2007-08-30 / Front Page

Voters approve Taylor Point site for highway barn

Completion expected by fall of 2008
By Dotti Farrington and Donna K. Drago

Town Clerk Arlene Petit, at left, reads the final tally of votes on the highway barn at the temporary town hall Tuesday night. The board of canvassers, Dolores Christman, Alcina Blair and Linda Warner, look on. Photo by Jeff McDonough Town Clerk Arlene Petit, at left, reads the final tally of votes on the highway barn at the temporary town hall Tuesday night. The board of canvassers, Dolores Christman, Alcina Blair and Linda Warner, look on. Photo by Jeff McDonough Now that voters have approved the Taylor Point site by a vote of 934 to 753, it will take about a year for the barn to be completed.

Town Council President David Long, who recently announced that he will not run for re-election, said "I'm just happy for the town," and added, "and very relieved."

Long said that having the highway barn issue decided is a good way for him to leave his post. "It's been a heated debate," for the eight years he served on the council, Long said, adding, "It's gotten in the way of other more important things for the town," to work on.

"The highway workers have suffered, " Long said.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said he was absolutely thrilled about the affirmative vote and attributed much of it to the "persistent effort to get the message out."

"This is a good, workable site," Keiser said about upper Taylor Point and said he was looking forward to putting a "modern, safe and productive building that is urgently needed," on the lot.

Public Works head Steve Goslee said the vote to approve the barn was "great." He was happy that things would be moving forward to provide better conditions for the town workers who serve the department.

About the dilapidated highway facility at Ft. Wetherill, Goslee said, "I wouldn't let my dog live in there."

Paul Robertson, secretary of Local 69, the union that represents the town's highway workers, said "it's done and I'm glad it's over," but noted that there wasn't much talk Wednesday morning about the issue at the wastewater treatment plant, where he works.

Councilman Bill Kelly, who opposed the Taylor Point site, said "I'm glad for the men who will get a new highway barn." He said he feels the barn will be built "in the wrong place," but noted that he would not "throw any roadblocks," in the process to build a barn at Taylor Point. Kelly, who worked in the landfill business for 20 years, said that there are "safe and modern methods to build over a landfill," and that Lot 47 would have been a good site for the facility.

Keiser outlined the actions to be taken to bring the highway barn to completion now that the location and funding have been approved. He said the first action, coordinated with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), would be tracking and cleaning up lead contamination that may have extended beyond the immediate area of the bridge. Keiser said that would take "a few weeks" to complete.

Keiser said the next action would be to borrow the funds authorized by Tuesday's referendum. He said the first payment from that account would be the acquisition price negotiated with RITBA for the approximately 6,000 square foot parcel the town needs to make the town-owned acreage "work" for the barn complex. The price includes costs fronted by RITBA to investigate claims of contamination that was not found, other than the presence of "light to moderate amounts of lead."

The third step that Keiser outlined was the process for proceeding with the final design. This involves three separate, but simultaneous, specific actions, he explained. He said he would issue a request for architectural proposals to formalize the preliminary visual representations created by architect William Burgin to illustrate use of the site. Those preliminary designs call for a pre-fabricated steel building and related outdoor provisions for highway department uses. Part of the design process will be "to look at the original design to make a decision about the façade, or outside appearance, for the pre-fab and to decide about the specifics of the roof overhang," he specified. He expects to have the final designer chosen within several weeks.

Keiser said that the two related actions will be submitting plans to the town Planning Commission for review and to the town Zoning Board for a special use permit. He said he expected citizens will follow those reviews closely, but he and other officials are not anticipating any difficulties with those approvals.

The administrator projected completion of the design, including review actions, to enable the town to schedule the breaking of ground for the start of construction in the late spring of 2008 and the seeking of bids for the pre-fab shell by early summer.

According to his calculations, Keiser said the best schedule would enable occupancy of the new highway garage in the fall of 2008.

Possible challenges

The town administrator said the main possibility of a legal challenge could arise from abutters to the site, who oppose the location. He said they would most likely scrutinize the special use permit before the Zoning Board. However, he said that the town solicitor and other legal sources available to the town all suggested the likelihood of substantial objection or delay was nominal.

"Of course, the lawyers tell you that anyone can try a legal challenge to any public action and it would be up to the courts to decide the challenge's standing in a caseby case review. They said factors involved in the zoning review are not critical," Keiser said.

He also said any challenge to the referendum process might be considered by opponents to the outcome, such as about the wording of the referendum statement, but the town's legal advisors all have discounted basis for any success with that aspect. He said that in addition to all the attention given to voting procedures, the State Election Board reviewed and approved the referendum question for wording, to make sure there was no confusion about the intent of voters, one way or the another.

Keiser added, if voters had rejected Tuesday's referendum proposition, the town's options were limited and may have pushed leaders to resort to a North Main Road location for the barn. He said consideration of those locations were seen by many, including town lawyers, as more vulnerable to court challenges. He estimated it would have taken at least two to five years to build a barn there, depending on a variety of decisions as the town tried to pursue such an alternative.

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