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.
The Cranston City Council passed a non-binding resolution in support of the proposed $1.9 million settlement. David Scharfenberg of the Projo reported on the meeting here:
CRANSTON â€” The City Council approved a resolution last night backing the proposed $1.9-million buyout of the controversial, half-built Cullion Concrete Corp. batching plant in the Eden Park neighborhood.
The 6-3 vote, though nonbinding, provided critical political support for a deal that appeared tenuous in recent weeks.
â€œIâ€™m happy that theyâ€™re moving forward to resolve this matter,â€? said Mayor Michael T. Napolitano, who urged the council to back the resolution in a series of emotional appeals last night.
Napolitano, a Democrat, announced his tentative settlement last month, winning plaudits from neighbors who worried about the potential for traffic, noise and pollution should the plant be completed. [full text]
Like a lot of people, I’m glad to see this moving toward completion. I still think whatever careful checking can be done to make sure the appraisal is accurate and the land is clean, and the stipulations of the clean-up are as thorough as possible. According to Suzanne in the previous thread on the concrete plant, Councilperson Terry Livingston did a good job of outlining “the scope of what needs to be met before this can be resolved.”
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…
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.
It was a pleasure to be outside today in front of city hall, listening to the coalition of speakers from The Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the American Lung Association of New England, and the Sierra Club. All are opposed to the concrete plant and, along with the Toxic Action Center, are working to get the problem resolved.
One of the interesting parts of the packet handed out by the Toxic Action Center was a timeline of events leading up to the quagmire of the Cullion concrete plant legal battle today. The timeline includes this event:
March 7, 2007 — Entire contingent of city attorneys agree to sign off on court order prepared in advance by Cullion Council John O. Mancini which misrepresents the provision of the law effecting building stay during zoning appeal to mean no city action concerning the concrete plant may happen until zoning or overriding supreme court ruling.
So basically, whomever wrote this timeline is saying that Mancini “misrepresented” the law. On that same day, a big batch of city lawyers signed a court order restricting the city’s ability to do anything about the concrete plant. I think this is where Geoff Schoos points out that the Mayor supplied the rope with which to have his hands tied. He agreed to give up his ability to revoke the permit. But if he did it until false pretenses, because the provision was “misrepresented,” perhaps this court order can be made null and void.
Toxic Action Center also provided this overview of why the concrete plant environmental issue, and other environmental issues in Rhode Island, are important in the larger picture:
A seemingly local issue, the ongoing conflict over the concrete plant has gained the attention of state and regional groups who see Cranston as an example of just one among many communities in Rhode Island facing environmental and public health threats due to industrial pollution. For example, residents in Tiverton have been fighting for a total cleanup of their neighborhood as a result of coal waste contamination for the past five years.
One of the main sources of concern for Cranston residents opposing the plant’s current site in a residential area is the guaranteed release of hazardous crystalline silica particles into the air, which are classified as a human lung carcinogen and can lead to severe respiratory problems. In addition, opponents of the plant note the potential hazards from diesel emissions from increased truck traffic along Pontiac Avenue. “More than one in ten Rhode Islanders have asthma,” said Molly Clark from the American Lung Association of New England. “And most people don’t realize the impact of diesel exhaust from idling cars and trucks on the air quality around them.”
Other problems with the siting of the plant include the waste water runoff that would be dumped into the Pawtuxet and Pocasset rivers from cleaning cement trucks, and the destruction of the surrounding wetlands that normally serve as a natural buffer for rainwater and protect many parts of Cranston from overflooding.
Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development are activating a broad coalition and building momentum among residents to pressure the city to take action. “While our mayor and council have been silenced by Cullion and his legal team, we’re building our coalition with leading Rhode Island environmental and public health organizations to keep this problem from falling under the radar. The issue won’t go away until the plant does,” said president Frank Mattiucci.
Cullion Concrete has stopped construction of the plant amid controversy surrounding the granting of its permits from both the Cranston Zoning Board and the state Department of Environmental Management. Together the concerned residents and the regional environmental groups are pressing the Zoning Board for a public hearing this summer and hope to revoke the permits.
Other notable attendees of today’s press conference were Mark Lucas (who has signed up a bunch of new people to CCRZD — way to go Mark!), Emilio Navarro (still wearing the suit and speaking passionately for residents, very excellent!), Suzanne Arena and a crowd of other great people who are looking out for your community if you live in Cranston. Nice work, everyone.
If it seems like there are more “Stop the Concrete Plant” signs around town, you’re not imagining things. From CCRZD:
Here is your DAILY UPDATE on the results of the 1st day’s activities of the Toxics Action Center Volunteers as well as our group members who have donated their time. What an enthusiastic group of college graduates to work with!
As of Sunday evening:
Houses Visited 630+
Individual Contacts 304
Flyers Distributed 1400+
New Members to CCRZ&D 132
Phone #’s dialed 400+
Dozens of new people want our lawn signs
Monetary contribution goal exceeded and, we still have Monday and Tuesday to go!
Please attend the Press Conference in front of:
Cranston City Hall, Tuesday @ 10:30
We will have the final update as well as speakers from at least 4 environmental groups against this concrete plant.
Kudos to the Toxic Action Center — they are living up to their name and providing much action!
“My interpretation is you’re killing an ant with a sledgehammer.” — John Lanni, speaking of the residents trying to deal with Domestic Bank’s use of their neighborhood as a parking lot
I’m not one for quoting other people and then just leaving it at that, but that one just about says it all, doesn’t it? Domestic Bank is an ant, and the neighbors of Forest Hills are a sledgehammer. That’s right — that’s the way John Lanni sees it. And when Pep Boys and Home Depot were ants and they were trying to crawl into Cranston, Mr. Garabedian was a very nice soft thing (not a sledgehammer) who got rid of them.
Anyway, I’m with Emilio. This issue is not going away. It’s a prelude to several other unresolved battles — the Cullion concrete plant and Mulligan’s Island open space being next in line.