No Satisfaction from the Zoning Board

Venus de Milo

So, your roving part-time reporter spent four solid hours last night at Pawtucket City Hall. It was not without interest. I sat next to Tara Hurley, who I met when she was filming the meetings of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking for her documentary, ‘Happy Endings’. Across the room I saw a familiar face. It turns out that Megan Andelloux’s mother-in-law goes to my church, and she was there to lend support. Channel 10 and 12 showed up with big cameras, but they didn’t stay the whole time. Steve Brown of the ACLU sat in back, but he didn’t stick it out to the end, either. I don’t know how I did. I was waiting for that Perry Mason moment, a moment that never came.

The meeting started with a rapid recitation of numbers– was it the agenda? Darned if I know. Megan was scheduled to go last.

In front of me sat five people in crisp white shirts. I thought they might be Mormon missionaries, but they turned out to be a company that repairs fire and water damage. The owner helpfully pointed out that the north corner of the ceiling was the kind of thing he could fix.

The seven board members and their lawyer sat behind an imposing curved podium. Everyone who testified had to take an oath, so help them God. It was strangely solemn for the subject — requests for variances for parking lot extensions, or exceptions to zoning laws. Some people had lawyers, most just did their best on their own.

“This area is in desperate need of a yoga studio,” a woman asserted. True enough that the downtown could use some prana, or at least an open business instead of another boarded up window.

A pet shop owner was questioned closely. “So, you want to sell reptiles? Are any of the snakes or lizards venomous? Any crocodiles?”

The petitioner assured them that he kept no crocodiles, and his biggest alligator was only five feet, and he wasn’t going to make an issue of it.

“I don’t need to keep alligators. It’s not like we make money on alligators.” he said.

“Any boa constrictors?”

In fact they performed a public service by rescuing abandoned snakes from deserted apartments.

“Any reptiles attack anyone in the past?”

He recalled an iguana bite suit, but that was dismissed. I hope his petition is granted.

I wish the rest of the cases had been as interesting, but it was all the Riverfront Commission arguing against the carpet cleaning guy, and more parking lots, additions and changing commercial to residential, landscaping requirements and on and on.

So that’s the standard by which I say that Megan’s hearing was even more tedious. I think the reason was that the people with zoning issues were mostly straightforward and trying to make a clear case. The witnesses in the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health petition were uncomfortable and evasive. Ron Travers, director of zoning, insisted that he followed the rules, resulting in a prolonged argument about the zoning code with Andelloux’s lawyer, Michael Horan. For minutes on end they conversed almost completely in numbers, subsection A, paragraph 2, item 1B and on and on. Travers admitted getting the email from Donna Hughes, with the now-famous quotation marks. The whole zoning board had seen it, as well as Police Major Bruce Moreau and City Clerk Michelle Hardy, subpoenaed for I don’t know what reason. Travers kept harping on education, forbidden unless in a stand-alone building. Horan said that law was not consistently enforced, offering as evidence a leaflet from Flying Shuttles — an enterprise of ARC (Association of Retarded Citizens) which might have conducted a class in knitting or something, in clear defiance of the law and all that is decent. I hope they’re not the next to fall. For the love of God, Pawtucket, have mercy…

By the time Megan got up to testify, I had a feeling I was in a bad production of The Crucible. My take is that Megan had played up the educational work of her organization to fend off rumors that she was selling sex. Now she was being denied a permit on a very narrow reading of the permitted uses of the site. I think whoever wrote in an exclusion for ‘education’ must have had some concern about someone starting a school with students tramping in and out, using all the parking and infringing on the other tenants. But the language seemed so general– how do you ensure that education is not happening in any of the multi-use commercial spaces? What if someone accidentally learns something?

Seriously, they’re not going to evict ARC, or deny the yoga studio, which obviously will be teaching yoga. So what’s up?

What we have here is a failure to communicate. I don’t know Megan Andelloux very well, and I don’t even know for sure that I would like her organization. But it only seems fair to let her try. Sexuality is a part of us that religion tries to own and that our culture tries to market and sell back to us. We don’t have many safe places to talk about sex and feeling, self-respect and love.

Megan’s husband is a doctor, and Megan talks to doctors about human sexuality. I have patients, and friends too, who have survived devastating accidents and life-threatening illnesses. They don’t stop loving their spouses or needing affection. In spite of the malicious quotation marks and mean rumors, a Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health is a good idea.

Several people, including a nearby business owner, got up to testify on Megan’s behalf. I think that might have made an impression on the board. I hope they will reconsider, and let her open her business. I think it would be good for Pawtucket, and if she can make a small business work in this state she will have beaten the odds.

ANOTHER VIEW: Tara Hurley, Pawtucket resident, also reports on the hearing.

5 thoughts on “No Satisfaction from the Zoning Board

  1. I find this to be quite unbelievable. How can a zoning board deny a permit based on a business providing educational material? That makes no sense whatsoever.

    The funny part is this story will probably garner more attention for Megan and when she does open her Center, the public will be even more curious. Nothing like a ban to make something already considered illicit by some even more exciting. Sometimes the thing you try hardest to push down, it just ends up rising up faster.

  2. Gods above, I hate to generalize, but this is why I worry any time I seem to agree with someone on the Religious Right.

    The problem with the RR is, frankly, that they’re…less than ‘frank’ about the real nature of their agenda. In a nutshell, they want to ‘return’ to the Leave-It-To-Beaver-Land that never really existed.

    This is about sexuality. Specifically, women’s sexuality. As in, women should not have any sexuality. Women should be the passive receptacles for the Lord and Master’s sperm. And that’s it.

    They oppose abortion. They oppose porn. But they also oppose birth control. And they oppose this sort of sexual education. Why? Because it’s sexual. They are dead-set against the idea that a woman might enjoy sex.

    In the same way that they’re dead-set against anyone learning about science, because they might realize that evolution and climate-change are real. Their religious ideals are so fragile that the RR tries desperately to prevent anyone from realizing that there ways of looking at the world not found in The Bible.

    Again, I’m drawing with a broad brush, but I would be immensely surprised if Donna Hughes did not share the values in the previous paragraph.

    Otherwise, why in gods’ name is she so threatened by a shop in Pawtucket? She’s a conservative. They’re supposed to support small business. And she’s pro-women. She should support a woman owning a business.

    But when push comes to shove, it all goes out the window. Religion first. Religion last. Religion always.

  3. I wish she had come to the hearing to say in plain language what her objection is. Instead she sent an insinuating email. That was unworthy behavior.

  4. Hi there. I wanted to drop by to thank you for your comment on my post about a related situation. After targeting the the CSPH sex education center, it seems Donna M. Hughes has decided to target a sexuality education conference series that I advocate for, and me by association. It troubles me greatly that someone in her position of academic privilege would so readily conflate sex education (of all things) with sex trafficking.

    I wish she had come to the hearing to say in plain language what her objection is. Instead she sent an insinuating email. That was unworthy behavior.

    After being targeted by Donna M. Hughes myself, I personally invited her multiple times through multiple channels to have a rational discussion about her concerns. She has been totally non-responsive to me, too. I now sincerely doubt she has any interest in engaging in a constructive dialogue. Others were already convinced of the same thing.

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