We have a number of updates to share related to the Beaver River Valley
and town business.
GD Beaver River Solar I LLC and property owner William Stamp Jr. are appealing the denial by the Richmond Zoning Board of an application for a special-use permit to build a commercial solar array in a residential zone at 172 Beaver River Road. The facility would be constructed on a 41-acre agricultural property owned by Stamp. Filed in Washington County Superior Court on March 10 by attorney John Mancini, the appeal names as defendants the Zoning Board, its five members and Richmond Finance Director Laura Kenyon.
Owned by Green Development of Cranston, GD Beaver River Solar applied to the town for a special-use permit in 2018 and in a unanimous decision on February 22 2021, the board denied the application. The appeal asks the court to reverse the board’s decision and award the developer attorney’s fees and costs.
“The Zoning Decision was without substantial justification and a clear abuse of discretion, warranting an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Law 42-92-3, otherwise known as ‘Equal Access to Justice for Small Businesses and Individuals’,” the appeal states.
Reasons for the Zoning Board’s denial included the project’s distance from the nearest electrical substation, which is father than two miles away as required by the town’s zoning ordinance, as well as its incompatibility with both the town’s comprehensive plan and the surrounding property. The parcel is bordered to the west by Beaver River Road and to the east by the Beaver River. The river is part of the Pawcatuck River watershed, which recently received a Wild and Scenic designation from the federal government. The Beaver River Valley Agricultural District is also currently under consideration for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
At the March 16 meeting of the Richmond Town Council, the Town Council approved a resolution supporting the nomination of the Beaver River Road Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places. The unanimous vote took place without discussion or debate.
The agricultural district has already received a formal determination of eligibility for inclusion in the register from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The nomination will be made to the Department of the Interior by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. Drafted by Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, the resolution comes in advance of the April 5 meeting of the commission’s review board, which will consider the nomination.
The addition of the district to the National Register of Historic Places will not restrict the rights of property owners or impose additional guidelines for development review. The Beaver River Valley Community Association, which contracted with the Rhode Island Public Archaeology Laboratory to create the nomination papers, is working to increase awareness of the historic and cultural significance of the district which, in turn, will support the preservation and protection of the area. The resolution reads:
WHEREAS, the Beaver River Road Historic District is a unique and valuable reminder of Richmond’s agrarian past; and
WHEREAS, the district, which extends almost two miles along Beaver River Road, parallel to the Beaver River, is a visually cohesive rural landscape of historic farmsteads, stone walls, and open, cultivated fields and pastures; and
WHEREAS, as a result of federal legislation enacted in 2019, the Beaver River, one of seven rivers that comprise the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed, is a nationally-recognized Wild and Scenic River; and
WHEREAS, Richmond’s 2021 Comprehensive Community Plan recognizes the Beaver River Road Historic District as a valuable natural, historical, and cultural resource; and
WHEREAS, on April 5, 2021, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission’s Review Board will consider the Beaver River Road Historic District for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places,
THEREFORE, the Richmond Town Council strongly supports inclusion of the Beaver River Road Historic District on the National Register and urges the Review Board to approve the nomination.
In other land-use related news, the Town Council adopted the latest update of the comprehensive community plan, with councilor Lauren Cacciola casting the only dissenting vote. During a public hearing on the plan, Town Planner Shaun Lacey provided an overview of the document, which is required by state law to be updated every 10 years and will guide all land use in the town. Lacey prefaced his presentation by explaining that there are a few minor changes still to be made to the document.
“I did just wanted to bring up one point that was brought to my attention,” he said. “I’m led to understand that the council may have some concerns rehearing the final draft tonight and specifically, why the comments from the Planning Board’s public hearing last month were not incorporated into this plan at tonight’s meeting. The reason for that is that the comments that we received from last month’s meeting with the Planning Board were generally thought to be grammatical and formatting-related, so my plan for tonight was to walk the council through those recommendations during my presentation to you tonight.”
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth suggested the council first hear Lacey’s presentation and then make a decision regarding the adoption of the plan. “Why don’t you let Shaun put on the presentation that he planned to put on and then you can make a decision about whether you’d like to continue it, or vote on it tonight,” she said.
Cacciola said she had not had sufficient time to review the changes. “I do see some things that I would like to review a little bit more so I can get more information and that way, it can be completed,” she said. “If it’s not complete now, then what’s the difference of waiting, legally, I would say, because if something’s wrong and someone goes ahead and says ‘I’m just going by the comp plan’ and that’s not what you mean, then it’s not complete.”
Ellsworth responded that the plan, with or without the additional edits, was a legal document. “It’s legal either way,” she said. “What I suggested was, you listen to Shaun’s presentation and then if you’re still uncomfortable with enacting the whole thing tonight, you can continue it to another date and have him post the entire revised document on the website.”
The council opted to hear the presentation, which concluded with Lacey telling the council that the next step would be to submit the plan to the state.
“Following the ultimate adoption of the plan, whether that’s tonight or at a later meeting, we’ll go ahead and expect to share the document with the state for their review and hopefully, that will result in a notification that we have a state-certified comp plan at the end of the day.”
The council, with the exception of Cacciola, voted to adopt the comprehensive plan.
Later in the meeting the council accepted, with regret, the resignation of Town Clerk Sarah Rapose, who is leaving Richmond, having accepted a position in West Warwick. Rapose’s last day will be March 26, however, the town has already hired her replacement. Richmond resident Erin Liese, who has served as Town Clerk in West Greenwich and Jamestown was confirmed as Richmond’s new Town Clerk.
Liese is currently earning $3,200 more than the Richmond position would pay, but the council agreed to raise her salary to $68,000 in the first year and to $71,000 in fiscal year 2022. The council voted unanimously to approve Liese for the position.
In other town business, Planning Board Chair Philip Damicis presented a review of the activities of the Planning Board over the past year. Damicis also noted that he was pleased to welcome Travis Putnam, the newest member of the board, confirmed earlier during Tuesday’s meeting by a unanimous council vote. The Planning Board membership is now complete, with all positions filled. Damicis said Putnam’s background in landscape architecture would be particularly useful to the board.
“As of tonight, with your appointment of Travis Putnam, we have a landscape architect, which will be a valuable member,” he said. “You know, every development plan review we go through has some element of landscape architecture, so it’s going to be really nice to have Travis as a member of the board.”
The council voted to re-schedule the next meeting, originally scheduled for April 6, because the Chariho budget referendum is taking place on that date.
The next Town Council meeting will be held on April 20.
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Beaver River Valley Community Association