Update from Steve Stycos on Schools, Zoning Issues

From School Committee member Steve Stycos:

MEMORIES OF ED DIPRETE

The Pawtuxet River needs your help. Stop & Shop wants to build a store on the Warwick Nurseries property on Warwick Avenue in Cranston and is trying a back door maneuver to avoid zoning laws. The current zoning code would not allow a large grocery store on the site, so Councilman Richard Santamaria (Ward 5) is proposing to change the definition of the zone to help Stop & Shop.

This maneuver avoids a variance hearing that would require notification of neighbors and a careful examination of the construction plan. Friends of the Pawtuxet is opposed to the Stop & Shop proposal because 1) Our experience with Shaw’s is that supermarkets should not be put next to rivers because plastic bags and newspaper flyers blow into the river, 2) We are developing a trail along the river that could be blocked by Stop & Shop, 3) We are concerned about runoff from a big parking lot into the river, 4) Santamaria’s proposal avoids the usual city zoning procedures. No specific plan for the site has been presented. 5) Nothing has been done to address the neighbors concerns.

If you oppose Santamaria’s move, please call members of the Cranston City Council and attend the Cranston City Council meeting Monday January 26 at 7 PM in Cranston City Hall.

CRANSTON SCHOOL BUDGET CUTS

Cranston School Superintendent Richard Scherza proposed a budget for the next school year, indicating major cuts were required to balance the budget under state law.

Starting July 1, 2009, Scherza’s proposal calls for elimination of the EPIC program, middle school sports, the elementary strings program, Cranston East boys hockey and girls cross country teams, the summer reading program for primary grade students, five technical assistants at the vocational school, an elementary guidance counselor and a social worker.

He also proposes a twenty percent cut in supplies. Major increases are projected for employee step increases and health insurance. Overall, Scherza proposes a budget increase of less than one percent, but because he projects a three percent cut in state aid, a four million increase from the city is required. Mayor Allan Fung, according to School Committee chairman Michael Traficante, has already said he will not be providing $4 million for the schools.

The school committee will now question and amend the budget before it is sent to the mayor and city council. The school committee will hold hearings, with opportunities for public comment, on Wednesday January 28 and Monday February 2 at Western Hills Middle School at 7 PM. We are scheduled to amend and adopt a budget February 9.

Prior the Scherza’s presentation the school committee approved a new custodial contract which calls for an increase in the employee share of health insurance costs from three percent to ten percent immediately, a two year wage freeze with a three percent increase in 2010-11, elimination of health insurance buy back, twelve percent employee share of health insurance costs for new hires starting in 2010-11, recall of laid off custodians and a no-layoff clause.

This contract is a good step forward. The custodians are now paying twice as much for health insurance as teachers (administrators pay 20 percent.). The teachers and other unions have not been willing to agree to similar agreements. Given the sinking economy, the school committee may not be willing to offer similar deals.

SNOW DAYS

Last night I asked the Superintendent Richard Scherza about the cancellation of school last Thursday and Friday. He said the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency strongly advised school departments to cancel school due to expected wind chill. He was particularly concerned about exposure for low income children who often come to school with only a hooded sweatshirt for protection and children who stand out at bus stops. With hindsight, he agrees school should not have been canceled, but when there is a possible harmful situation, he would rather avoid possible harm to a child and extend school one day in June.

I know snow days are extremely disruptive to working parents, but I am not going to second guess him. We have much more serious education issues to tackle.

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25 responses

  1. A Super Stop and Shop would look much nicer there than that dump of a nursery with an old Mercedes for sale, parked out front for about 2 years.

  2. Ghost of Christmas Future

    Et tu Santamaria………………

  3. Has Councilman Livingston commented on Santamaria’s proposed ordinance since its in his Ward?

  4. Rachel,
    At last Thursday night’s meeting Councilperson Livingston
    stated he was against the ordinance. According to a few of the abutters present, this was his first public comment on the issue.
    Ghost,
    You seem to have something sticking out of your back, let he help you remove it…good God, it’s a huge knife,
    it looks to have been stuck in your back for some time now–since the Ides of March 2007?

  5. Noted Skeptic, A not-so-super Stop and Shop would make a dangerous part of Warwick Avenue even more treacherous; try crossing the street at that point! In addition, there are many abandoned and/or underused asphalt wastelands already extant nearby that S&S could reuse rather than paving over more of the riverbank and dumping more trash and road runoff into the Pawtuxet and the Bay. Visit the Shaw’s parking lot after a heavy rain (or Lake Shaw’s, as we call it) and just imagine all the stuff that washes into the watershed from there and then compound it by adding a whole bunch more pollutants from the proposed S&S. Why should the river suffer because one grocer giant wants to go head-to-head with another one?

  6. This ordinance was first introduced in September or October and was amended by, guess who, Churchill & Banks, the same company who wanted to build a big box store on Mulligan’s land.

    Councilwoman McFarland and Councilman Barone were the only council people who spoke out about this ordinance because it would have taken away the requirement to notify abutting neighbors of the proposed project.

    Just imagine if this was in effect when they wanted to build the BJ’s. This is not a new thing, it has been in the hopper for months but nobody listened to McFarland and Barone.

  7. talking about the encroachment game. big business at the sake of neghborhoods…… Like “Poltergiest”, they’re back in Forest Hills… see my me e-mail below which was sent this morning to the my neighbors. I will never understand politics in this city. People complain, but the same policians keep getting elected. Must be apathy…..

    *******************************************************
    Ed/Rick/Cindy/Mark,

    Emilio advises that a meeting has been arranged with Dean Holt, the new CEO of Domestic Bank at 5:30 on January 29, 2009 to discuss the continued problems forced upon us by this spiteful company. I’m sure you will hear directly from Emilio confirming this meeting. Also, I would urge everyone to attend in a show of solidarity.

    I’ve attached pictures from today. Note Mrs. McGhee’s daughter trying to get out of her driveway. I watched her as it took several minutes to maneuver her compact car out onto the street without hitting the bank visitors blocking her in. I’m not so lucky. I drive a Mercury Marquis and had to crash through a frozen snow bank to get out.
    Also note the picture of the parking lot. Once again, it’s nearly empty.

    The bank is creating serious safety issues.What else would we expect from a company that has been sighted on multiple occasions by federal regulators for unfair and deceptive lending practices. If you really want a laugh, visit their website;

    http://www.domesticbank.com/en/news.html

    They talk about how they have set aside $1 million dollars to help educate individuals about prudent borrowing. As we know, they were ordered by their regulators to pay that amount. They’re not being good corporate citizens. They’re being punished.

    We told the city council well over a year ago that this would happen. We told the city council that resident only parking was the only viable solution to the problems this bank has forced upon us for so many decades.

    Let’s hope something good comes out of this meeting, although history would cause us to think differently. Let’s hope our officials see the light if the meeting results in nothing but lip service and that they do the right thing for the residents of Forest Hills.

  8. Just a word in defense of Scherza for closing school last Thur & Fri. Yes, in hindsight, it was a mistake. But decisions aren’t made in hindsight. They’re made blind.

    It seems that Scherza’s primary criterion for closing was the safety and well-being of the kids. That seems like it should be the primary criterion.

    One can probably nit-pick this, but keep that overarching principle in mind when sitting judgment.

    And, I agree with Ms Skeptic: there are too many abandoned asphalt wastelands around. The big grocery chains think nothing of building a new store, even in close proximity to existing stores, and then abandoning the new store when it’s not profitable enough. And I know from experience that the run-off from a large expanse of asphalt is a serious pollution problem.

    Must we degrade our environment in the name of ‘progress’?

  9. Jesse from Cranston

    First, I’m against unilateral (and non-public) revision of zoning regs to suit big-box retail outlets. Make it public, make it transparent.

    (That IS what we’re talking about, right? Not rehashing old grudges against banks?)

    Second, as far as the schools closing, I think it’s far past time to consider complete revision of the school calendar — two months on, one month off (roughly) is my suggestion. Dec. 20 to Jan. 20 would be Winter Break, April 1 to May 1 would be Spring Vacation, etc.

    That way, there would be no “loss” of school days during the height of snow season, and students would start the fall better prepared. Plus, maybe, finally, we would lose this whole attack line on teachers that they “only work 180 days a year” — which, I should add, I detest, since it completely ignores the work that teachers do in that 180 days. We’d also be getting better use out of the school buildings, save parents the costs of summer camps, etc.

  10. Jesse,
    Where have you been? Hope all is well. I could not agree more with your first point, anything short of transparency smacks of shady.
    As far as the Scherza’s decision to cancel school last Thursday and Friday, an error on the side of caution when the decision involves the safety of children is the right call.
    While my pet project, the implimentaion of a residency requirement for city department heads, which you have summarily dismissed as too difficult to impliment,could
    limit the “talent” that the city could bring aboard and require a grandfather clause to keep current department heads in place. I feel that your 2 months on 1 month off
    school calendar, while interesting, involves literally thousands of moving parts (kids, parents, care-givers, teachers, staff, bus drivers, bus monitors–oops skip that last one, etc…).Talk aa bumpy ride, talk about difficulty in implimenation. If a residency requirement for city department heads seems a bit too pie-in-the-sky, the revamping of the school calendar would be nearly impossible/implausible.

  11. I think that missing that much school in a row would be detrimental to both students and teachers because of the readjustment to being back at school and a loss in the knowledge they had gained before the break.

    I also think that the changing of definitions in any type of zoning is dangerous because if its done for one developer/project, it’ll set a precedent. If I want to open a mini-mart on my property, it’ll give me a little boost even though my neighborhood is zoned residential. (Rick, what do you think of that idea–McNally Mart?)

    Also, speaking of Domestic Bank. Interesting piece about Ciciline in today’s ProJo that involves Craig Baker and his tax “waiver”. http://www.projo.com/news/content/Cicilline_Audit_01-24-09_HED2RHS_v18.3fec501.html

  12. There’s an opportunity for Cranston to do something great with a piece of property that abuts the Pawtuxet River off of Warwick Avenue on the land currently occupied by Warwick Nurseries. Property along a river begs for usage that embraces the river. Most cities will kill for an opportunity like this to come along – to allow for a project that can benefit from the beauty of the river. Any city would be overjoyed to get place for trails, a place for riverside views, a place canoe or kayak launches, a place to listen to the gentle rushing of the water. But Cranston? Cranston’s answer is, “Let’s build a Stop & Shop there!� That’s right. A Stop & Shop.

    http://cranstonstyle.com/Planning-Development/237/zoning-for-dollars

  13. Thanks for comment that there are far better uses for our river than continuing to use it as a sewer and garbage dump. It’s taken years and a lot of effort to clean up some of the mess that we’ve made of the Pawtuxet over the last 300 years; let’s not let a few greed-heads set back our hard-earned progress.
    Call the city council members, come to the meeting tomorrow…remember the concrete plant! Don’t assume that the council will do the right thing; citizens have to show that we are watching and ready to take action before we are sold out again. Anthony Lupino: 944-9856 Mario Aceto 944-8672 Terry Livingston 785-2955 Emilio Navarro 781-9866 Paul Archetto 942-6275 Robert Pelletier 632-4411 Michelle Bergin-Andrews 942-8142, and last but not least, the Ward 5 Councilman who is behind this end run around the zoning code, Richard Santamaria 946-6709.

  14. Floating Deer Head, welcome to Kmareka:) I always enjoy your posts on Cranston Style.

    Ms. Taxpayer, I’m sure you’re going to have 9 big fans;)

  15. Economic development “is” a good thing “only” when it is placed in a strategic location. The Shaw’s that is presently there on the opposite side of the RIVER has consistently endured flooding issues. The RIVER would be subject to toxic runoff fromt he massive Parking Lot which is in such close proximity to the RIVER. Plastic bags. What kind of Impact Assessment will or Environmental Site Assessment will be completed before any consideration? We spent months planning out the next Comprehensive Plan that the City and/or State don’t seem to recognize and with the wave of a wand will deem certain projects that aren’t what the express “intent” that was permitted by the Comp Plan. For some reason they are trumped as well as zoning.

    Some have commented that those who work in supermarkets are “not the educated type”. Comments of small minded people often neglect to “understand” that there are many overqualified people in positions you wouldn’t expect (my suggestion is ignore them). Tisk tisk, “we” are not all subservant to those that enter with this mindset.

    Vacant land and/or retail space is already overflowingly abudant and we need to look at those places. The Brewery and Katie Gibbs will be up for additional business and if the City was visionary…they would market to some in Providence (i.e. law firms, cpa’s and the like) that would pay far less for parking, rent etc. and are easy on/off to the highway. THEN a supermarket would make perfect sense and could be set back from the RIVER. Hey maybe we could even sell them the idea to pitch the water runoff and have it filtered. Oh right, we don’t want to ask too much of business here. For goodness sake, we don’t even FINE businesses that don’t clear their sidewalks on Park and Reservoir and the residents (children too) walk in the busy street. Yikes – we are doomed with this philosophy!

    DOMESTIC BANK:

    This is sooooooo wrong that the residents have endured this for so long. I am so glad Cindy has been helping all along and continues. Perhaps the new Mayor’s sharpened pencil will produce better effects that the washable crayons used by the last administration. Poltergiestâ€?, they’re back in Forest Hill …I LOVED THIS!!!

  16. For anyone who wasn’t there tonight, the ordinance (amended by Councilman Lupino) passed 6-3, but the amended version will need to go before the Council at Feb.’s meeting.

    All but one speaker (Cindy Fogarty representing the Chamber of Commerce) spoke against the ordinance.

    The ProJo was there (Cox wasn’t), so the story may get some coverage again this week.

  17. Yes, it was in the ProJo this morning. It seems that the majority of the council are in favor of passing the change, so there is going to be some heavy-duty agitating necessary to “Stop the Shop”.

    Fave argument of the night: Santamaria’s claim that the garbage in the photo taken behind a Cranston S&S wasn’t “internally generated”; apparently, he is augmenting his income as trash inspector there to have that instant recognition of what is and isn’t S&S garbage.

  18. I believe it was Lupino, not Santamaria who had the trash argument. I believe it was if the business doesn’t own the development they’re located in, then they aren’t responsible for the property only internal issues in their own store.

  19. Excellent point Ms. Taxpayer. If I were the direct abutters or residents surrounding the area, I would make my case by going to the other Stop & Shop and it can be “any” Cranston Stop & Shop or other Food Retailer and show the areas that have filth and garbarge debris. This way you build your case that they can’t even control an already established place.

    I thought Ray Tomasso, Esq., the Ward 1 resident said it all “This is nothing but a blatant attempt to get something in that isn’t allowed,” he said. “The brilliance of this plan is only exceeded by its underhandedness – what DUE PROCESS and CONTROL DO WE HAVE? The change IS detrimental to the neighbors and DEPRIVES US OF DUE PROCESS”. What more is there to say???? For Santimaria, or any other Council Member to believe this is what the residents want – when they all come forward and speak AGAINST it…WHO IS THE COUNCIL representing??? We spent so much time discussing the Comprehensive Plan and stewing over the rivers and buffers etc. You would have thought after Cullion and that was a Nursury too and the designation was changed and low and behold we had an erecta set. Okay, so this won’t be the same, but they haven’t even done the assessments to see if it a viable traffic. I agree with Rachel that the State needs to be called in to look at the site. Although I believe the City does Phase I ESA and then if something is found this is when the State comes in. Not sure, anyone know?

  20. I loved the quote by Obama from the Aperion Institute speaker about what public service is and isn’t.

  21. People in Cranston are always complaining about higher taxes, yet they are always trying to block any business from locating there. We didn’t want the quarry, no to the cement plant and now no to a supermarket. We need businesses to help keep property taxes down and provide some jobs. Warwick is against airport expansion and North Kingstown is against port development at Quonset and Lincoln is against Twin River expanding. No wonder our unemployment rate is 10% and our property taxes are high.

  22. Paul,
    Question, would you want to have a quarry or concrete plant next door? No answer is necessary. A point of information…while I am sure that most of the citizens on Lyndon, Waite, and Mayflower avenues aren’t thrilled with the idea of having Stop & Shop as a neighbor, it is the way that the city is trying to achieve it goal that is most troubling. Due to the site’s c-5 designation, a supermarket(what most of us would call a “food store”)could not be built on the site. BUT those crafty sponsors of this ordinance have gotten really creative and have decided to change the definition of “food store”–which in their new language is now a store from 2,500 sq ft. to 10,000 sq. ft.(I believe that the original proposed language change stated that food stores could not exceed 2,500 sq ft.) that sells and or serves food. What were once “food stores” or supermarkets will now be called “retail and service establishments”—an area’s c-5 designation will now allow a Shaw’s or Stop & Shop to be built on the site. City Council members were given a map of our city’s c-5 zones at Monday night’s meeting, which I am sure they will go over with a fine toothed comb, heaven forbid they have to address this issue in their wards.

  23. Notwithstanding the points that Rick made, but also keep in mind PAUL, that there are many cities and towns (especially in Massachusetts) that do not allow such structures and yes they have high taxes….but not as high as ours. And we have every kind of racket here you can think of ~ so PAUL, how exactly are those cities and towns able to protect the residents and the property by not allowing such things as “MacDonald’s” and the like? How about mis-managing money, misappriations. There are far too many models to look at, but that’s work and RI is not used to too much of that. How does Scituate, Foster and other areas here do it? Sorry PAUL, we don’t agree with your thinking BUT, if I was to agree, I would stipulate that those places only move in to areas where they wouldn’t disturb the environment too much (yeah, I’m a bleeding heart environmentalist/animal lover). We have a Shaw’s that has flooding issues. I’m starting to go in the back of these Supermarkets and taking pictures if there is something to capture. Come on, let’s all partake (except poor Paul, he likes the smell of industrialism….maybe they can rezone some of the industrial parks to create a home for you there….LOL!)

  24. Here’s the kicker, there is no proposal on the table for a “food store” for that property.

    And I agree with Rick, its the process thats really the issue.

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