2007-05-10 / Front Page

Bridge authority might sell land to Jamestown for highway barn site

By Dotti Farrington

The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority last week agreed to consider selling, subject to several conditions, land the town has requested to be part of a site for the highway barn. The authority specified it was agreeing to consider such a sale, but was not yet agreeing to the sale.

Authority officials said regulations to which they are subject require that a fair market value be charged for the land, and that value was yet to be determined. It was estimated an appraisal would be ready in about two weeks. One speculation was that the land would be appraised at less than $100,000.

Bridge engineers have to make certain no part of the parcel needs to be retained for bridge maintenance, including room to set up scaffolding as may be needed. The authority also needs to assure itself that no bonding, financing and other documents, laws and regulations would be compromised by any sale. The final condition is that the town must pay for all costs of studies needed for authority clearance to act.

The five authority members heard a 10- minute presentation by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser at their meeting May 2 at the Jamestown Police Headquarters conference room, about current options the Town Council is considering for the barn site. He said he expects the council to ask voters to choose between the bridge location and one of two parcels at or abutting the former town landfill in the north end. He said the long search for a site has been "highly contentious." Deputy Public Works Director and Town Engineer Michael Gray also made a presentation about barn design and related factors.

About Lot 48

Keiser revealed at that forum the town will need to get additional environmental clearances for Lot 48, only recently added as a barn site option. He explained that lot may have buried trash below the level where early tests were made. He said he was reporting that problem on the basis of older maps recently brought to the town's attention.

Three residents were allowed to comment, mostly about aesthetics, and Darlington said the authority would act in response to council requests and not positions of individuals. He advised the residents to direct their remarks to the council.

Site issues

Before the authority voted, Authority Chairman David Darlington said he and his colleagues did not want to be part of any divisive situation that might be created by making the bridge land available to the town, if the town can put its barn elsewhere. Darlington observed that no options before the council seemed available without complications, such as need for a zoning change that is expected to trigger a court battle for Lot 47 near the landfill, or need for additional environmental clearance for Lot 48 at the landfill. It was af- ter Darlington's remarks and after Keiser's presentation that the authority agreed to consider the sale.

The town originally asked for 6,000 square feet to annex to its 25.62 acre parcel that abuts a bridge ramp on the southwest boundary. The requested parcel is near Bayview Drive and near the Newport westbound bridge abutment, east of the toll plaza.

Bridge officials said the pending engineering study might show a need for a different parcel configuration, and that was interpreted to mean the town might have to buy up to 2,000 more square feet at the west end of the requested parcel to meet its design needs. Darlington commented the size, within the variations discussed, would not affect the decision either way. The authority vote did not specify an amount of land it would consider selling.

Voters two years ago rejected a $2.4 million plan to put a highway barn on a northern part of the town's Taylor Point site. Officials said they did not know if the voters were against the cost or the location.

Darlington told authority colleagues, as he had told town councilors last month, that the value of the land might be bartered, so that it might not be a cash transaction. The authority pays the town an annual stipend of about $30,000 in lieu of taxes and that payment might be part of the land purchase trade, the chairman suggested.

Costs for the three current barn site options are $515,726 plus land and study costs for the bridge site; $417,746 for Lot 47; and $692,746 plus any added environmental cost ramifications for Lot 48. Use of any of the sites would require storage of highway supplies at the landfill, according to details from town officials.

The town promised the authority a role in design review of the barn's aesthetics.

In addition to Darlington, authority members are Vice Chairman Richard P. Eannarino and Stephen C. Waluk, William Chuck Alves and Arthur H. Fletcher.

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