CRMC orders restoration on Beavertail property
In a ongoing battle between the Conservation Commission, the state Coastal Resources Management Council and PBH Realty, yet another onsite meeting was held at 260 Beavertail Road Tuesday, the property where the CRMC told PBH Realty that it was in violation of six state freshwater wetland laws because of a manmade pond.
“We had a very civil conversation,” said Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki, who received permission from the landowners and for the first time was allowed to be present at the site during meetings between PBH and CRMC. “From what I understand, it was a similar discussion from previous site visits. Representatives for the landowners were there and so was the CRMC, and we stood by the pond and decided that we needed the stream channel restored.”
Also in attendance was CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate.
PBH Realty is a subsidiary of the Procaccianti Group located in Cranston, which is run by president and CEO James Procaccianti. It’s a real estate investment company that specializes in “acquisition, renovation and management of investment real estate.” The company boasts that it has owned or developed more than 20 million square feet of real estate valued at over $6 billion.
PBH Realty purchased the 20- acre property at 260 Beavertail Road – Jamestown Vineyards – from Paul Hamilton and Patricia Young in 2005 for $3.3 million. Since then, CRMC alleges that multiple illegal renovations were made to the land. Chris Powell, who was chairman of the Conservation Commission for nearly three decades, said that the altercations have left virtually no buffer zone.
“I chaired the commission for 27 years,” Powell said, “and these are the most blatant and obvious violations I have ever seen.”
Powell said the conflict pertains to a small pond that was conjured up after a small stream was dammed. All six violations are attached to the construction of the pond, said Trocki. Nearly three years of threats, fines and onsite meetings have since followed, but no progress has been made.
“This has gone on for what seems like forever,” Powell said. “And the pond is still there. It just keeps getting rescheduled and pushed back.”
According to Powell, the case began when a neighbor alerted CRMC of possible violations to freshwater wetlands. After becoming aware of the construction that turned out to be in violation of council regulations, the council issued a cease-and-desist order to PBH for the modifications it made to the wetlands on Nov. 12, 2009. The manmade pond was within 200 feet of the required buffer zone, and because PBH didn’t request and receive a variance, CRMC fined the company $2,500 for its violations.
Following the initial fine and cease-and-desist order, PBH appealed the council’s ruling and requested a hearing. Soon after, the Conservation Commission wrote a letter and submitted it the CRMC stating its opposition with the alterations made to the property.
In January, the CRMC sent a letter to PBH notifying them that a public hearing would be held on Jan. 29, 2010. Four days before the hearing, PBH’s request for more time was granted by the CRMC. The hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 25, but a day before the scheduled hearing, PBH emailed the CRMC delaying the hearing for the second time. A few weeks later, PBH requested another continuance, and for the third time the hearing was rescheduled to March 26.
On March 25, CRMC made its first trip out to Beavertail to hold an onsite meeting with PBH. The following day, a hearing was held, but nothing came of it – the CRMC granted time to PBH to prepare for the hearing. It was scheduled to reconvene on May 26, but was again delayed until June 30. On June 27, a letter was sent to PBH saying that they needed a restoration plan drawn up no later than Aug. 6.
On June 29, the June 30 hearing was postponed and rescheduled to Aug. 18.
On Aug. 10, a restoration plan was submitted to the CRMC but was determined unacceptable since the plan still contained the pond. The hearing was finally held on Aug. 18, and a hearing officer decided that an acceptable restoration plan was to be submitted by PBH by Oct. 1.
A second onsite meeting between the two parties was held on Oct. 4, and PBH sent another restoration plan a week later. Once again, the pond was present in the plan, so the CRMC refused the plan. CRMC said a new plan was due Oct. 22.
A third onsite meeting was held on Oct. 19, and on Oct 28 PBH delivered a third plan which included a cement wall used for a dam, with the pond still present.
For the third time, CRMC rejected the plan. Council staff then recommended that the matter be referred to the full council and a full fine be imposed. The administrative fines proposed would be $2,500 for each of the six violations: a $15,000 total fine, which would be the largest in CRMC history for wetland regulations against a property owner.
The PBH postposed two administrative fine hearings on Nov. 16, 2010, and again on March 2, 2011, before finally getting in front of the council on May 4. PBH said that they wanted to keep the wall for irrigation, but the CRMC said that if they didn’t remove the wall, then they would take the realty company to court.
Not wanting to resolve the issue in court, the CRMC and PBH agreed to hold a fourth onsite meeting, which was the appointment this week that Trocki was allowed to attend.
On March 25, Trocki and the Conservation Commission sent a second opposition letter to the CRMC. Part of the letter read, “The residents of Jamestown have time and again supported island initiatives to protect and preserve the natural resource of Conanicut Island. We have worked very hard towards this end. We have spent millions of dollars to preserve and protect sensitive habitats and open spaces on Conanicut Island and improve the environmental quality of Narragansett Bay. We especially value our unique and beautiful coastline and remain vigilant in protecting it. Coastal violations like these cannot and should not be tolerated by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.”
Soon after, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser got into the fray. On April 29, Keiser addressed a letter to the CRMC stating that such violations could not be allowed on the island.
“Coastal violations like these cannot and should not be tolerated by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council,” wrote Keiser. “We respectfully request that the council act on this issue immediately and require a full restoration of all impacted areas before another growing season.” Since the May 4 meeting, five new CRMC members have been appointed, which includes Anne Livingston, an islander who was appointed chairwoman by Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently.
Powell said that having an islander at the helm of CRMC is a cause for optimism that this case will be resolved. “Hopefully this can get resolved, because it’s just getting ridiculous that it’s lasted this long,” Powell said. “Jamestowners try so hard to conserve this island and its beauty, and we can’t just have anyone with money coming to Jamestown and doing whatever they want with the land.”
Trocki said that from what she heard at the latest onsite meeting, she is optimistic. “What the CRMC said about what kind of restoration plan is needed, it is likely to mean that there won’t be a pond,” she said. “They will give the owners the old plan that is on file and say, ‘Here, it needs to look like this again.’”
Trocki continued: “Nothing has happened yet, but it seems like everyone is on the same page. It sounds like everyone just wants to get it resolved. I think that we put up a big enough stink so that something needs to be done.”
Nov. 12, 2009: Cease and desist and notice of administrative fine
Dec. 2: PBH appeals and requests hearing.
Dec. 27: Opposition letter submitted to CRMC by Conservation
Jan. 11, 2010: Letter sent to PBH notifying of fine hearing to be held
on Jan. 29, 2010.
Jan. 25: PBH requests more time for hearing.
Feb. 2: Letter sent to PBH rescheduling hearing to Feb. 25, 2010.
Feb. 24: PBH emails to delay hearing for second time.
March 4: Meeting at CRMC with PBH to review violations and restoration plan requirements.
March 11: Letter sent to PBH to reschedule hearing for third time
for March 26.
March 25: Onsite meeting with CRMC and PBH.
March 26: Hearing held, but time allowed for plan preparation, to
reconvene in May.
May 5: Letter to PBH to reconvene hearing on May 26.
June 15: Letter to PBH to rescheduling hearing to June 30.
June 29: Hearing postponed.
June 27: Letter to CRMC legal counsel from PBH indicating restoration plan would be submitted no later than Aug. 6.
Aug. 6: Letter to PBH to reschedule hearing to Aug. 18.
Aug. 10: Proposed restoration plan submitted, but plan still contains
impoundment and pond.
Aug. 18: Hearing held. Hearing officer decides that an acceptable
restoration plan or complete application must be submitted by Oct. 1.
Sept. 24: Meeting at CRMC at PBH’s request. Two groups agree to
meet onsite again.
Oct. 4: Second onsite Meeting with CRMC and PBH. Notes indicate
similar discussions as last visit.
Oct. 13: Second proposed plan received by CRMC. Plan shows
maintaining impoundment and pond, therefore unacceptable to CRMC.
Oct. 14: Meeting held prior to hearing notes indicate PBH agrees to
restore site in accordance with Hamilton Young Plan. New plan to be
submitted by Oct. 22.
Oct. 18: PBH calls CRMC for another onsite meeting.
Oct. 19: Third onsite meeting with CRMC and PBH. Notes indicate
agreed on re-grading, but issue of repairing and maintaining impoundment still there.
Oct. 20: PHB emails CRMC.
Oct. 25: PBH emails CRMC seeking status of past due plan.
Oct. 28: PBH delivers new plan including cement wall remaining as
Nov. 3: CRMC response to PBH that revised restoration plan with
impoundment and pond is unacceptable and would be recommending
matter be referred to full council. Staff recommends full fine and order
for restoration to council.
Nov. 5: Notice of hearing for Nov. 16.
Nov. 10: Letter to CRMC from PBH requesting continuance of hearing and another meeting with staff.
March 17, 2011: Letter to CRMC from PBH requesting continuance
of hearing scheduled for March 22.
March 25: Second opposition letter submitted to CRMC by Conservation Committee.
April 21: Notice of hearing on May 4 before full council.
April 29: Opposition letter submitted by Jamestown Town Administrator Bruce Keiser.
May 4: Full CRMC council hearing held.