Town Council Meeting Update for August 23rd 2022
Council Approves RICAN Funding
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
August 23rd 2022
RICHMOND – At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, councilors approved a sizeable grant to the Rhode Island Center Assisting those in Need (RICAN).
Members also voted, at a special Town Council meeting held earlier, to leave a decision about whether to establish a municipal court to the incoming council, which will be elected in November.
In the first of three public hearings that took place during the regular meeting, the council approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance that removes references to a “Planned Unit Development Overlay District.”
The council repealed the Planned Use Development section of the ordinance back in April, because it is no longer relevant to land uses in the town.
In a second public hearing, on an amendment that would add dimensional regulations for accessory structures at two-family houses, the council voted to accept Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth’s suggestion that they defer a decision until after the Planning Board has revisited the issue.
“The [Rhode Island] legislature passed major legislation on affordable housing, specifically on accessory dwelling units, and it’s going to require some policy decisions from the Planning Board before they make a recommendation to you on amendments to different chapters of the zoning ordinance,” Ellsworth said. “So, I think all those should be considered together, not separately.”
Council members, at the third public hearing, voted to approve an amendment to a section of the zoning ordinance regulating communications towers and antennas.
Ellsworth explained that the old ordinance, passed 25 years ago, was obsolete and that she had tightened the language.
“I just took out anything that was unnecessary. … It doesn’t change the approval process in any way,” she said.
ARPA money, going fast
The town has allocated most of the $2.3 million it is receiving in COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), leaving a balance of $374,954.
Reflected in that balance is an $87,500 donation to RICAN, for for a new roof and solar panels for the organization’s headquarters in Charlestown.
RICAN Executive Director Jonathan Riley, who in July had requested a $250,000 contribution from the town to fund several large projects, said RICAN had recently received $170,000 in ARPA funds from Charlestown, but nothing, so far, from Hopkinton.
The council approved a maximum donation of $87,500, but asked Riley to solicit additional bids for the roof replacement.
Councilor Richard Nassaney made the motion, which the council approved, “to set the project cost at no more than $87,500, but if the gentleman from RICAN comes back with a bid from another roofing company that is less than $87,500, we go with that.”
A request, made by council President Nell Carpenter, to allocate $57,200 in ARPA funds over two years to the Chariho Youth Task Force, was referred to the Finance Board.
Republican Town Committee Chair Louise Dinsmore complained about the public forum segment of the council meeting taking place at the end of council meetings, when some decisions that residents might want to discuss have already been made.
“I feel that when we can’t offer comment until the end of the meeting, and something has already been decided…then we can’t offer our views and opinions,” she told the council. “I feel that you take away the voices of the people to express their opinion, so I’m going to ask you to seriously consider putting public comment at the beginning of your Town Council meetings, for the rest of this council.”
Town Moderator Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Board of Tax Assessment Review and is also a candidate for Town Council, chided council members for not having created a standardized process for reviewing ARPA funding requests.
“Establish a process, at least going forward, so they all know all of these requests are going to be heard by the Finance Board….and the council will consider them altogether, at a future meeting, because you only have a limited amount of money, and as great as all these organizations are, you might have to say ‘listen, we can’t fund you all’,” he said.
Council declines to act on municipal court
At the special Town Council meeting before the regular council meeting, Town Planner Shaun Lacey asked the council to consider an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would clear the way for the establishment of a municipal court.
Lacey explained that the municipal court would, in many, but not all cases, hear matters currently referred to Rhode Island Superior Court, which hears cases pertaining to zoning, traffic and other municipal violations.
(Both Charlestown and Hopkinton have municipal courts.)
A municipal court, Lacey said, would hear cases with fewer delays than Superior Court, and the town could choose which court would hear each case.
“The town has the ability to pick and choose depending on the circumstances, whether or not the matter is better heard on the municipal level,” he said.
With regard to costs, Lacey said hearing some cases in municipal court would be more cost effective than the current practice of sending all cases to Superior Court.
Lacey also noted in his presentation that a municipal court would also encourage “improved partnerships with residents, businesses.”
Ellsworth said she and Police Chief Elwood Johnson had previously considered the costs and benefits of a municipal court and had conclude that the number of violations is too low to justify it.
“I can’t imagine why you want to spend that money establishing a municipal court, when you could spend it on hiring another zoning enforcement officer,” she said.
Councilor Ronald Newman proposed leaving the matter for the next Town Council to consider and the council agreed to table the item.