track.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth advised the Board,
“Because you’re doing two separate things, you need to separate them in your mind, and when you’re ready to vote on a recommendation, deal with them separately.”
Attending the meeting for the first time was newly-hired Town Planner Talia Jalette, who began working for the town on Aug. 7.
Attorney John Mancini, representing property owner Jordan Carlson, presented the application. The parcel is in an R-2, or residential zone, in which motorized vehicle racing is prohibited.
“The petition requests that the town amend its comprehensive plan, amend its zoning ordinance and also amend its future land use map to designate this parcel as FT, which is flex tech,” Mancini said. “In addition to that, the applicant is also asking for an amendment to your table of uses, which is your zoning ordinance, to permit, in the FT [flex tech] zone, a particular use, identified as race track for motorized vehicles.”
Manicini also noted that the 14-acre parcel is located in a largely industrial area.
“When you look at the zoning map, you will see that the parcel is surrounded by industrial, existing flex tech zoning, public and governmental zoning and further industrial, with open space across the way,” he said. “So, the existing parcel zoned there, R- 2, really isn’t consistent or congruent with the surrounding zoning and accordingly, we argue that the proposed zoning is a better reflection of what the future land use map has indicated that this area should be.”
During the public hearing, those who commented, including Town Council member Michael Colasante and the town’s Electrical Inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt, spoke in support of the race track.
Board members agreed that the amendments should be specifically for motorcycles and that the “motorized vehicles” described in the initial proposal was too vague and might leave the door open for future auto racing.
The board voted unanimously to recommend to the council that the comprehensive plan be amended from medium density residential to flex tech. The board also recommended the council approve the requested zoning change from R-2 single family residential to flex tech.
If the Town Council approves the amendments, Jordan Carlson will still be required to go through the development plan review process and clear one major state permitting hurdle.
In order to complete his application, he will have to obtain a Rhode Island Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or RIPDES permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. RIPDES permits are required for projects that are larger than five acres.
However, Carlson has already been cited by DEM for altering freshwater wetlands on his property and on Aug. 9, 2022, the agency issued a cease and desist order.
The order describes what state inspectors found after obtaining a warrant to enter the property. The warrant inspection took place on June 22, 2022 and revealed what DEM describes as “unauthorized alterations to Freshwater Wetlands.”
The order describes the violations:
“The inspection revealed that at least the following activities have been undertaken on the Property by you or your agents without the authorization of the DEM: Performing site work within several wetland corridors, including at least clearing, stumping, grubbing, filling, grading, and creating surface disturbances, within at least Swamp, a Perennial River/Stream, Streams, 50-Foot Perimeter Wetlands [associated with Swamp and Pond] Riverbank Wetlands [associated with the River/Streams], culverting an Area Subject to Storm Flowage (ASSF) and withdrawing water from/causing sedimentation within Pond.”
Asked Wednesday about the status of the case, DEM spokesman Michael Healey would say only that “It’s an open and unresolved case and the investigation is ongoing.”
Carlson would be required to remediate the wetlands damage before the state will issue a RIPDES permit.
The Town of Richmond, represented by Town Solicitor Michael Cozzolino, has also filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court for zoning violations.
Having reviewed 600-page application for the expansion of Riverhead Building Supply at 38 Kingstown Road, the Board approved the preliminary plan for the project.
The proposal involves the construction of a 200,000-square foot warehouse and distribution facility.
The new development will add 15 acres of construction to the 48-acre site, bringing the build—out to about 26 acres. The company, which is owned by GX3 LLC of New York State, plans to invest $20 million in the project.
In other business, the board approved a request from The Preserve at Boulder Hills for a one-year extension of the Phase 2 Master Plan approval, involving, in part, the construction of a medical facility and general store on Kingstown Road.
Asked about taxes owed to the town and fulfilling the affordable housing requirement, Preserve representatives said the company was looking for properties to develop as affordable housing that would satisfy the mandate.
Purcell Sworn in, New Planner Hired, But Not Without Drama
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 21st 2023
RICHMOND – At a special Town Council meeting Friday,
Jessica Purcell was sworn in as the Richmond Chariho School Committee member.
This was the culmination of a six-month effort by Purcell that began last January, when Clay Johnson was appointed to the vacant seat. Purcell, who had received the third highest number of votes, and would have been next in line for the seat, took her case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The Johnson appointment was justified on the grounds that the Chariho Act took precedence over the town charter, giving the council the authority to appoint him.
Purcell’s attorney, Jeffrey Levy, argued that while the Chariho Act does require the Town Council to fill the vacant committee seat, the town charter states that the council should choose the next highest vote-getter; in this case, Purcell.
In an opinion issued on July 18, with one justice dissenting, the court granted Purcell’s petition to fill the seat.
There was a question of whether Purcell could be sworn in on Friday, before the town received the “judgment of ouster” from the court, officially removing Johnson from the seat, but Town Administrator Karen Pinch said she had been told that the town could proceed with Purcell’s swearing-in.
“… a court clerk has advised that there will be no separate “judgment of ouster” coming,” she said.
Levy administered the oath of office.
Clay Johnson’s appointment to the School Committee was supported by council President Mark Trimmer, and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante. Both Colasante and Sheehan were in the court room with other Johnson supporters on April 13 during the oral arguments.
However, before the swearing-in ceremony, Colasante told Purcell that he had voted to appoint Johnson because Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth had told him to do so.
“Jessica, I want to make one comment,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the advice of our solicitor, if the advice of the solicitor was to appoint you, that’s the way we should follow, I would have followed that. I was only going under the guise [sic] of the recommendation of the solicitor. With that being said, there was nothing personal against you.”
It should be noted that Ellsworth did state that the Chariho Act, because it is a state law, does supersede the town charter, however, she advised the council that they should abide by the will of the voters, which would have meant appointing Purcell. Ellsworth also warned that failing to appoint Purcell would result in additional legal expenses that the town would have to pay. So far, the town has been billed about $22,000 by attorney Joseph Larisa, who represented the town, Clay Johnson and the School Committee, and may incur additional attorneys’ fees.
A motion by councilor Samantha Wilcox to appoint Purcell to the school committee received unanimous approval.
New planner approved, but not without drama
The council, with Colasante opposed, voted to hire Talia Jalette to replace Shaun Lacey, who is leaving for another position at the end of the month.
In a July 19 letter to the Town Council, Pinch stated the reasons she and the other members of the hiring committee recommended Jalette for the job.
“An interview committee of Shaun Lacey, Erin Liese, Planning Board Vice-Chair Dan Madnick and I met with Talia on July 13th,” she wrote. “After this interview, we felt comfortable that she would be capable of performing the job and would fit in here in Richmond. Additionally, as a resident of Richmond, we felt that she understood the town dynamics as well or better than anyone. All of this, coupled with Shaun’s professional exposure to her made her our unanimous choice.”
Jalette, the former Senior Planning Clerk, was the planner in Hopkinton for a little over two years, taking the position after the retirement of planner Jim Lamphere. Hopkinton officials said they had received Jalette’s letter of resignation on July 19.
At Friday’s meeting, Sheehan and Colasante said they would have preferred to personally interview Jalette and the other applicants, rather than follow the recommendation of the hiring committee.
“I don’t know who came up with the interview committee of Shaun Lacey and Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick,” Colasante said. “That wasn’t run by the council and if anybody is best qualified to sit in an interview on this council, because I don’t think anybody else here is an employer, I think it would be me, to sit there.”
Colasante asserted, as he has in the past, that hiring and firing is the purview of the council, and proposed that the council meet in executive session to discuss additional information that he said he had gathered.
Trimmer interjected, stating that the town charter gave the Town Administrator authority over personnel.
“We oversee it, but we don’t hire and fire,” he said.
“I just don’t know how the Town Hall’s been operating like this for the last 10 years,” he said. “That’s why I ran, to try and straighten some of these things out, because, again, like I said, the ship is going to rocks along the shore, because, we’re the number two tax town in the state and it’s the policies of this town that are bringing that ship to rocks, and…”
Councilor Wilcox broke in,
“Mr. President,” she began, asking Trimmer to intervene.
“And I want to see it stopped,” he said.
Colasante’s wife, Kathryn, asked to speak but was denied. The special council meeting did not include a public comment period.
Sheehan continued to complain that the position had been advertised for just two weeks, there had been six applicants and the council was being asked to “rubber stamp” the hiring.
“Obviously, this is a done deal, behind the scenes as usual,” Colasante added.
The vote to hire Jalette was four to one with Colasante opposed. She will begin her new position on Aug. 7, with an annual salary of $67.000.
Colasante, who lost his bid for the council presidency to Trimmer, has continued to challenge Trimmer, Wilcox, and Vice President Richard Nassaney.
At Friday’s meeting he repeated several times that he made his own decisions and did not rely on the opinions of others.
“About deferring to the experts all the time – I don’t relinquish my responsibility as Town Council President,” he said in a clearly audible slip of the tongue. “I come here with a set of experiences and whatnot, and I just don’t defer to the experts.”
Council Approves Aquifer Protection Ordinance Changes
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 19th 2023
RICHMOND – By a margin of three votes to two, the Town Council approved amendments to the Aquifer Protection Ordinance at a public hearing Tuesday.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained that the changes will streamline and clarify groundwater protection regulations, allowing development in areas where it was previously prohibited. Lacey, who will be departing at the end of the month, also alluded to efforts by some to undermine the changes.
“In the day leading up to tonight’s public hearing, I was made aware of concerns by a minor percentage of the public…” he said. “My feeling on the subject is, it’s probably based on two things, a lack of understanding of these regulations, what they sought out to do, but unfortunately, I think part of it, too, is a little bit of a lack of trust in the process, and the message that I really want to send to you, and I think everyone in this room and I think, people that are on the call watching the deliberations, is that, if you trust your staff and you trust your Planning Board, and you trust your experts, many of whom that are sitting in this room tonight, good things are going to happen.”
Councilor Michael Colasante, a vocal opponent of the amendments, said he had personally contacted several developers, including GFI, Capstone Properties and D’Ambra, all of whom had expressed concerns about the changes.
“Businesses may feel the regulations cause economic hardship,” he said. “…This, however, may be what some people want, while they give lip service to economic development.”
Council member Samantha Wilcox asked whether it was appropriate for Colasante to be speaking on behalf of business owners and Trimmer agreed that it was not.
“Each and every meeting we have seems to result in a pontification on how three members are anti-economic development,” he said. “… This is ridiculous. It’s disrespectful, it’s disruptive and it’s a waste of people’s time.”
During the public comment period, some residents said they supported the amendments and others, including former council member Lauren Cacciola, appeared to mistakenly equate the amendments with higher property taxes.
“We cannot afford to live here,” she said “I work a full - time job. I care about the environment, I really do, but why do we need this? How much is it going to cost? What’s going to go into this?”
Representing one of the large developers was Rick Zini of Capstone Properties, who was participating remotely. Capstone manages the largely vacant Chariho Plaza, an eyesore that has been a source of angst for the current and previous Town Councils.
There have been unconfirmed indications that the company might be prepared to invest in the plaza and that the council’s chronic divisions might actually be discouraging development.
“I just want to make a couple of statements on the record, as Capstone’s name has been brought up on multiple occasions, including this evening,” Zini said. “I think it’s clear that everyone understands that there are large, commercial taxpayers in the town, such as Capstone, that are watching the process and are informed about the proposed regulations. Capstone has not spoken in favor or against the regulations, but has been observing in recent weeks the process that has been happening. I think it’s important also to state that before new development can happen in the town, the town must decide what it wants for development and how that is regulated. That needs to be settled before any developer or major taxpayer is going to make additional investment in the town. It’s also important to state that good development happens with both protecting the town’s natural resources and working with the town on its issues.”
The council voted three to two to approve the amendments, with Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed.
Smoking in public
At a second public hearing, the council considered amendments to the town’s smoking ordinance, proposed by Police Chief Elwood Johnson, that would prohibit the smoking or vaping of cannabis in outdoor public places.
However, the proposed ordinance, drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, would also prohibit smoking tobacco in public outdoor spaces.
Sheehan said she supported the prohibition of public marijuana use, but not cigarettes.
“I do not support a ban on smoking cigarettes in an outdoor public place, but that’s the way this was written. It included regular cigarettes. Cigarettes are cancer-causing, but that does not give you the right to control it,” she said.
Colasante agreed with Sheehan and asked that only cannabis be named in the ordinance.
“Smoking a cigarette does not impair…but marijuana does,” he said. “It’s basically the TSG [sic] that is so high today.”
Samantha Wilcox pointed out that the amendment targeted “the nuisance of secondhand smoke.”
The amendment was approved three votes to two, with Sheehan and Colasante opposed.
The council meeting
The disagreements continued into the regular Town Council meeting. Colasante complained he had not had enough time to read the executive session minutes before being asked to approve them and proposed they be included in the councilors’ packets. His effort was unsuccessful.
Wilcox said she felt there had been sufficient time to review the minutes, which are usually less than two pages long.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney said that attaching the executive session minutes to the packets would make them vulnerable to leaks.
“Another reason executive session minutes are handed to you just before the meeting is because they’re executive session minutes,” he said. “You read them and you give them back. If you have them before a meeting, it gives the opportunity for that information to be put out into the public, shared with people who are not privy to that information.”
Mark Trimmer proposed limiting the duration of Town Council meetings. Ellsworth said the Rules of Procedure would have to be amended to formalize that change, and said she would draft a motion for the council to consider at the next meeting.
There was a lengthy discussion of another proposal by Trimmer to take the $20,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that had previously been allocated to the hiring of an economic development director and restore those funds to the design study of the Wyoming district. The study was a casualty of the town’s failed budget.
“What I realized in the last seven months was that Shaun [Lacey] was doing a great job as basically, an economic development director,” Trimmer said. “He’s been working with all these developers and he’s got a lot of things going on if were they to bear fruition, would really help the town financially and really mesh with what we’re all trying to do here. I feel that hiring an economic development employee – I’ve always been against hiring an employee…and I continue to be against that.”
Trimmer added that he was also opposed to using ARPA funds for a review of the town’s planning and zoning ordinances. The council had previously approved $15,000 for the ordinance review and $135,000 for an economic development director.
“I just would rather see the money used for something that will give an absolute, definite benefit, rather than to be used for something that might give a benefit.”
Ellsworth pointed out that it would probably be a waste of time and money to hire someone to review the town’s ordinances since the General Assembly, during the last session, had passed significant changes that will impact the town.
“They will require us to re-write probably, most of the zoning ordinance and much of the subdivision regulations, and I’m not sure what value there would be now in reviewing the regulations and ordinance now, when we know we will have to enact new ones by next January,” she said.
Trimmer said he wanted to redirect the ARPA funds to certain federal grants, which are expected to require matching funds from the town.
Trimmer’s proposal was approved with Colasante and Sheehan opposed.
The council also approved allocating $40,000 to a small business grant program, which would be available to existing businesses as well as new businesses coming to the town.
After her victory in the Rhode Island Supreme Court, announced on July 18, Jessica Purcell will be formally sworn in to the Chariho School Committee at a special Town Council meeting on Friday at 9:30 a.m.
The council will also consider a request to approve the hiring of a new Town Planner to replace Shaun Lacey.
Supreme Court finds for Purcell
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 18th 2023
PROVIDENCE – In an opinion released Tuesday morning, the Rhode Island Supreme Court granted a petition by Jessica Purcell challenging the Richmond Town Council, Clay Johnson and the Chariho School Committee over the council’s appointment of Johnson to fill a vacancy on the school committee.
Purcell, a Democrat, came third in the Nov. 8, 2022 election, losing lost her bid for a School Committee seat by just 27 votes. When Richmond committee member Gary Liguori announced in January that he was moving out of Rhode Island and vacating his seat, it was believed that under the provisions of the town’s Home Rule charter, Purcell, with the next-highest number of votes, would be named to fill the seat.
But on Jan. 19, three of the five members of the Richmond Town Council, council President Mark Trimmer and members Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan, appointed fellow Republican, Clay Johnson, to the vacant seat.
Purcell, represented by attorney Jeffrey Levy, took her case to the Supreme Court.
Named as defendants and represented by attorney Joseph Larisa were Johnson, the Richmond Town Council and the Chariho School Committee.
Oral arguments were presented before the Supreme Court on April 13.
The long-awaited opinion
In their opinion, released Tuesday, Chief Justice Paul Suttell and Justices William Robinson III, Melissa Long and Erin Lynch Prata, the author of the opinion, granted Purcell’s petition with Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg the lone dissenter.
Purcell said Levy had notified her Tuesday morning of the court decision.
“My heart stated beating fast. I was sweating,” she said. “Relief was the biggest part. We went from winter to spring to summer.”
Levy, who had come under intense questioning by Goldberg during his oral argument, said he had been uneasy about whether the justices would find in favor of his client.
“I was a little bit concerned after the oral argument,” he said. “The oral argument consisted of Justice Goldberg yelling at me.”
Levy’s argument was based on the compatibility of the Chariho Act and the town charter, because the act requires the Town Council to fill a vacant School Committee seat and the charter states that the person the council chooses should be the next-highest vote-getter.
Larisa countered that the Chariho Act and the town charter cannot, as Levy had argued, be harmonized because they are fundamentally incompatible.
In their opinion, the four justices concluded that the charter superseded the Chariho Act.
“The Charter is specific in its outline of a substantive procedure to fill the vacancy and precise in who the appointee will be,” the opinion states. “The Charter is clearly more specific. For these reasons, the Charter controls.”
The opinion continues:
“Our ultimate goal is to give effect to the purpose of the statutes as intended by the General Assembly, and we presume that the Legislature knew that the Chariho Act included a general vacancy provision for the School Committee when it approved the Charter that included a more specific vacancy-filling provision for the School Committee …. It is clear that it was the will of the voters in the Town to have procedures in place to fill a vacancy on the School Committee with an individual who had shown some effort and desire to be on the School Committee by running for the seat.”
In a 38-page dissenting opinion, Justice Goldberg wrote,
“After carefully examining the relevant statutory provisions upon which petitioner Purcell relies, including the various iterations of the Chariho Act that span sixty-five years and this Court’s numerous and clear pronouncements when
confronted with a provision in a home rule charter that concerns the constitutional authority over education and elections reserved to the General Assembly, I am of the opinion that Article 2, § 5(B) of the Richmond Town Charter does not supersede the Chariho Act under article 13 of the Rhode Island Constitution. … Because Article 2, § 5(b) of the Richmond Town Charter directly, and irreconcilably conflicts with a special act of the General Assembly concerning the election of school committee members, our jurisprudence has been clear and unequivocal: The charter provision must be explicitly validated by the General Assembly to be operative.
What happens now?
Purcell’s appointment to the School Committee
The Chariho School Committee is awaiting the court’s written “judgment of ouster,” which will remove Johnson from the committee seat. The Town Council will then swear in Purcell, who is expected to be installed in time for the School Committee meeting on Aug. 8.
Chariho School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said she was relieved that the matter of who should fill the seat had been resolved.
“I am happy that there has been a resolution to the matter of who should be appointed to the School Committee should there be a vacancy,” she said. “Jessica has proven, both by initially running for a seat and staying involved with Chariho, that she is willing to work hard for the people of Richmond.”
Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.
The town is paying Larissa’s $21,792 bill for legal services, and Levy said he intended to ask the court to order the town to pay his bill as well. (That amount is not known.)
“I intend to ask the court to require the town to pay my attorney’s fees,” he said. “It’s not fair the other side gets their fees paid but Jessica is on her own.”
Trimmer, who voted to install Johnson on the committee, now says he regrets his decision.
“I plan to apologize to Jess,” he said Tuesday. “I didn’t do it maliciously. I felt I was following the law and the laws do not harmonize.”
Trimmer said he wanted to swear in Purcell at the earliest opportunity.
“My goal is to do this as soon as possible, and right a wrong that was made and move forward,” he said.
Purcell said that waiting six months for a decision had been difficult, but she added that she had not allowed it to consume her.
“I did get on with my life,” she said. “I never lost my priorities – my family, my work and my home.”
In a written statement emailed later, Purcell added,
“All Richmond residents have been truly served by this decision as it upholds the power of our votes and voices in how we deserve to be represented by elected officials.
This ruling affirms what we've known all along, Richmond deserves representatives not rulers. The Town Council should have followed the procedure in the Town Charter and appointed the next highest-vote getter from the last election. Three members chose to follow political motivations instead of local obligations and they have been thoroughly rebuked by a majority of the RI Supreme Court, and many fellow residents.”
Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for July 11th 2023
Board to Explore Route 3 Re-zone
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 13th 2023
RICHMOND – Members of the Planning Board agreed at their Tuesday meeting to ask the Economic Development Commission to determine whether property owners in a part of town near of Route 3 would be willing to consider re-zoning their properties from residential to commercial or light industrial.
The board approved a memorandum to the EDC which reads, in part,
“We would like to work with you to determine whether rezoning some of the property abutting Route 3 would be feasible. Would your members be willing to contact property owners in that area to find out how they would feel about rezoning of their property? We would also like to hear your suggestions about which areas are the most appropriate for rezoning, and whether the owners of existing businesses have told you if there are any locations where they would like to expand or relocate.”
The board asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to draft the memorandum after a discussion during the June 27th meeting about the need for economic development in the town and possible sites for new businesses.
After looking at a map of the town and determining that there are few suitable sites remaining, board Vice Chairman Dan Madnick, who initiated the discussion, and other board members, agreed that the best prospective area is north of Wyoming on Route 3, east of Route 95.
“That area has easy access to Route 95 and most of it is outside the aquifer overlay, agricultural overlay, and flood hazard overlay districts,” the memorandum reads.
But the area is currently zoned residential. The Planning Board has usually re-zoned parcels after approving proposals from their owners, however in this case, the town would be reaching out to property owners to determine whether they would be interested in having their parcels re-zoned.
“We believe that some property owners welcome such a change because it would make their property more valuable, but many others would not want to see commercial or industrial uses in their neighborhood,” the memorandum reads.
Board members approved a request from The Preserve to waive the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s permitting requirements for the development’s Phase 2 applications.
The second phase includes two projects at the front entrance of the development: a gas station/ country store and an urgent care and medical office building.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey explained that there are three state permits that are normally required before the preliminary plan is considered complete.
“The septic system, we have a RIPDES [RI Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] … and thirdly, you have freshwater wetlands,” he said.
The waiver allows the Planning Board to consider the applications for the two projects without the state permits already in place. It is likely that the permits will have been issued by the time the project receives final approval.
Board Chairman Philip Damicis said,
“Overall, I don’t see a major issue, if the risk itself is primarily made on the Preserve - all the engineering, without wasting the town’s time. Part of the reason we asked for this is, we don’t want to all of us to go down that road and have to come all the way back and do it all over again. The only question I have, is this the appropriate time?”
The Board approved a motion to waive the permit requirement. Member Daniel Ashworth, a firearms instructor at The Preserve, recused himself from the vote.
Housing needs survey
The town’s housing needs survey, a collaborative effort by Lacey and board member Bryce Kelley, was presented to the board, and comments were generally favorable.
Lacey said the survey results would provide an in-depth view of housing needs in the town.
“There might be something…that we could use to encourage the right type of growth,” he said.
“If we want to have economic development to be able to hire people for businesses, you have places for them to live,” he said.
Lacey says goodbye
This was the last Planning Board meeting for Lacey, who is leaving at the end of the month. The town has begun the search for his replacement, but the new Town Planner will have to deal with the avalanche of new legislation approved during the last session.
Ellsworth said she had spent five hours reading the changes, which, she admitted are complex, but she told the board that she would do her best to break them down so board members could understand them.
“I’m going to try and make it as easy as possible,” she said.
Damicis asked Ellsworth to break down the changes into amendments that the town would be required to comply with and amendments that would be up for discussion.
“If you could just differentiate in this, ‘you have no choice’ and ‘these are the things we need to sit down and discuss, work on,’” he said.
The APOD hearing
A public hearing on amendments to the town’s aquifer protection overlay district ordinance will take place at 5 p.m. on July 18. While the changes update and clarify the regulations, there has been opposition from at least one Town Council member. The amendments have been under consideration by the board for about a year.
Human Services Director Hits the Ground Running
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 11th 2023
RICHMOND – Kate Schimmel, the town’s new Human Services Director, stood outside the Town Hall on Monday afternoon with Chariho Community Health Worker, Amy Neilson. On a table in front of them were shopping bags full of fresh produce, free to anyone who asked.
Schimmel, who was hired about three months ago, is still assessing residents’ needs, but she has already found one issue: accessing fresh, nutritious food. Some people don’t have transportation to get to a store or farmers market and others don’t have the money to buy it.
“One of our goals is to bring fresh produce, especially because we are living in a farming community, in a farming area,” Schimmel said. “A lot of people have private gardens, or there are a lot of larger farmers in the area, and so, we’re just trying to connect people who may be dealing with food insecurity to get fresh produce.”
This was the town’s first produce popup, with vegetables donated by Our Kids Farm in Exeter. A second produce giveaway will take place in mid-August. Partially funded by a grant to the Chariho Youth Task Force, the event coincided with the twice-monthly visit by the United Way Rhode Island 211 van, which parks for three hours in the Town Hall lot. United Way personnel provide information on a wide range of services such as job training, veterans’ assistance, transportation, health care and housing.
The van began coming to Richmond in February, at the invitation of Town Council member Samantha Wilcox.
“When I reached out to the Director of 211 back in January, he was so excited to come to Richmond that he returned my call when he was on vacation,” Wilcox said. “He stressed to me this was not a replacement of the Human Services Director and that the position would work with 211 to expand services. We are already seeing that happen since Kate is working on getting various programs in and they are changing the 211 Bus location to Chariho Plaza in the near future.”
Schimmel was hired after the town’s Wellness Committee, formed in 2021, recommended improved health facilities for residents, particularly seniors, and an administrator who could help people access the services they needed.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch said Schimmel had been chosen from a field of four candidates.
“Kate is a registered nurse with extensive experience in public health, federal government health clinics, and corporate health and wellness,” she said. “She has a great personality that will be conducive to success with the position, and she also happens to be a Richmond resident.”
Schimmel is paid $30 per hour and works 15 to 20 hours per week. Her salary is paid with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
“There is a total of $225,000 set aside for her salary and operating expenses over a three-year period,” Pinch said.
Schimmel and her husband, a diplomat, are originally from South Kingstown and travelled extensively before settling in Richmond. They have one child.
Schimmel holds two degrees, a bachelor of kinesiology with a concentration in disability studies from the University of Maine and a bachelor of nursing from Rhode Island College. Her new position, as she sees it, is to support members of the community who may be experiencing difficulties, especially after COVID.
“I also think, building our community and creating connections between our residents, in a positive way,” she added.
Loneliness: a major issue in Richmond
Schimmel believes it is important to help residents connect with each other. She noted that feelings of isolation and loneliness are not unique to seniors, but are felt “across the board.”
“I think we’re one of the towns who doesn’t have a truly accessible community center or senior center, and so bringing a few more activities, positive activities, where community members can meet and enjoy each other’s company, especially coming out of COVID,” she said. “I’ve been in the position three months now, and I hear a lot from residents that they are just lonely, and I think it’s coming out of COVID, people were in lockdown and people are just starting to get back out there and they’re not really sure where to go. And that’s similar for people who might find themselves in a difficult situation. They might be going through food insecurity or housing insecurity. They’re just not sure where to turn. I think Richmond doesn’t have a lot of resources, per se, in town, so finding those resources, maybe in the greater Washington County, can be tricky.”
Being available to residents, Schimmel said, was essential.
“So, for this position, it’s really being a contact person for community members to reach out and say ‘I’m going through difficult times, do you know of where I can seek the resources that I need to get back on my feet or maybe, where can I go to get a free meal?’ even, and then, ‘where can I go to just meet other people? Meet other residents and connect with people?’”
Residents of rural towns like Richmond are stoic and self – reliant, and sometimes reluctant to accept services.
Schimmel said she lets people know the services are there and that they are welcome to use them.
“The service is here, regardless of whether you’d like it or not. You certainly deserve it, and these services are specifically for you, if you would like,” she said.
While the need for services is not limited to senior residents, Richmond’s seniors face a special set of challenges, among them a lack of public transportation and a senior center on the top floor of the police station that is difficult to access for people with limited mobility.
Schimmel is in frequent touch with Senior Center Director, Dennis McGinity.
“She will be a big asset for the town of Richmond,” McGinity said. “I’ve spoken with her, she’s come to my office, offered some suggestions, which I thought were pretty good, and she’s accepted some of the words that I had to give to her. She just seems to be very level-headed. After the first two hours that we talked, I really get the impression that she not only knows what she’s doing, but she can do what the town expects, and even more.”
Chariho Polling Residents on School Building Options
Chariho Polling Residents on School Building Options
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 6th 2023
WOOD RIVER JCT. – Richmond residents, along with residents of Charlestown and Hopkinton, are being asked to fill out surveys indicating their priorities for capital improvements to the four elementary schools in the Chariho Regional School District.
The survey asks respondents which of three options they would prefer:
1: Keeping all four elementary schools, Richmond, Charlestown, Hope Valley and Ashaway, and doing only the necessary maintenance to keep the buildings “warm, safe and dry.”
2: A capital plan that will ensure that schools are equipped for 21st Century learning, which is described in the survey as “… an educational infrastructure that responds to the economical, technological and community shifts that are happening.” This plan would include significant infrastructure upgrades.
3. A consolidation plan, involving the construction of one new elementary school for each town.
There is also a fourth space for residents to write in their own preference, if it is not among the three options.
Why do the elementary schools need upgrades?
The four elementary school buildings are old and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.
Richmond and Hope Valley Elementary Schools were built 88 years ago. Charlestown Elementary is 73 years old and Ashaway Elementary is 56.
One of the most significant developments in education is the extensive use of technology. School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti provided an example of one of the infrastructure issues: a lack of electrical outlets. That may not have been a problem back in the 1950s or ‘60s, but the district now issues a laptop to every student from Kindergarten to Grade 12, in the 1:1 program.
“There are two outlets per classroom in Richmond,” she said. What do you do with two outlets? I don’t have a room in my house that has two outlets. So, they have their smart board plugged into one outlet, well, now they’re all on the 1:1. Some classes are still 2:1, but in the 1:1 initiative, God forbid a kid forgets to plug his laptop in. Now he’s sitting on the floor, next to the outlet.”
The capital improvement plans
State law requires all school districts to submit capital improvement plans. Chariho’s annual plan, submitted on June 30, focuses on maintenance, health and safety.
A five-year capital plan is also required under state law.
“We have two things going on,” Chariho Finance Director Ned Draper said. “We have an annual capital budget, which is part of our routine budget process. We do that each year. And then, we also have a draft five-year capital plan, which is really the focus of the survey, which is finding out from the community, how do we want that five-year capital plan to look.”
Public input sought
In addition to the survey, which is available on the Chariho website, residents were invited to tour each elementary school at walk-throughs that took place during the month of June.
“It was eye-opening, I hope, to all the participants just how old our buildings are, and what an exceptional job our maintenance staff has done in keeping up with cleaning and maintain the buildings,” Giusti said. “But, at a certain point, there’s nothing that can be done. They’re just old.”
The four school tours were poorly attended, however, and additional tours may be offered in the fall.
“It was disappointing to me how few people came to the walk-throughs, because I think it was an excellent opportunity for people to really see,” Giusti said.
Newer and Fewer
In 2021, the School Committee approved a plan that would have replaced all four elementary schools with a single, large school. Residents, who were also surveyed at that time, opposed the idea of one large school, preferring small neighborhood schools. Opponents of a single large school dubbed it the “factory in the field,” and the consolidation proposal went nowhere.
But as it did in 2021, the Rhode Island Department of Education, (RIDE) still favors the “newer and fewer” approach to school buildings, offering higher financial incentives for consolidation.
Draper explained that additional state funds, or bonuses, are allocated to projects that align with RIDE’s priorities.
“The bonuses depend on which path you take,” he said. “So, for instance, newer and fewer is a bonus option, there’s safety and health as well as security. Those are different bonus areas, but you need to choose your path. So, if your path is newer and fewer, which, as you know, was an issue that the community seemed uncomfortable with, you may not want that. If the community says ‘we don’t want that,’ then that bonus wouldn’t be something we’d be eligible for anyway.”
After discussing five-year capital improvement options and state funding opportunities at the April 25 meeting, members of the School Committee agreed that the district should consider several options and involve the community in the process.
Giusti promised that this time, the committee would listen to residents.
“I hope that the community understands that we have to do something here, and we want to partner with the community in a better way than we did before, to really get an idea what the community wants their schools to look like,” she said. “We’re really just at the beginning of that process.”
Major school projects are expected to be a hard sell to residents. Voters in Richmond and Hopkinton rejected the proposed 2023 Chariho spending plan, not once, but twice, resulting in its defeat.
At the April School Committee meeting, Charlestown member
Craig Louzon urged the committee to ensure that public input remains a priority.
“One option is the extreme – the factory in the field,” he said. “Another option is do nothing, but at least the taxpayer, or stakeholders, should have a say… We’re not doing our job if we just kick the can down the road. We should at least let them decide.”
Board Mulls Re-Zoning for Economic Development
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 28th 2023
RICHMOND – The agenda for Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting focused on economic development possibilities, with board Vice Chair Dan Madnick leading the discussion in the absence of Chair Philip Damicis.
Members explored the feasibility of re-zoning some residential properties to encourage commercial development in the town; a medical use overlay zone for properties on Routes 138 and 3, re-zoning some parcels on Route 3 to support commercial development, and re-zoning properties on Route 2 and Heaton Orchard Road.
“This has been a discussion that planning boards had in the past and it looks like the Town Council’s been talking about it, so I just wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings on this particular idea,” Madnick said. “How do we try to facilitate, as a Planning Board, getting medical use, an urgent care or walk-in clinic. … One of the things that people really want is urgent care. … The goal of this is to hopefully work with the Town Council to try to determine how to facilitate bringing an urgent care center in, and where it should go, and how do we do that.”
As they looked at a map on a large television screen, it became apparent that there is not much property available to re-zone.
Madnick said Town Planner Shaun Lacey had suggested creating a medical use overlay zone.
(Lacey, who last week announced his resignation, did not attend the meeting.)
Member Andrea Baranyk asked where medical facilities would currently be permitted, and Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth explained that they are permitted in every zone, except residential.
Madnick said he wanted to assess several areas of town to determine whether any of them would be suitable for re-zoning.
“One of the things that the Planning Board has been looking at for years, and something that came up in the comprehensive community plan revision, was the fact that we have very limited ability to develop the town of Richmond,” he said. “There’s roughly 25,000 acres in Richmond, 40 square miles, and of that, only about half of that is developable. So, the question’s been asked, are we limiting the potential development opportunities in Richmond.”
Madnick explained that the board was considering areas that could be re-zoned, such as the Aqua Science and Fasano properties on Route 3 that were re-zoned from residential to light industrial.
“Both of these things had to do with supporting small businesses in town,” he said.
After discussing which areas might be suitable for re-zoning, members agreed to ask the Economic Development Commission to approach property owners in one residential zone to determine whether they would support a re-zoning.
“We made a motion to request to Karen to draft a memo to the EDC and talk to property owners on Route 3 if they would be open to a potential re-zone of their properties,” Madnick said.
“There’s definitely a balance that needs to be struck with where we have commercially-zoned properties that allow for that type of development. I feel that Route 3 could support that, even though there are residential properties there now.”
While Route 2 and Heaton Orchard Road were also discussed, there are concerns that commercial development would have adverse impacts on the aquifer or farmland.
“What you run into is, we have the aquifer protection overlay district, then we have the agricultural overlay district and we start running into, when you look at different areas of the town, where we don’t want to develop because hey, these are prime agricultural soils, or this is going to have a huge impact on the aquifer,” Madnick said.
One area of town that might considered for re-zoning, Madnick said, is Alton.
“At a future meeting, we’re going to put an agenda item on to talk about re-zoning parts of Alton, which is in our future land use map and our zoning map as a potential growth area.”
Roundabout Construction Begins
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 27th 2023
RICHMOND – With students at Richmond Elementary School now on summer break, construction of the long-anticipated - and debated - roundabout has begun. Crews from Cardi Corp. are preparing the site, at the intersection of Routes 138 and 112.
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation first proposed the project in 2019. The traffic-calming measure, which will slow vehicles to about 25 miles per hour, is used in many other cities and towns. The roundabout will include sidewalks and cross walks for pedestrians.
RIDOT also plans to modify Richmond Townhouse Road between Routes 138 and 112, changing the two-way road to a one-way, eastbound direction.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch said the work, at least so far, has not impacted traffic at the busy intersection.
“As of now, there don’t seem to be any impediments to travel through the intersection,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, traffic is flowing without delay.”
There has been some complaining on social media from residents who dislike roundabouts and don’t believe one is necessary in their town, but Police Chief Elwood Johnson said something needed to be done to improve safety at the most dangerous intersection in town, which, over the past decade, has been the scene of more than 100 accidents.
With school out for the summer, Johnson said this is the perfect time to start the project.
“The timing is good, because school just ended, so that corridor isn’t going to be as problematic,” he said.
Police details will be posted at the site as needed.
“There will be some delays, but we’ll try to keep them to a minimum,” Johnson said.
The project will cost $6.5 million and is expected to be completed by April, 2025. A new water line, a town project funded by a $292,660 grant from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, is being built at the same time.
Construction will be paused during the Washington County Fair, from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20.
Town Planner Resigns
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 22nd 2023
RICHMOND – Town Planner Shaun Lacey is leaving Richmond. His letter of resignation, sent on Thursday, states that his last day will be July 28.
“It is with a heavy heart that I resign as Town Planner,” the letter reads. “After careful thought, I have accepted an exciting career-advancement opportunity with the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command [NAVFAC].”
Lacey, who will be a Community Planner at the submarine base in Groton, came to Richmond from North Kingstown about four and a half years ago.
In an interview on Thursday, he said that he was excited about his new position with the United States Navy, but also sad to leave the town.
“I want to thank all the residents and all the volunteers in the business community that have supported my work and my efforts over the past four and a half years,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of them personally, and I consider many of them friends of mine, after all the years have gone by.”
Planning Board Vice Chair Dan Madnick said he and Lacey had enjoyed a productive working relationship.
“Shaun has been instrumental in working towards fulfilling the goals and actions of the town comprehensive community plan and work towards a better Richmond,” he said in an emailed statement. “I give credit to Shaun for educating me on municipal planning and understanding land use when I joined the planning board in 2019. Since then, Shaun and I have worked diligently together, along with the members of the planning board to follow the comprehensive community plan and zoning regulations. Shaun fostered an environment where developers and the planning board respectfully worked together to meet the goals of both parties.”
Town Administrator Karen Pinch, who works closely with Lacey, said she hoped that his economic development initiatives would continue to progress after he leaves.
“We have big shoes to fill with Shaun’s departure,” she wrote in an email. “He’s never been one to just be reactive to what comes into his office; he’s been very proactive in moving Richmond forward with projects and initiatives. I sincerely hope that the developers Shaun’s been working with will continue to move forward with their plans to invest in Richmond.”
A troubled town
Beneath the niceties of his departure letter and the tributes from colleagues, Lacey’s resignation comes as no surprise to those familiar with the inner workings of the town. Lacey - and other town administrators and staff - have come under pressure from some members of the Town Council, who sometimes questioned their decisions.
Town Council Vice President Richard Nassaney addressed the issue head-on.
“I am deeply saddened and utterly disgusted in the conduct of council members, [and] members of the public that have done nothing but sabotage, attack, degrade and vilify a great man, who has done nothing but embrace our community and made it better and continued to make it better. But, they had their political agenda, to do nothing but attack him and undermine everything that he has ever done, with no understanding of the consequences of what they have done,” he said.
Reached on vacation, Council President Mark Trimmer said he had learned of Lacey’s resignation on Thursday morning but had suspected, before the formal announcement, that he was preparing to leave.
“I had suspicions for some time,” he said. “You don’t line up a job like he just lined up in a couple of weeks.”
Trimmer said he believed that Lacey had done good work for Richmond.
“I truly feel that he was guiding the town in the right direction,” he said. “I feel that his professionalism and expertise were very valuable for the town.”
Lacey’s departure comes at a time when the town is trying, (as it has for more than a decade) to attract commercial investment while preserving its rural qualities. The ongoing acrimony between council members is making it more difficult to achieve that elusive balance.
“I truly counted on his knowledge and expertise,” Trimmer said. “I understand that there were other pressures. Unfortunately, it’s very, very difficult to find someone with his level of expertise.”
With a divided, bickering council, some of whose members have made town staff uncomfortable, it could be challenging to find a qualified planner to replace Lacey.
Nassaney said he felt that the town was regressing to the chaotic days before former council President Henry Oppenheimer took over.
“What they have done is more damage,” Nassaney said. “They brought us back to the pre-Henry Oppenheimer era, when this town was regarded as something you just stay away from,” he said.
The conclusion of Lacey’s letter makes an oblique reference to the Town Council:
“Finally, I wish to offer some strong suggestions to the current and future elected leadership of Richmond [in no particular order]:” he wrote. “1) listen to and trust your experts; 2) be civil and respectful to one another; 3) place the needs of the many above the needs of the few; and 4) to quote the late Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans.”
The council will discuss the resignation and the search for a new planner at the July 18 meeting.
“Dated Today, June 22, 2023, Shaun Lacey’s letter follows:
Dear Town Council and Richmond residents,
It is with a heavy heart that I resign as Town Planner. After careful thought, I have accepted an exciting career-advancement opportunity with the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC). My last day working in Richmond will be Friday, July 28.
Please know that I worked tirelessly to meet the needs of this community amidst evolving environmental, economic, and political pressures. To that end, I was fortunate to work with some wonderful staff, town officials, and many, many volunteers to achieve the town’s goals and uphold its values.
I am optimistic about new projects on the horizon that will likely shape the future of the community. The advent of these projects are based upon a land use strategy that encourages development along the town’s growth center (Route 138 from Town Hall to Route 3), predicated on favorable economic cycles and local regulations designed to capitalize on market demands. After years of careful planning, I’m pleased to see those efforts beginning to yield results.
It is very important to strike the right balance between new housing and commercial opportunities and protecting areas undesirable for development in order to retain the town’s agricultural and rural identity. To support growth where it belongs, I strongly recommend that town leadership closely study its existing infrastructure weighed against future needs, and make the necessary long-term investments to support private enterprise. Some examples include creating a long-term public water management plan (in partnership with the Town of Hopkinton) and a Complete Streets program for Main Street with support from RIDOT. I also encourage the town to conduct a sewer feasibility study in Wyoming to identify the cost and process for permitting, design, and construction, and to understand the potential return on that investment.
I wish to thank the residents and the business community who supported my efforts over the past few years, many of whom I now consider friends. I’d like to extend special thanks to the current and former members of the Planning Board, Land Trust, Conservation Commission, Dog Park Committee, and Affordable Housing Committee for their enthusiasm and civic engagement. I also implore the public to be engaged and educated on all matters pertaining to land use, municipal economics, and capital improvements.
Finally, I wish to offer some strong suggestions to the current and future elected leadership of Richmond (in no particular order): 1) listen to and trust your experts; 2) be civil and respectful to one another; 3) place the needs of the many above the needs of the few; and 4) to quote the late Daniel Burnham, “make no little plans.”
Shaun Lacey, AICP
Town of Richmond
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for Tuesday June 20, 2023
Preserve Tax Breaks Bill, Aquifer Protection Dominate Council Meeting
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 21st 2023
RICHMOND – The saga of the failed enabling tax legislation continued at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting with state Rep. Megan Cotter, D-Richmond, asking why the town had not informed her of the proposed bill since as Representative, she would be required to present it.
And later in the meeting, more than a year of work came close to going down the drain when council members Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan opposed a motion to hold a public hearing on proposed amendments to the town’s aquifer protection ordinance.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney chaired the meeting in the absence of council President Mark Trimmer, who was out of town.
Tax Stabilization for The Preserve
At the June 6 Town Council meeting, four members supported a resolution asking the General Assembly to approve enabling legislation that would make it possible for the town to sign a tax stabilization agreement with The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences. Councilor Samantha Wilcox was the only member to vote against the resolution.
Drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, the proposed bill was hand delivered to the State House shortly before the end of the legislative session, not by Megan Cotter, or a council member, but by a representative of The Preserve.
House bill H 6509 and Senate bill, S 1132 would have authorized the town to enter into tax exemption or stabilization agreements with owners of properties located in mixed - use commercial and residential developments.
The House bill states that the property must meet the following criteria:
* “Has a total assessed value of not less than ten million [$10,000,000] on the date on which the partial exemption or stabilization will take effect
* and is used for or available for use as short-term rental property for no fewer than twenty-six  weeks in each calendar year
* and an agreement to exempt or stabilize taxes on any one lot or on contiguous lots under the authority of this section shall be enacted in the form of a resolution.”
From its contents, to the discussion at the June 6 council meeting, to the manner in which it was delivered to the House of Representatives, the proposed legislation reeked of a last-minute attempt to give tax breaks to The Preserve.
Adding to the bad optics was the timing of the initiative, which closely followed the rejection of the town’s proposed 2023-24 budget and pleas from tearful homeowners to lower property taxes. In addition, the council had earlier declined to increase property tax exemptions for seniors.
In a statement that raised eyebrows, Preserve owner and developer Paul Mihailides told the council at the June 6 meeting that property taxes were too high, saying,
“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items.”
Despite assurances that the bill would stimulate economic development throughout the town, the enabling legislation appeared to have been written specifically for The Preserve, since no other properties in the town would meet the criteria.
Cotter pulls the bill
Citing her discomfort with many aspects of the bill, including its last-minute submission without her knowledge, Cotter said she had no choice but to pull it.
“I went to the State House and there was a piece of legislation on my desk that was ready to be submitted, and The Preserve had dropped it off at the State House,” she said. “I had no idea what it was, what was going on. It was drafted before I even got an email from the town, which is just – I mean, it’s not how things are done at all.”
Cotter said no one from the Town Council, or the Preserve, attended the hearing before the House Municipal Government and Housing committee, leaving her to answer questions about a bill she knew nothing about.
“The questions that the committee had asked…I didn’t have any answers for them,” she said. “I didn’t know why they’re giving this giant discount to people who are in short term rentals. I had no information whatsoever. It was disrespectful - to the process, to me, to the entire General Assembly to just rush legislation like that and not give any answers as to why.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Colasante stated that both he and Sheehan had attempted, without success, to telephone Cotter.
“They called me the day the bill was up for a vote on the floor,” Cotter said. “They did not call me prior to that. They should have called me when the legislation was put in. Mark Trimmer should have called me. He is the Town Council President. He did not. Mark Trimmer also called me the day the bill was being heard on the floor. … To say they reached out to try to work with me is completely disingenuous.”
Trimmer, reached while he was out of town, said the proposed legislation had not been adequately explained.
“There were time constraints because of the end of the legislative session,” he wrote in a text message. “I personally didn’t do a good job of explaining how this legislation would benefit our town.”
Sheehan has also promoted the legislation as encouraging further commercial development in the town and reducing the tax burden on residents. She argued that Wilcox and Cotter had misunderstood the purpose of the bill, which would have brought in an additional $100,000 a year in tax revenue.
But Cotter said the bill would have had the opposite effect.
“As much as this Town Council says that the average Richmond taxpayer, homeowner, is not going to see an increase, the money has to come from somewhere and it’s going to come from taxpayers,” she said. “And when you have senior citizens that were not able to get a tax stabilization increase this year, who are struggling to get by day to day with inflation being what it is, it’s just not right.”
Nassaney said Wednesday that he now regrets his earlier vote supporting the resolution.
“I thought it was going to be a simple ask to the legislature, with no specifics of any deals or any kind of detail of any project or any building or predetermined specific projects,” he said.
Nassaney did not see a draft of the enabling legislation.
“I never saw the final draft. I don’t think anyone else did,” he said.
During the public forum, several residents criticized the resolution. Town moderator Mark Reynolds reminded the council that two council members, Trimmer and Colasante, had received $3,000 each in campaign contributions from people connected with The Preserve.
Board of Tax Assessment Review member Jeffrey Noble said The Preserve had presented 47 appeals at the June 14 meeting.
“In their complaints, The Preserve residential units thought that instead of being taxed closer to the sale price of $1,000 per square foot, that the $410 per square foot that the assessors set the units at was too much,” he said. “They felt the value of the units was closer to $220 per square foot. Because of where they would want to be, the town would look at losing, per unit, revenue, the total would be about $150,000 if we went with The Preserve’s valuation.”
Reynolds told the council that before the town considers any tax breaks, the entity receiving the break should be current on its taxes.
“One other protection that I would encourage you to include, particularly with respect to The Preserve is, there’s a provision that they have to be up to date on their taxes,” he said. “But they also should be up to date on all the other fees that they owe the town. It’s my understanding that The Preserve owes the town almost $200,000 in affordable housing waiver fees that they were granted, so they wouldn’t have to build affordable housing in there.”
A close call for the APOD
After more than a year of deliberation, the Planning Board has proposed zoning amendments to the Aquifer Protection Overlay District, or APOD.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey asked the council to schedule a public hearing to consider the proposed changes, but Colasante and Sheehan voted against the hearing.
Lacey appeared surprised.
“If we’re not going to proceed with the public hearing, we are effectively shelving these amendments from further review,” he said.
Wilcox and Nassaney reminded the two councilors that the purpose of the hearing was to allow the public to weigh in on the proposed changes, not to approve the amendments themselves.
Colasante said his mind was made up.
“We already voted on this, so I’ll move it. The discussion’s over,” he said.
Lacey and Ellsworth said landowners were waiting for the new regulations so they could proceed with their development applications.
“This is something that the Planning Board has been working on for more than a year…and property owners in town are eagerly awaiting the enactment of these ordinance amendments, because it’s going to make it easier for them to develop,” Ellsworth said. “It would be really helpful if you could explain to us why you don’t want to go forward with the ordinance.”
Holding a map of the aquifer protection overlay district, Sheehan said,
“I had this map printed for myself, in color, and I’m worried that there are so many places that I’m afraid that there will be no development in the areas that are supposed to be development allowed, and in addition to that, those who do try to do a development, they’ll be priced out of the market because the requirements seem to be excessive in some areas.”
Ellsworth said landowners supported the amendments, but Colasante disagreed.
“I talked to large landowners and they’re not for this,” he said. “…The best use of an aquifer is to stifle or slow economic development in those areas where they claim to want to protect their water. The Internet is a beautiful thing. You can just Google that.”
In a final attempt to clarify the amendments, Ellsworth explained that they would actually be less restrictive to developers than the ordinance is now.
“This is not a new ordinance,” she said. “We already have an aquifer protection overlay district. The one that we’re proposing is less restrictive than the one we have now. Less restrictive.”
“I’m going to change my vote then,” Sheehan said. “I’ll support a public hearing.”
With Colasante opposing, the remaining councilors, including Sheehan, voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments on July 18 at 5 p.m.
RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL MEETING UPDATE FOR JUNE 6, 2023
Council agrees on amended budget
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 7th 2023
RICHMOND – At the end of a six-hour meeting, members of the Town Council agreed on amendments that will make it possible for the town to operate on the current budget in the coming year. The proposed 2023-24 budget was defeated in a referendum on Monday.
The council also approved a request by The Preserve Sporting Club and Residences for enabling legislation that will make it possible for the developer to ask the General Assembly to consider requests for tax stabilization and partial exemptions on the property.
During the executive session that followed the regular meeting, councilors considered the possible dismissal of electrical inspector Jeffrey Vaillancourt, but voted instead to extend his probationary period and give him a second chance.
After voters rejected the proposed budget at Monday’s referendum by a margin of 371 to 290, the council was left to decide whether to hold a second referendum on an amended budget or continue to operate under the current budget.
A proposal by councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan to hold a workshop with Finance Director Laura Kenyon and members of the Finance Board was rejected by the other members.
Council President Mark Trimmer said he did not feel that another budget workshop would be useful.
“The last workshop did not bear fruit,” he said. “We did not have any actionable specifics suggested at the other workshops to cut the budget, to make changes to the budget. There was nothing offered up, absolutely nothing, other than cutting the fund balance, which is just a really, really bad idea.”
The town has fixed expenses that must be paid, the most significant of which are payments to the Chariho Regional School District, contractual obligations to unionized employees and debt repayment.
After council members debated which expenses might be reduced, with Colasante suggesting that department heads be asked to cut their budgets by 5%, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth informed them that a solution might already have been found.
“I had a discussion earlier today with the Town Administrator and the Finance Director,” she said. “They have been discussing a lot of options for managing a level-funded budget that none of you have discussed, and none of you have asked them. The charter [Home Rule Charter] says the Town Administrator prepares the revised budget. My suggestion is that you ask the Town Administrator and the Finance Director to get together and propose something to you.”
Finance Director Laura Kenyon told the council that with increases in fixed expenses, there would be a deficit of $42,765 in a level-funded budget. Kenyon then presented the cuts that would be needed.
“My suggestion is to cut one capital project, $20,000 for the Wyoming design study,” she said.
The Wyoming design study, requested by Town Planner Shaun Lacey, would have produced design alternatives for the problematic Wyoming district.
Kenyon also proposed cutting $22,500 that had been allocated to new water billing software.
That left a deficit of $275, which Kenyon said she would cover with funds from her own department.
The council approved the cuts, which will make it possible for the town to operate with the current budget.
Tax Stabilization for The Preserve
The council approved, with councilor Samantha Wilcox opposed, a resolution that will clear the way for The Preserve to ask the General Assembly to consider tax stabilization or partial tax exemptions on structures on the property.
Owner and developer Paul Mihailides asked the council to consider the contributions (which he listed) that The Preserve has made and will continue to make to the local economy.
But, he said, his project has faced challenges, including taxes.
“What we’re going ask for is just permission, to get your permission from the legislature so we can have a discussion about it,” he said. “We’re not asking for anything in specifics. I just would like to say, we’re just faced with some challenges at The Preserve and some of those challenges are just based on the way our taxes are currently being viewed.”
Mihailides noted that the taxes on the luxury vacation homes on his property were too high for many buyers.
“It’s just too much for a third or fourth vacation home, somebody that’s here a few times a year, that is here because The Preserve offers so many intangible items,” he said.
Trimmer, Wilcox and a resident all raised the issue of the recent rejection of the town budget and the tax burden that many Richmond homeowners have said is too much for them to bear,
however, four of the five council members voted in favor of the resolution with Wilcox opposed.
During the executive session, councilors discussed the town’s electrical inspector, Jeffrey Vaillancourt, who was hired two months ago.
While details of the session were not disclosed, it appears that there has been at least one complaint against Vaillancourt for his comportment with a business-owner.
When the council returned to open session, Vaillancourt apologized for his behavior.
“Everybody has their bad days,” he said. “That was one of mine.”
The Vaillancourt incident brought to mind the decision not to renew the appointment of Vice Chair Nancy Hess to the Planning Board because at least one council member believed that she had been less than cordial with an applicant. In this case, unlike Hess, Vaillancourt was forgiven.
Addressing Vaillancourt, Wilcox said,
“I fully agree with second chances. We all make mistakes, but after 35 years on the job, you should know that’s not how we treat people.”
With Wilcox voting to approve a motion to fire Vaillancourt, the remaining council members voted not to dismiss him. They did, however, extend his probation for six months, beginning on June 6.
In other business, Trimmer, Nassaney and Wilcox voted against a resolution made by Helen Sheehan and supported by Colasante, to support House Bill H6324, “An Act Relating to Criminal Offenses-Obscene and Objectionable Publications and Shows.”
Co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Azzinaro (D-Westerly) the proposed legislation would hold all libraries liable for “explicit” materials, including cartoons and comics.
One resident warned the council that the bill would expand censorship.
“It seems that this language is expanding the censorship in libraries, is that right?” she said. ”It’s not just things that are for sale, it’s bringing our public libraries into this issue.”
“Children under the age of 18 should not be exposed to pornography,” Sheehan replied.
“My thought is,” the same resident continued, “libraries are public places, so people don’t have to see this, they don’t have to be exposed to it.”
Mark Reynolds, an attorney who also serves as Town Moderator, said the proposed legislation would impose criminal penalties on librarians.
“If all this was about was adding comic books to the criminal statute on pornography, that wouldn’t be so bad,” he said. “But what this statute does is potentially impose criminal penalties against librarians by adding this language that it applies to libraries. …It’s one thing to regulate pornography in a commercial setting and impose people who are selling this material to criminal penalties, it’s another thing to subject librarians in school or public libraries to criminal penalties, and that’s one thing this bill does.”
The resolution failed, with Colasante and Sheehan supporting it and Trimmer, Wilcox and Nassaney opposed.
Stop signs and speeding
Trimmer said he believed a third stop sign was needed at the intersection of Hog House Hill and Gardiner Road. Ellsworth said she would draft an ordinance amendment for the additional stop sign.
Trimmer also proposed asking the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to improve safety on Route 138. He was informed by Police Chief Elwood Johnson that the state Traffic Commission had undertaken a study of that section of road and he would contact the commission to see whether the study had been completed.
Voters Reject Proposed Budget
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 6th 2023
RICHMOND – The proposed 2023-24 Richmond budget was rejected Monday in the town’s first-ever budget referendum.
The vote was 290 in favor and 371 opposed. Turnout was light, with 10.4% of the town’s 6,366 registered voters casting their ballots.
The proposed budget contained no property tax increase, and most departments would have been level-funded. But budget opponents, under the banner of the “Forgotten Taxpayers” political action committee, demanded more drastic cuts to provide additional tax relief.
Town Council President Mark Trimmer said he believed that switching from the annual Financial Town Meeting to an all-day referendum had contributed to the defeat.
“I think it was a big mistake for the Charter Review [commission] to put the budget up for a vote,” he said. “…I think they should have just kept it as a town meeting. We are a town. This isn’t Cranston.”
Trimmer also noted that budget opponents had not made any specific recommendations for cuts.
“It was really, really irresponsible to vote the budget down without any suggestions for cuts or any suggestions for modifications,” he said. “We have so much that’s in the budget structurally that you can’t cut and you can’t alter. There’s only probably, about 20% of the budget that you could actually do anything with at all. Our school [Chariho] payment is going to be due in just a month or two, and we found out yesterday [Monday] that Governor McKee cut school aid to Richmond and cut school aid to Newport, and so, we’re going to have to go to the voters to make up the difference.”
Legislators have not yet approved the 2023-24 state budget, but the spending plan does propose a reduction of $195,450 in transportation aid to Richmond.
Trimmer described members of the budget opponents’ group as aggressively attempting to persuade people to vote against the spending plan. A letter was sent to residents three days before the vote, urging them to reject the budget and Trimmer said opponents were also observed approaching voters in the parking lot of the Town Hall, which was the only polling place.
“They were so organized, and they were very aggressive with people in the parking lot,” he said. “I know an older woman who goes to my church who said the second she opened her door, they were on her, telling her to vote ‘no,’ and so, she asked them, ‘but it’s a zero tax increase. Why are you against the budget?’ And they told her there was all kinds of waste in it, and she says ‘well, where would you cut first?’ And they couldn’t tell her.”
The town’s Home Rule Charter lays out two options after a budget is defeated: the town can amend the budget and hold a second referendum, or it can operate under the current budget.
Trimmer said he did not think there would be a second referendum.
“Most likely, we’re not going to put it up for a second vote,” he said. “Most likely, we’re going to stick with last year’s budget and make some ARPA [federal American Rescue Plan Act] fund reallocations to make up for the loss.”
A consequence of continuing to operate under the current budget would be the restoration of the fund balance, or surplus, to its current 16.2%. In an effort to help taxpayers, the council had reduced the fund balance to 15%, shaving $250,000 off the proposed budget.
“The drop in the fund balance, I suggested it because I thought it was a compromise,” Trimmer said.
With the fund balance back at 16.2%, property taxes would return to what they were before the council reduced the surplus to 15%.
Asked about the possibility of across-the-board budget cuts, Trimmer said it would be impossible to cut the police or public works departments.
“They’re making suggestions about cutting in the police department and the DPW. That’s insane,” he said. “The police department is minimally staffed, and our roads are in shambles.”
The Town Council will grapple with the fallout of the referendum at tonight’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. and will be available on Zoom.
Voters reject budget
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 5th 2023
RICHMOND – The proposed 2023-24 budget has been soundly defeated.
In the town’s first budget referendum on Monday, voters rejected the spending plan by a wide margin of 371 opposed to 290 in favor.
We will have the full story tomorrow, on this page.
From the RICHMOND, RI TOWN GOVERNMENT PAGE
A reminder that the Town's ANNUAL BUDGET REFERENDUM is ongoing TODAY between the hours of 8am and 8pm. All polling will take place at the TOWN HALL.
On Monday, June 5th Richmond taxpayers will be asked to vote on the fiscal year 2024 municipal budget. The budget presented is based on many months of work, beginning with staff in December, the Finance Board spending many nights combing through it throughout the winter months, with the Town Council holding budget workshops, and finally two advertised public hearings held in April and May. The Town Council listened to residents, and a majority voted to send the budget to the voters with no increase in tax revenue over FY-23. WITH THE RECENT REVALUATION, MOST RESIDENTS WILL SEE LITTLE OR NO CHANGE IN THEIR TAX BILLS.
THE CHARIHO SCHOOL BUDGET IS ALREADY SET. THIS VOTE IS FOR THE MUNICIPAL PORTION OF THE BUDGET.
The Town runs a very lean budget. This year's increases are completely offset by revenues and a small use of fund balance. Municipal funds are used to pay for services such as paving and road patching, and essential items such as police equipment. It also pays the salaries of a town staff that is only moderately paid, but that is second to none.
This year there has been concern over the high tax burden to residents. Unfortunately, Richmond has very little commercial development to offset residential taxes. All of this was taken into account at the time the budget was prepared. To vote the budget down, in accordance with the Charter provision, the result would be a decrease of only around $43,000. This decrease would affect only the municipal portion of the budget; Chariho would still get what was allocated to them in the school budget referendum on April 4th.
Please support your Town Council and the staff by voting YES on Monday.
All polling will take place at the Richmond Town Hall between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm.
Town budget faces 11th hour chaos
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 2nd 2023
RICHMOND – With the budget referendum just three days away, a letter has been mailed to residents urging them to defeat the proposed spending plan.
Signed by Chariho School Committee member and Republican political operative, Clay Johnson, the letter was written on behalf of the “Forgotten Taxpayers” political action committee.
The mailing, days before the vote, is a familiar strategy, employed most recently last spring, in an unsuccessful bid to defeat the Chariho schools budget.
The letter urges residents to reject the budget at the June 5 referendum, the town’s first – ever budget referendum, which has replaced the Financial Town Meeting.
Johnson’s letter invites residents to join and donate to the Forgotten Taxpayers PAC. It also invites taxpayers to attend a strategy meeting on June 7, and to contact Town Council President Mark Trimmer to voice their concerns.
“Mark is the swing vote on the budget, respectfully ask him to TRIM the budget,” the letter reads.
Johnson’s letter praises the residents who spoke at council meetings against the budget.
“I watched several brave citizens speak at a recent town council meeting,” it states. “They told their stories, tears included, about the impact of poor town spending decisions. One taxpayer pleaded with the Town Council for tax relief. Councilors Sheehan and Colasante heard that plea.”
Trimmer responded to Johnson’s letter with a written statement, urging residents to vote for the budget.
The statement reads:
“Hello Richmond residents!
We have a ballot on Monday to APPROVE the Town Budget. The Town Budget as presented is a very frugal and responsible budget that will keep our town fiscally stable in a sea of instability, with no tax increases.
There is a group in town working to reject this responsible Town Budget and inject chaos where there was none.
As Town Council President and a taxpayer, I implore you to please vote on Monday and say YES to APPROVE our Town Budget and to make a statement that we embrace fiscal responsibility and reject chaos and negative politics!”
Some budget background
The proposed 2023-24 budget is $29.4 million, an increase of just under 5%.
The spending plan, which contains no property tax increase, was approved by the Town Council on May 2, during the second of two budget hearings.
Voting in favor of the budget were Trimmer, Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox.
Councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante were opposed and demanded further reductions. The two council members pushed for additional cuts to the fund balance, which had already been reduced at the first budget workshop from 16% to 15%. That reduction trimmed $250,000 from the budget, but Finance Director Laura Kenyon warned that the funds would have to be repaid next year.
Colasante and Sheehan argued that taxpayers deserved additional relief with Colasante demanding that the fund balance be reduced as low as 10%, however, they were out-voted.
Trimmer said the new budget contained many existing financial obligations.
“I want to emphasize that the Finance Director is dealing with institutional debt,” he said. “It’s not like we started fresh. We had debt that goes back quite some time and we have expenses and commitments that go back quite some time, go back over two different finance directors and a half a dozen councils, and it's not like you can just wave a magic wand. It’s not Monopoly money. This is people’s lives, people’s jobs and it needs to be done seriously and judiciously and not recklessly to create chaos.”
What happens if voters reject the budget?
After attending an emergency meeting at the Town Hall on Friday morning to discuss the opposition to the budget and the consequences of its possible defeat, Trimmer said his biggest concern was that budget supporters would not take the trouble to vote but that budget opponents would, leading to a defeat.
“People are more concerned about playing a round of golf or going to the beach, what tanning oil they’re going to use, or whatever,” he said. “They’re not worried about a town’s budget. They figure somebody else will vote, but they don’t realize that in this case, if someone else votes, they’re going to vote ‘no,’ and we’re going to have chaos.
If the budget is defeated, Article 5 of the Home Rule Charter states that town can hold a second referendum on an amended budget.
If the town does not schedule a second referendum or, if the budget is defeated in a second referendum, the town will operate under the current budget and continue its payments to the Chariho School District.
The budget referendum is on Monday, June 5. Voters can cast their ballots at the Richmond Town Hall from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Super Dog Adoption Day Returns to Fairground
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
June 1st 2023
RICHMOND – Always Adopt returns to the Washington County fairground this Saturday, June 3, with hundreds of dogs and puppies looking for their forever homes.
This will be the second year that the spring Super Dog Adoption Day will take place in Richmond. A second adoption event is scheduled for November.
Always Adopt founder Louise Nicolosi, of Charlestown, said the fairground is the ideal venue, because there is plenty of space for people to meet the dogs.
“People can have space to look at a dog, to take a dog to one side and just sit under a tree in the shade and get to know the dog,” she said. “There’s a lot more room and space.”
Nicolosi brought her adoption event to the fairground for the first time last year.
“We used to go up to Balise Toyota in Warwick, but after COVID, I was able to secure the fairground,” she said.
COVID prevented Nicolosi’s group from holding adoption events in 2020 and 2021, but adoptions continued nonetheless, with adopters contacting rescue groups directly.
People interested in adopting a dog are encouraged to visit the Always Adopt website and pre-register online. There, they can fill out the paperwork and receive a “golden ticket,” which entitles them to enter the adoption event two hours before the general opening.
“They go straight to that page and they can click on a form for early entry,” Nicolosi said. “The event is 12 till 4, but if they fill out that form, they get in at 10 o’clock, and they get the pick of the pups… Once you’ve filled out the form, you click ‘submit,’ and we email you. It’s a golden ticket which says your name on it, it’s done on a template.”
Saturday’s adoption event will have about 300 dogs and puppies from 13 rescue groups and shelters. All the rescue groups are registered in Rhode Island. An album with photos and descriptions of all the dogs is on the website.
“If they’re going to adopt a dog, they will need to bring their dog, because there’ll be a special area for them to do a meet and greet with their hopeful new dog, but they will need to bring someone else with them because they can’t take that dog into the arena [dog adoption area],” Nicolosi said. “On the early sign-up, it’s got an application that you fill out when you sign up and it tells you what to bring. And the important things to bring are your vet records, your references, your landlord’s permission and your lease. So, all those things are on the website.”
Nicolosi started Super Dog Adoption Day in 2013, after watching a documentary about the fate of unwanted dogs. Since then, more than 6,500 dogs have found homes.
“It never gets old,” she said. “I always say to people, ‘just imagine, when you got your own dog, how much joy you felt and then multiply that by 300.’ It’s absolutely palpable, and that’s what everyone talks about when they come and they see everyone going home with their dog.”
Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for May 23, 2023
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.
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.