2014-02-27 / News

Town property off limits

Four feet of land could raise liability concerns
By Margo Sullivan

A question about a handicapped parking space at Environmental Packaging International will go to the Zoning Board of Review for a determination, the Town Council learned at its Feb. 18 meeting.

Meanwhile, on advice from Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, the council has decided not to comment further about the matter.

Victor Bell, president of the packaging company, attended the meeting and said he would ask the zoning board to allow him to revise his parking plan. EPI is located at the corner of Narragansett and Clinton avenues.

Bell said he had met with Town Administrator Kevin Paicos on his request to use a strip of town property for a handicap space. A compromise had not materialized, however, and Paicos resigned following an executive session just hours before the council meeting.

In advance of the meeting, Paicos had advised the councilors not to grant Bell’s request to use town land.

“It was my hope that some compromise might be achieved that would allow the parking lot to stay as constructed and resolve any public safety issues as well,” Paicos wrote in a memo dated Feb. 10. “Unfortunately, I do not see how both issues can be accommodated.”

The town could not allow the land use without incurring some liability, Paicos said. Therefore, he was recommending the councilors take no action when the matter came up on the agenda.

“Inasmuch as the council has previously voted its disposition of this issue, no further action by the council is necessary unless you wish to change your Sept. 3 vote,” he wrote.

According to minutes Paicos supplied in his memo, a majority of the councilors had voted last September for the packaging company to revert to the original parking plan as approved by the zoning board. The plan included a landscaping strip as a buffer along the sidewalk. In that vote, the council further specified that if a handicap space was to be provided, the space must comply with the American Disabilities Act. (Councilor Mary Meagher recused herself from the decision because the company president is a former business client.)

Referring back to the minutes, Paicos said, “Mr. Bell constructed eight parking spaces on his land instead of the seven spaces approved by the Zoning Board of Review. This eighth space cannot be accommodated unless the town first provides a grant of land and then the zoning board agrees to amend the approved plan.”

As Paicos noted in his memo, Bell on Aug. 19 asked the council for direction after Fred Brown, the head of the zoning office, notified him about a complaint that said his handicap parking space was partly occupying townowned property.

Bell said he was aware the handicap space is extending over town property, but only because of a new sidewalk that had been laid in the past year.

The councilors indicated they would not discuss the issue because Bell was speaking at open forum and the matter was not included on their agenda.

Following Bell’s initial request, then Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, along with Town Engineer Mike Gray and Brown, visited the site. The staff was asked to gather facts and report back to the councilors at their September meeting. At that meeting, Gray said the parking plan approved by the zoning board called for the sidewalk and landscaping to be built in the town right-of-way. However, public works employees installed the sidewalk inside the parking lot and the landscaping strip was never added. Bell would need 3.7 feet of town land to accommodate the handicap space, but Gray said Jamestown could assume some liability if the request was granted and an accident occurred. Some motorists, Gray said at the time, were taking a short cut and driving over the sidewalk and curb due to the lack of the landscaping strip.

Paicos said he met with staff twice on a compromise, and spoke with Bell once on the site. He ultimately concluded Bell’s request to use town land should be denied.

“The staff and I do not see any other resolution to this issue,” he wrote.

In other business, Councilor Blake Dickinson updated the councilors on the status of the town’s surveillance policy that has been in the news after the council briefly discussed it during their January workshop to set 2014 goals.

Dickinson indicated the plan is still to give the public an opportunity to comment about the cameras, but he was not certain when the draft policy would be ready for a public review.

“We’re shooting for April,” he said.

Dickinson said the framework has been developed, but some “pieces are missing” and then the town solicitor will have to review it.

“And then I believe we’ll bring it in front of the public,” he said.

Dickinson said he does not know whether a majority of residents favor or oppose the town’s use of electronic surveillance, but ultimately the town will have to strike a balance between privacy rights and public safety.

Among the provisions the policy will include, Dickinson listed an inventory of the cameras the town operates and their locations. The policy also will address “how the information is managed” and explain how the town’s compliance will be verified.

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