Union workers like Lot 47 for barn site
Weighing in at Monday night's Town Council meeting, were employees of the town's highway department who have been waiting more than two decades for a new highway barn.
Paul Robertson, representing union workers with the town Department of Public Works, said union members at a recent meeting voted unanimously for the Lot 47 option for the barn. The lot is adjacent to the town's transfer station. He noted that workers over the years have avoided being involved in the controversies about the barn location, but decided now was the time to take a position. He did not specify the number of members voting, or the number eligible.
Robertson suggested workers especially want a site that has enough room for all or most barnrelated needs, rather than having the facilities scattered in multiple locations. He said workers were also concerned by talk of eliminating staff showers.
Resident Donna O'Neil commented on the shower issue, reminding the council that Lot 47 has a well with a limit of 200 gallons a day, which she said seems insufficient for the expected needs of a barn and its workers.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said at the meeting that no site option included plans to curtail such staff needs as lockers and restrooms.
Councilors voted, 4 - 0, with Council President David Long absent, to ask the Rhode Island Bridge and Turnpike Authority if it would approve transfer of 6,000 square feet of its property to the town to possibly enable a barn abutting the town's sewer treatment plant property. There was little discussion by councilors at the meeting.
Julio DiGiando, council vice president, said he and other councilors did not know yet where they would site the barn, and they did not know if they would seek a referendum for voters to decide about the barn location. He said the council was trying to move quickly on the latest possibilities so that a referendum could be scheduled in August, preferably, if that is what the council decides to do.
More on Lot 47 Among those who spoke during the open forum was Norma Wil- lis, a former council member and prominent North End opponent to Lot 47 and the abutting former town landfill.
The town identified Lot 48 a few weeks ago for consideration for the barn. She reviewed considerations among the three parcels; at the bridge, and the two lots that on April 9 were aired by town leaders as current location options.
She said any of the three parcels would need a special use permit. She said the bridge location involves no environmental issues, would cost $515,728 for site preparation, and needs no zoning change.
Willis said Lots 47 and 48 involve environmental issues, need zoning changes and a Summit Avenue abandonment. She noted that the lots no longer abut vacant forest lands, but residential lots already developed or due to be built upon soon. She said the previous town solicitor said a zone change "would be no problem, but then again, other (solicitor) advice did not work out so well either."
She said she would detail environmental concerns at another time. She focused on costs and zoning. She added an estimated lost equity of $300,000 if Lot 47 was to be sold, increasing the town's estimated site work cost of $417,746 to more than $700,000. She noted the town's estimate of Lot 48 costs at $692,746.
Lots 47 and 48 linked
Willis said Lots 47 and 48 are "unalterably linked, tied at the hip so to speak." She said Lot 48 needs to be linked with Lot 47 to complete barn needs. She said "to change zoning can be contentious, costly and lengthy." She detailed the nearness of wetlands and open space, some with conservation designations, in the area of Lots 47 and 48.
She concluded that a decision left to voters must include clear information from the council. "Putting two sites on the ballot which may not be usable in the end is leading the voters down a blind alley once again," she stated. She suggested the council's choosing the bridge area land could result in a barn before the end of the year. Officials have talked in recent weeks about budgeting the barn construction for 2008.
The council's resolution on Monday asked bridge officials to answer by May 14.
It said the town has been considering several sites for the barn for nearly 10 years. Other officials have said the need was first introduced in the 1980s. The resolution said Keiser evaluated possible locations including town land along the north side of the Newport (Pell) Bridge where a relatively small piece of abutting bridge land would be required. Bridge Authority Chairman David Darlington told councilors April 9 that the authority would not make a decision until the town specifies that it needs the bridge land. He also said the authority did not want to be party to barn site controversies. The resolution says it wants to know the authority's answer "with sufficient time to perform procedural actions necessary to place a referendum question before the electors," later this year.
Keiser earlier this month presented the three options - near the bridge and two other lots as "workable and very viable."
The bridge option, in the Taylor Point area, 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 November 2005. The rejected plan was designed to have all or most materials at the site. The new option involves some barn-related 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.
Costs for storage and road paving within the former landfill, now used for the trash transfer station, were included in costs estimated at $627,564 for mandated closure of the landfill, according to Keiser's presentation. He listed the lower entrance area of the former town landfill out of the running for the barn because of site preparation costs of $1.2 million.
Meanwhile, a response of Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero to citizen complaints about secret talks by officials about barn location options was not presented. He originally said it would be ready this month, but more recently said he needed additional time because more complaints were lodged, and a year's worth of executive sessions had to be reviewed. The council has acknowledged that it met several times in executive sessions to discuss barn sites because of expectations of lawsuits over Lot 47 and the landfill.
More resident concerns
Resident Pat Bolger asked about the council's intent for a referendum vote and putting three site options on the ballot. "We're not sure yet," DiGiando commented.
Dennis Webster of Mount Hope Avenue, noting he favors Lot 47 for the barn, urged the council to "give voters a choice."
Councilor William Kelly talked about concerns that the barn location would attract traffic by salespersons offering public works goods. He said the director's and engineer's offices will be in the new town hall, where they would meet with salespeople. He said other town workers dealing with materials mostly use phone or email contact about items and orders.
Kelly stressed showers would be provided for workers who have to deal with "muck and worse and should not have to take it home."
Kelly tried to dismiss arguments about zoning, asking the town solicitor to comment. Ruggiero suggested it might be "hard to say. There are no conclusive arguments in fact. Rhode Island courts have been reluctant to recognize spot zoning. It reflects lawyers' opinions."