Projo has an article talking about the problems with finding funds to cover the costs of buying out Cullion to keep the concrete plant from being built. From the Projo:
CRANSTON The city’s plan to buy the land on which a company had wanted to open a concrete-batching plant is slowly moving forward, but city taxpayers might be paying a bigger share of the $1.9 million price than first thought.
It turns out that some $700,000 in federal housing money – the last financing piece that city officials announced last year as they moved to buy the site – is not going to help after all.
The reason: Much of the 17.7-acre property owned by Cullion Concrete Corp., of South Kingstown, lies in a floodplain, which presents a serious problem for anyone looking to build housing, let alone government-subsidized affordable housing, city officials said this week.
Like Emilio says, the good news is that there is “nothing going on over there.” That’s as it should be. The plan to build anything on that land, particularly an industrial site, were ill-conceived to say the least. But the cost to fix this problem could not have come at a worse time — and possibly could have been prevented all together if the Laffey administration hadn’t given permission to Cullion in the first place.
On the docket for Tuesday nightâ€™s Cranston City Council Meeting (the Council is meeting on Tuesday this month due to the Monday holiday), is an Open Space & Development/Restoration Bond Referendum Request that is co-sponsored by Council Vice-President McFarland and Councilman Navarro. Council Members McFarland and Navarro are sponsoring this resolution and hope to get approval from the Council to request the General Assembly to place this bond referendum on Novemberâ€™s ballot.
If approved, the bond would provide funding for Open Space Development and/or Restoration projects in each of the Cityâ€™s 6 Wards and would assist in accomplishing the goals that are proposed in the updated draft of the Comprehensive Plan.
At the very least, it will be interesting to learn the Council Membersâ€™ views on funding for Open Space and preserving natural resources throughout our City. The meeting is at 7pm in Council Chambers.
Last night was the first public workshop to discuss the updated draft of the 1992 Comprehensive Plan. The good news is that Director of Planning, Peter Lapolla, said that he has never been to a Comp Plan update workshop with more than 15 people; I estimated that there were at least 40 people in attendance last night. The buzz among those in attendance was that they had not seen the one article advertising the meeting in May 9â€™s ProJo but had learned about it through emails sent by SCOS, CCRZD and Friends of the Pawtuxet.
There was no agenda for the workshop, which Mr. Lapolla acknowledged at the beginning of the evening, and he plans on having a format for the subsequent workshops. Hopefully the future workshops will have a new location and format that are conducive to promoting dialogue among the attendees and Planning Department. Prior to beginning the discussion of the Housing Element, Mr. Lapolla gave some background on the State Comprehensive Plan process and the status of Cranstonâ€™s 1992 Comprehensive Plan and this update of it.
Cranstonâ€™s 1992 Comp Plan was adopted by the Planning Commission and City Council, but was rejected by the State of RI due to a conflict between the City and the State regarding the amount of control Cranston could exert over the development of the Howard Complex/State Prison land. This sparked a lengthy conversation, which Iâ€™ll try my best to summarize.
1. By 1988 State Law (RIGL 45-22.2), municipalities are required to prepare and adopt a Comprehensive Plan, which is then approved by the state if the State finds the plan is consistent with the guidelines it set
2. If, like Cranstonâ€™s 1992 Plan, the State rejects the Plan, but the municipality adopts it, then it has local force of law. (Translation: Since the City had adopted it, the plan became enforceable law in Cranston even though it was never recognized at the state level). There are no sanctions taken by the State if a municipality does not have their Comp Plan approved at the state level.
3. The State requires that Comp Plans be updated every 5 years, however the last Comp Plan approved by the City of Cranston dates to 1992. There are no sanctions taken by the State if this 5-year forecast is not followed.
4. As those involved with the Cullion land dispute are aware, the zoning in a City is supposed to be changed to become compatible with what the Comprehensive Plan calls for, but this again, has not been enforced. (That also sparked conversation about the role of the zoning board).
The goal of last nightâ€™s session was to have public discussion on the first 3 elements of the updated draft of the Comprehensive Plan: Housing, Natural Resources and Open Space/Recreation. The Housing element was discussed, although not in entirety, until the meeting was adjourned around 9:45pm. The workshops will each focus on specific elements of the Comprehensive Plan and the future Land Use Plan will be discussed lastly. THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PLAN, IN REGARDS TO PROTECTING OUR NATURAL RESOURCES AND MAINTAINING THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF CRANSTON RESIDENTS!!!!
Although the meeting was extremely long and the majority of the attendees did not remain through its entirety, residents need to continue to attend these workshops and offer feedback. The current draft also includes some feedback from workshops and surveys from 2004-2005. The final draft of the Comprehensive Plan Update will need approval from the Planning Commission and City Council, which will require public hearings. The Planning Department will be posting the updated elements of the Comprehensive Plan for all to review in the upcoming weeks, as well as feedback that they receive, I will share that link once it is sent out.
I feel that the most important thing is to find out is how much of the plan has already been decided or â€œset in stoneâ€? and how much it can be influenced not only by residents, but also by our elected officials. We need to continue to work together to protect our neighborhoods and the future of the City.
Ian Donnis does us all proud with an in-depth look at Rhode Island’s blogs:
Matt Jerzyk launched his Rhode Islandâ€™s Future blog in January 2005 because, after having worked locally in community- and union-organizing, â€œI saw first-hand how difficult it was to pene-trate the media cabal with progressive stories of hope and change.â€? After two months of writing about the then-upcoming 2006 US Senate race between Lincoln Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse, the blogâ€™s audience grew from a few dozen people to a few hundred.
More than three years later, Rhode Islandâ€™s Future is established as a must-read for political types, activists, reporters, and others â€” including the conservatives who welcome opportunities to scorn the blogâ€™s unapologetically liberal bent â€” and the site claims 67,000 unique visitors, and 250,000 page views, a month.
Jerzyk, 31, who is about to graduate from Roger Williams University Law School (disclosure: heâ€™s a friend of mine and an occasional Phoenix contributor), is now looking to sell Rhode Islandâ€™s Future, to a person or entity that, he hopes, will maintain its character and identity.
Borrowing a phrase from the title of a book by two preeminent liberal bloggers, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and Jerome Armstrong, Jerzyk takes some valedictory satisfaction in how bloggers have â€œused a new and powerful medium and â€˜crashed the gatesâ€™ to ensure that information â€” the most important ingredient in a democracy â€” would be available to anyone who wanted to write, read, or debate.â€?
Across the ideological aisle at Anchor Rising, which has emerged as Rhode Islandâ€™s leading conservative blog since it debuted in late 2004, a handful of like-minded individuals were motivated by a similar desire to provide a broader and more consequential forum for their ideas and philosophy.
In one example of how it has made an impact, Justin Katz, a 32-year-old carpenter who wields a formidable intellect as Anchor Risingâ€™s most frequent contributor, points to Providence Journal op-ed columnist Ed Achornâ€™s use of his tart description â€” â€œthe Economic Death and Dismemberment Actâ€? â€” for a budget plan, the Economic Growth and Fairness Act, put forward by some liberal Smith Hill Democrats. â€œA couple of weeks later, [Achorn] e-mailed to ask whether Iâ€™d coined it, because he found it to be an audience-pleaser in speeches,â€? says Katz, via e-mail (as the interviews with other bloggers were conducted for this story).
â€œMore generally, one gets the feeling of being part of the public debate,â€? Katz adds, such as when something written by one of Anchor Risingâ€™s contributors, about healthcare, human-service spending, step increases for teachers, or tax and migration trends, â€œprecedes a change of tack on the other side. In other words, bloggers of modest influence can still disprove talking points, and if the right people are reading, then those talking points have been successfully exploded.â€?
Seeded and inspired in part by this lefty-righty duo, the Rhode Island blogosphere has expanded and grown more sophisticated in recent years, offering a new layer of media (and of media criticism) at a time when metro dailies such as the ProJo, bedeviled by an industry-wide collapse of newspaper advertising, offer a smaller, less expansive scope of coverage than in the past.
â€œThis is such an important part of community,â€? says Kiersten Marek, a liberal social worker who blogs in Cranston. â€œWhen something concerns you in life and you put out a call, you want a response. This is, in effect, what I do on my blog. It concerned me that a concrete plant was suddenly being built in our vicinity without neighbors being informed, so I started to talk about it on my blog. A community group rose up to fight it and I joined that group. Members of that group used Kmareka to discuss news about the concrete plant, to strategize on how to deal with the problem, to publicize actions and events, and to support one anotherâ€™s efforts. You just canâ€™t get that from the newspaper or from TV. Thatâ€™s why blogs are revolutionary.â€?
Perhaps, but considering how the best-read Rhode Island blogs â€” including my own Not for Nothing â€” tend to get roughly 2000 visitors a day, does this situation speak more to the splintering of a common media with broad appeal? And can blogs truly take up some of the slack being yielded by newspapers, or do they represent a new era of limited, self-selecting audi-ences reading sources that mostly reinforce their pre-existing views and biases?
There is much more to this story, so read on.
Mayor Michael Napolitano will be holding a press conference today at 11:45 am at Cranston City Hall to announce a proposed settlement to end the Cullion concrete plant controversy that has been going on in Cranston for over a year. Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development (CCRZD) is asking its members to attend the press conference and bring their “Stop the Concrete Plant” signs. They stated in an email that they are not for or against the proposed settlement, since they were not included in the discussions.
We will provide an update after the press conference with more information about the proposed settlement.
UPDATE: The projo article provided the following details:
In October, The Providence Journal reported that the Pawtuxet River Authority & Watershed Council, a state-chartered agency that serves as steward of the river, has targeted the land as the centerpiece for a sprawling waterside park.
The concept has won broad support from the mayor, City Council and the cityâ€™s delegation to the General Assembly.
With that in mind, Napolitano said yesterday that he would press the state and federal governments for funding to cover at least a portion of the $1.9-million settlement.
Failing that, the mayor said he will seek approval from the Democratic-dominated City Council for a city bond to be paid off by the taxpayers.
Council President Aram G. Garabedian, a Democrat and staunch opponent of the plant, has voiced deep reservations in recent months about paying Cullion anything for the land.
But he declined to comment last night, saying he wanted to review the details of the agreement first.
Sounds like there will be due diligence on this from the city council. Congratulations to the residents of Eden Park who fought to protect their neighborhood. Your work and perseverence paid off.
UPDATE #2: CCRZD has provided this statement from spokesman Howie Barte:
CCRZD Expresses Initial Unease To Mayor Napolitano’s Proposed “Settlement” With Cullion Over Cranston Concrete Plant
Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano today informed the Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning & Development (CCRZD) regarding the disputed concrete plant in Cranston, â€œI settled the dealâ€?.
CCRZD’s initial reaction is that $1.9 million offer by the Mayor to buy out Cullion is probably too high. It must be noted that this Mayor has cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars because he refused to investigate and pull the permit from the beginning when it would have most likely been much cheaper to do so. Itâ€™s a known fact that a municipality under Rhode Island Law is only liable up to a $100,000 cap.
CCRZD continues to watch closely as developments occur. A continued area of concern not yet addressed is that assurance have yet to be issued guaranteeing that this land will be maintained in accordance the 1992 Comprehensive Plan which was has been in affect, but ignored, for fifteen years. And, of course, CCRZD has yet to see the detailed of the purported deal. So far, it seems more questions have been raised than answers provided.
UPDATE #3: Activist and resident Suzanne Arena sent a letter to the Cranston City Council expressing concern about the size of the settlement for Cullion. A part of her letter reads as follows:
I am appealing to you because $1.9 million is on the high side. We have determined the cost of land to be $240,000 with an assessed value of approximately $310,000 and an estimated fair market value of $700,000 in the extreme. Adding a conservative $100,000 for legal fee concessions leaves $1.1 million. What does number this entail? We fully expected that Cullion would take back the equipment so that this would not become part of the settlement.
Further, I expect that there would be an Environmental Site Assessment as part of the agreement and in the eventuality that hazardous waste is discovered, I would expect that the cost of removal would be borne by the owner, Cullion / Karleetor. In order to establish due diligence, another appraisal by City Council should be obtained.
If the fair market value of the property is determined to be substantially higher than the assessed value of the property, there should be a determination with respect to the Cityâ€™s Right of Recourse against the seller for back taxes based on the current $300,000 assessment.
Ms. Arena received a response from Council member Jeff Barone, which is as follows:
First, I must say, we finally agree on something. The only difference is that the “deal” is about $1.8m too high. The city should just give Cullion $100,000.00 that was expended prior to our stop order. What ever monies they have expended after that point should not be the responsibility of the city.
You and you association feel that you should have been part of the negotiation of this “deal”. The City Council was not even part of it, what makes you think you should be?
By the way, your Mayor told the press before the Council of this deal, why do you think he’ll tell you first.
This is maybe the worst “deal” he has ever come up with. More than the Valley settlement or the Providence Water settlement. I’ll bet you didn’t know about those.
Where does he think he is going to get the money to pay for this. I know where, you the taxpayer. Don’t forget, we have a $2.5m settlement with Valley, a $1.5m settlement with Providence, a possible $4m Carullo action and now this. That will all come out of the Rainy day fund. He said he will get state aid, they are not going to give Cranston $1.9 million for 20.2 acres of flood land. He will tell you that but let’s get real.
When he goes to knock on doors to get re-elected, his new “promise ” will be that he will continue to support the people. Wait for next year’s tax increase.
All the other costs you mentioned earlier will be absorbed by the city. I hope you and your association let him know how you feel.
Here’s the latest for Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development:
RETENTION OF HOWIE BARTE
CRANSTON, RI: Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning & Development (“CCRZD”) announces the retention of Howie Barte, as PR Representative to act as its chief spokesperson as it escalates a public crusade to defeat the full scale concrete batching plant project which remains half constructed on Marine Drive .
Until December 6, 2006, Mr. Barte was a centrist talk show host on WHJJ. In the fall of 2006, both he and his co-host Arlene violet were let go after a station buyout. Prior to that, he served as an air traffic controller for 33.5 years with the FAA at T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island. During this time, he was co- founder of National Air Traffic Controller Association (NATCA). Being a NATCA Labor Activist, he has extensive dealings with national and regional press sources. He has also served in the U. S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict, and has lived in many countries.
Over 1, 000+ active members are entrusting Mr. Barte will persuade Cranston’s current elected officials to now act in the best interest of their residents. He will be responsible for further drawing attention to the corruption and outright violations of law which have plagued the complex Permit given to Cullion. To date, the Mayor and many other public officials have [side]stepped, declined or actually opposed investigating the unusually rapid and cursory 11 day permitting process tied to the approval of the concrete plant project in March of 2006, leading many local residents to believe they have not only abdicated their duties as representatives of the constituents who elected them to protect their health, safety, property values and the integrity of their neighborhoods.
Mr. Barte was clear in expressing his priorities and goals in stating, ” Not only is this assignment about holding the feet of elected Cranston officials to the fire and changing their attitudes with respect to the acceptance and misrepresentation of corruption of this magnitude, but it also entails persuading such embedded politicians to enforce laws and standards they clearly have had no choice in ignoring. Never before in my career as a talk show host or public rights advocate have I seen an example of runaway corruption combined with a clear plan to evade existing environmental, safety, zoning and building code laws to the extent embodied in the Cranston Marine Drive fiasco. This may be the first time in Rhode Island history where successive city administrations of both political parties have joined to perpetuate such an enormous cover-up of clear corruption at taxpayer expense,” continued Barte.
In response to questions relating to why the highly charged and controversial concrete plant project has yet to attract more than local media coverage Howie Barte was direct in his response by stating, “unfortunately local reporters always fear that really exposing the scope of corruption tied to a project such as the Cranston concrete plant will forever close the door to their all important access to a current City administration thus almost cutting off their livelihoods and career paths regional and national media organizations never worry about such matters and for me obtaining such elevated coverage will be job one. Let’s face it from a regional or national perspective this story has everything, public corruption, deceit, conspiracy as well the fact that a true airing of the facts in question may very well determine who is elected the next Mayor of Cranston or Governor of Rhode Island. From this point on the local rules don’t apply in my opinion – stay tuned.” added Barte.
Hmm, the next Governor of Rhode Island — I wonder who he could possibly be referring to…
Projo is reporting that there is a proposal for mediation between Cullion Concrete Plant and the city of Cranston. From the Projo:
CRANSTON â€” The contentious courtroom fight over a half-built concrete batching plant off Pontiac Avenue could be headed to mediation.
The Supreme Court proposed yesterday that Cullion Concrete Corp. and city officials meet with retired Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger to hammer out a resolution, according to lawyers for both sides.
Vito L. Sciolto, the city solicitor, said officials are still weighing the proposal.
But John O. Mancini, an attorney for Cullion, said his client is ready to take part.
â€œWeâ€™re amenable to it,â€? he said in an interview late yesterday afternoon. [full text]
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management issued the following statement on August 30, 2007. It seems that the statement was issued, at least in part, as a response to the large number of requests they received for a hearing on the proposed concrete plant. Here is the statement:
DEM TO HEAR ORAL ARGUMENTS RELATED TO MOTION TO DISMISS THE APPEAL OF A WETLANDS PERMIT FOR PROPOSED CRANSTON CONCRETE DRY-BATCHING FACILITY ON SEPTEMBER 11
PROVIDENCE — The Department of Environmental Management’s Administrative Adjudication Division (AAD) will hear oral arguments next month on a motion to dismiss the appeal of a DEM wetlands permit granted to Karleetor, LLC for a proposed concrete dry-batching facility on Marine Drive in Cranston. The session will take place on Tuesday, September 11 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 300 at DEM Headquarters, 235 Promenade Street in Providence.
The City of Cranston and Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development, a neighborhood advocacy group, have filed an appeal of the wetlands permit with DEM AAD. In turn, the permit applicant, Karleetor, LLC has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, saying that the state’s freshwater wetlands regulations allow only applicants to appeal DEM decisions on freshwater wetlands applications to AAD. The oral arguments on the appeal were originally scheduled to be heard on September 4, but were continued to September 11 at the requests of the City of Cranston and CCRZD. The September 11 session is not a hearing on the merits of the DEM wetlands permit. Rather, it is a legal session during which time attorneys representing the involved parties will present oral arguments on the applicant’s motion to dismiss. Non-applicants such as the City of Cranston and CCRZD have other avenues of recourse both in the courts and at the local level.
Does this mean that the City of Cranston and CCRZD are not invited to this hearing and cannot present arguments there? Who are the “involved parties” who can be represented by attorneys? Does this mean just the attorneys for Cullion/Karleetor will be present?
Returning to the statement:
Throughout this week, DEM has received numerous requests from Cranston residents asking for a public hearing on the proposed concrete facility. DEM is not the appropriate venue for such a hearing, as the matter is substantially a local zoning issue which belongs before the Cranston Zoning Board of Review. The zoning board, however, has failed to take up the matter because of a series of conflicts of interest on the board. The City of Cranston has sole authority and complete control over the current zoning of the Marine Drive site as commercial/industrial property, and issued a building permit for the concrete facility in March 2006. The City of Cranston is also responsible for exercising judgment on the compatibility of the land with abutting uses and addressing residents’ concerns about increased traffic, noise, and other environmental nuisance from the proposed concrete facility.
DEM Wetlands Permit Places Significant Requirements and Restrictions on Facility
Following a careful review of potential wetland impact concerns, which included several visits to the property, DEM’s Office of Water Resources concluded that the activities proposed would not significantly alter wetland functions and values, and therefore issued a permit to Karleetor, LLC on April 9. While DEM was cognizant of the broad issues and concerns related to the application, the Department was obliged to process this application like all others submitted to it pursuant to and consistent with all applicable laws and regulations.
None of the proposed construction or operational activities is located in or directly affects a vegetated wetland, or a perimeter or riverbank wetland. The proposed concrete plant is greater than 600 feet from either the Pawtuxet River or the Pocasset River and is more than 250 feet from the nearest vegetated wetlands. It is also greater than 400 feet to any FEMA designated floodway associated with the adjacent rivers. DEM determined that because there was a preexisting commercial use on the property with preexisting floodplain impacts, the proposed concrete dry-batching project, in conjunction with the strict freshwater wetland permit terms and conditions, would not increase previously allowed wetland impacts.
DEM has placed significant requirements and restrictions on this project to protect public health, safety, and the environment. Best management practices to handle any excess concrete produced, cleaning of vehicles, collection of dust and sediment, and control runoff have been incorporated into the project design. Appropriate conditions have been included in the permit to assure potential water quality impacts during a flooding event are avoided or minimized. Finally, other environmental concerns potentially associated with the project including air, hazardous waste handling, and noise and dust controls are the purview of other applicable regulations or ordinances.
In addition to the wetlands permit, Karleetor, LLC must obtain both air pollution and stormwater permits from DEM before it can begin operating. These permit applications have not yet been submitted to DEM. DEM will review these applications carefully to insure that the proposed activities are protective of public health, safety, and the environment.
So it appears that it is possible that Karleetor will not be issued air pollution or stormwater permits, but I would imagine that their attorneys have already checked into this and feel relatively confident that all of the permits will be granted. Otherwise, why would they continue to invest in this project?
Geoff Schoos writes this week about the concrete plant battle and all the litigation it has created, referring to it as a possible “lawyer’s relief program.” His piece is excellent in its description of the August press conference for the residents opposed to the plant, where they were joined by the American Lung Association of New England and several other organizations. What I found most valuable about the piece was how it shed light on the ways in which our local and state governments are failing to do what have promised to do. From The Cranston Herald:
[...] It did not have to come to this. If the city had changed its zoning laws, as required by state statute, to conform to the Comprehensive Plan approved and adopted in 1992, the land would currently be zoned as open space. There is little question that there would not be a controversy over a misplaced concrete facility today.
In the 2006 election campaign, the mayor promised that if elected, he would investigate the issuance of that building permit and revoke it if it were determined that any impropriety occurred. He said that on Nov. 1, 2006. I know â€“ I was there. To date, no serious investigation into the matter by either the administration or the City Council has been conducted.
In March 2007, after the mayor agreed to the consent order and to do nothing pending the ZBR hearing of the CCRZDâ€™s appeal of the issuance of the building permit, the mayorâ€™s director of administration told the Eden Park residents gathered outside Judge Indegliaâ€™s courtroom that a ZBR hearing could be held by the end of April. He told the residents that the city was committed to a quick resolution of the issue. I know â€“ I was there as well. Last week he stated that the ZBR could hear the issue as early as this fall.
Itâ€™s no wonder that people feel like pawns in the game. They justly feel like victims of a government that forgot Immanuel Kantâ€™s admonition to â€œalways recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.â€? [full text]
Schoos starts his piece off with a quote from John Locke — “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” The actions of our state and local leadership speak much louder than their words, and their actions are about talking the talk but not being able to walk the walk. The Comprehensive Plan of 1992 promised to designate the area open space, but that didn’t happen. Mayor Napolitano promised to do an investigation of the building permit given to Cullion, but that hasn’t happened. The DEM promised to hold a public hearing in July to allow residents to voice their opposition to the concrete plant, but that didn’t happen. The pattern of lack of follow-through is obvious. And they count on your apathy — the public’s unwillingness to hold them accountable — to do things like this.
Don’t let them get away with not listening to the public about the problems being created by the location of the Cullion concrete plant. Write a letter to the DEM. Do your part to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable.