New information leads to more barn delays
Residents will have to wait another two weeks for the Town Council to vote on the site of the island's controversial new highway barn.
Council members were set to vote on the location of the barn at a meeting Tuesday night, however they delayed definitive action after Town Administrator Bruce Keiser recommended that any vote to determine a specific site would be premature.
Described by Town Council President David Long as "the white elephant in the room," the decision of where to locate the town's highway barn was expected to be decided between three proposed sites: Lots 47 or 48 at the town's transfer station, and a parcel on Taylor Point partially owned by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA). According to Keiser, several unresolved conditions surrounding Lot 47 and the bridge authority property led to his recommendation.
Regarding Lot 47, Keiser reported that two new developments had delayed his final review of that site. First, a recent meeting held between the North End Concerned Citizens and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) raised additional permitting and design concerns over the traffic pattern at the transfer station, Keiser said. According to Keiser, the group met with Dr. W. Michael Sullivan, director of the DEM, last week and voiced concerns over the frequency of use the road traversing the landfill from North Road to Lot 47 would pose to the environment and the town's landfill closure plan.
Upon learning of these concerns, Keiser requested that both Sullivan and GeoEnvironmental (GZA), the town's consultant on the landfill project, begin the process of evaluating whether additional design and permitting may be needed. Should the traffic pattern through the landfill prove to be problematic, Keiser noted that access to the site via Summit Avenue can be revisited should the site in its current design be selected.
Also in regard to Lot 47, Keiser reported that the town has received an offer from an abutter to purchase the land from the town in order to prevent its use as a barn location, while protecting it from future development. Keiser said the offer had only been received within the last few days and did not reveal the identity of the abutter, however advised that the council take the matter up in executive session.
Keiser reported that as of Tuesday's meeting no agreement had been reached on the sale of the Taylor Point property between the bridge authority and the town. Keiser confirmed he had received an offer of sale from RIBTA offi- cials last Thursday, although a deal had not yet been finalized. Though Keiser did not disclose the offered price, he did remark that he felt a deal was "very, very close."
Unable to vote on the highway barn location, Keiser recommended that, due to the time constraints posed by the legislative calendar of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to adjourn for the summer sometime around June 15, the council pass two separate resolutions specifying the construction of a highway barn at Taylor Point and Lot 47, both with costs not to exceed $1.5 million.
According to law, the town council must acquire enabling legislation from the General Assembly to conduct the highway barn referendum. State Representative Bruce Long, who attended the meeting, assured the council that that he and State Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed were committed to ushering the council's resolution through the legislative process by the end of the session. Town Clerk Arlene Petit reported that once legislation is passed, scheduling of the referendum requires a 60-day interval to the date of the special election. Based on this timetable, the earliest probable date to hold a special election would be mid- August.
According to Keiser, by submitting two resolutions to the General Assembly, the town would be assured of "full home rule" in determining the site of the barn while ensuring that the process move forward in the timeliest fashion.
The resolutions also ensure that the town council, not the voters, will determine the location of the barn with funding to be voted on by island residents during a special election sometime in late summer or early fall.
Council members were presented with seven possible bond referenda prepared by Town Bond Counsel David Ferrara to send to the General Assembly enabling the town to hold a special election on the highway barn site. The draft referenda questions offered three avenues for the council to pursue: to endorse a referendum providing voters the decision between one of two, or one of three possible sites; for the council to independently determine the site of the barn; or for the council to broadly approve the building of a highway barn at a site to be determined by the council.
Ultimately two motions were brought by Councilman Julio Di- Giando authorizing that dual resolutions be sent to the General Assembly endorsing Lot 47 as well as Taylor Point. Keiser had earlier recommended against the other site under consideration, Lot 48, as a possible site due to the estimated costs and environmental concerns associated with it.
Councilman William Kelly lamented Keiser's recommendation saying he was "somewhat disappointed that [a decision is] being put off again." However, he conceded that more information was needed before making a decision. Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski also expressed her disappointment over the delay but voiced her support for the council determining which site is chosen.
The council expects to address the highway barn issue again as soon as the outstanding issues surrounding Lot 47 and the Taylor Point property are resolved.