Location of highway barn site may be a decision left to voters
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser recommended Monday to Town Council members that they consider three options for the highway garage that has been under discussion for more than 20 years.
The council, staff and townspeople spent about 90 minutes discussing the options.
Keiser called the three sites "workable and very viable." He listed the options as:
+ Lot 47, a frequent but controversial entry for the garage site.
+ Neighboring Lot 48, a possibility.
+ A Taylor Point location that may depend on Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority blessing to be in the running.
The latest Taylor Point option is somewhat southwest of the town wastewater treatment plant. It is not the same location as the $2.4 million plan rejected by voters in the November 2005, election. The rejected plan was designed to have all or most materials at the site. The new option involves some or most of the storage at the landfill.
Keiser projected the new 12,500 square foot garage could be delivered for under $2 million. He said the building itself would cost between $800,000 and $1 million. The estimated land and site preparation costs are:
+ $417,746 for Lot 47.
+ $692,746 for Lot 48, across from Lot 47 and at the upper end of the former landfill.
+ $515,728 for the Taylor Point site adjacent to the bridge, near Freebody Drive and the Newport westward bridge abutment.
Costs for storage and road paving within the landfill were includ- ed in costs estimated at $627,564 for mandated closure of the landfill that is planned for 2008 regardless of what is done about the garage, according to the presentation.
Keiser also officially pronounced the lower entrance area of the former town landfill out of the running for the garage, at least from an administrative standpoint, because of site preparation costs of $1.2 million. He outlined a schedule for a council decision by early May and for getting one or more options on a referendum ballot possibly by August.
Warm applause met Keiser's presentation. Council President David Long specified that he and fellow councilors "want information, not votes as in a popularity contest" about the options.
The discussion included public statements for the first time from Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority Chairman David Darlington. He said councilors could ask as soon as they want about the bridge land, some 6,000 square feet at the site option.
Darlington said they did not have to wait for RITBA's next regular meeting on May 9 because his colleagues could call a special meeting with 72-hour notice as required by state law. He said his individual opinion is that the RITBA's goal is to cooperate if the town needs some of their land.
Darlington also said he thought he had conveyed to town officials that RITBA board members could be expecting a definitive decision about wanting the land, and not that it was going to be part of a run-off. "I know that I don't want to be put in the middle, nor would others," he said about his fellow RITBA officials. "Don't keep us out of it," Darlington said about the location debate. "Besides," Darlington said, "We are looking to get rid of property, but are not in the business of selling land."
Darlington also emphasized the land would not be free, as suggested by Council President David Long. Darlington added, although not free, it might be part of some sort of barter or trade arrangement.
The highway garage resumed its center-of-attention position at a Town Council meeting in front of an audience of about 60 residents, some who were attending for other agenda items, during the three and a half hour council meeting. The council has acknowledged that it several times met in executive sessions to discuss the garage site options because of expectations of lawsuits over Lot 47.
The town administrator detailed the site issues, local designs and state environmental reviews since 2005 and presented site selection matrix for the options he proposed.
Keiser described Lot 47 as being in the island's north end, adjacent to the landfill, with flat topography, no verified development constraints, in an RR80 (residential, two acre) zone that would need to be changed to public and needing a special use permit.
He listed the environmental concerns of Lot 47 as the need to "control drainage to minimize influence on land fill, limit well water withdrawal through alternate supplies and mitigation."
He said Lot 47 would need septic system and storm water permits, would be visible to Prospect Road and somewhat to Summit Avenue, would use a well within the lot and operationally would store some materials on Lot 48 and some at the town waste water treatment plant at Taylor Point.
He described Lot 48 as in the north end, within the landfill, "containing fill that requires excavation of unsuitables, like sludge, for building development and gravel fill." It is zoned public use and would require a special permit.
He said, environmentally, it would be the "same as Lot 47," with additional testing needed to determine reuse or disposal of excavated material.
He said Lot 48 would need septic system and storm water permits, may be slightly visible from Prospect Road, and would use the water well on Lot 47.
Keiser described the bridge site as being in the center of the island, adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant, with flat topography. Some ledge removal is needed for the building foundation, Keiser said, adding, the lot is zoned public and needs a special use permit.
Opinions The council president suggested he favored letting voters decide among the options in a referendum on the site, as well as on the bonding itself. Long referred to the "timely" editorial last week in the Jamestown Press which suggested giving the decision to voters.
Council Vice President Julio DiGiando said he felt it might be an abrogation of council duties to put the matter to voters. Councilor Barbara Szepatowski said she wants to keep all three options open for public review.
Among residents speaking, Susan Little, known to oppose landfill-connected sites, suggested that giving the vote to citizens was not an abdication of responsibility.
DiGiando questioned Keiser's evaluations of none of the sites having much "visibility." He said the visibility factor was part of the reason the original Taylor Point plan was defeated. Councilor Michael Schnack commented that he also could "disagree about the reasonableness" of Keiser's interpretation of visibility.
Council member William Kelly indicated he did not favor the bridge site, but agreed with asking about its availability before any options were adopted or discarded.
Mary McGrath Webster, a resident who resides in the center of the island and who worked against the original Taylor Point location, also questioned Keiser's definitions of visibility.
Keiser said he admits a bias about the importance of visibility to year-round residents versus to short-term timeshare residents near Taylor Point.
Resident Richard Anderson called for traffic studies of North Main Road, regardless of the garage location, for impact of trucks moving materials for storage, and for transfer to Taylor Point, if that is chosen, and to work sites around the island.
Raymond Iannetta, a leader of north end opposition to landfill area sites for the town garage, asked several questions about spot zoning for Lot 47, limited quantities of water for Lot 47 and Lot 48, the need for sludge removal permit for Lot 48, and for data about waste on Lot 48.