CHARLESTOWN — It was evident at Wednesday’s Planning Commission hearing on a proposed self-storage facility on Route 1 that patience was wearing a little thin.
To the annoyance of some commission members, residents, and the attorney representing an owner of abutting property, the public hearing on the master plan for Storage Place LLC began with the approval of yet another continuance. The initial hearing had been continued six times already.
Storage Place proposes to build a facility on property purchased from Charlestown Willows Inc. The project, which would comprise two 15,000-square foot units fronting Route 1, would be built on 2.8 acres in a flood zone. The plan calls for elevating the site by 1 foot at the road and by 6 feet at the rear of the lot where it slopes to the water. Fill would be trucked to the site.
With members Denise Rhodes and Ruth Platner opposed, the commission voted to approve a motion to grant the applicant’s request for another continuance to the July 24 meeting.
The deadline for a decision was also extended to Aug. 28. Rhode Island general law states that a town has 90 days from the date an application is certified as being complete to render a decision. The Storage Place application was certified complete on Dec. 18, 2018 and the original decision date was April 18, 2019.
The most recent deadline for the submission of professional testimony was June 12, but the applicant submitted additional documents pertaining to the rooflines of the storage units at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon.
Rhodes said she did not understand why the commission was not adhering to its June 12 deadline.
“We’re right back again doing what we said we weren’t going to do the last time because we’ve been in here — what — six times already,” she said. “I just don’t understand. When does it end? And getting something at 4:30 today for us to review is ludicrous.”
Steven Surdut, the lawyer representing the developer, said the plan was still subject to change.
“We are here to listen to public comment and take that into consideration with our application,” he said. “We’re very interested in comments the board and the public have, and have been from the beginning, and in fact I would suggest that this stage of the process is very much a back and forth and a give and take. It is not a final plan.”
Neighboring property owner Charles Carvette has hired a lawyer, Christopher D’Ovidio, to fight the proposal. Filling in for D’Ovidio, who was unable to attend Wednesday’s hearing, lawyer Jennifer Cervenka filed an objection to the request for another continuance.
“The commission has given this applicant ample opportunity to support its application and to prepare it for a decision,” she said. “Given my own experience in being a land use practitioner in the state of Rhode Island, practicing before local and state boards for the last 15 to 20 years, I can say that this is a very unusual situation … It is unusual to have so much time pass between the certification of the complete application and the decision.”
Cervenka also noted that she and her clients were taken by surprise by the applicant’s last-minute submission on Wednesday and that she had not received a copy of the document before the hearing.
“I have no idea what’s in that submission,” she told commission members. “I have been told that it’s a reiteration of what’s come before. If it’s just a reiteration, why is it even being considered? No one can make a decision because we don’t know what it is substantively … It’s a really surprising and unfortunate and disappointing situation.”
Residents who have been waiting since January to express their opinions on the proposal listened with growing irritation as the legal wrangling over the continuance went on for more than 45 minutes.
Carvette, the first resident to speak, reminded the commission that he had already sent a letter of opposition to the proposal signed by himself and 28 property owners. Carvette also read a letter emailed to Town Planner Jane Weidman from neighboring property owners, Norma and John Green, who said that the facility should be built in a less environmentally sensitive area.
“There is land in industrial areas of town where the project would be appropriate and appreciated,” the Greens wrote.
Resident David Brown urged the commission to stop granting continuances.
“You have to gain control of this process,” he told the commission. “The extensions have gone on long enough. I ask you to please, as a resident and a voter and a taxpayer in Charlestown, please bring this to closure.”
The hearing concluded with a presentation by environmental consultant Christopher Mason, hired by D’Ovidio to provide an expert opinion on the environmental impacts of the project.
Mason concluded that there was insufficient information to determine the effects the facility might have on water quality and adjacent wetlands. He pointed out, however, that the potential for flooding, a significant factor since the facility would be situated in a floodplain, had been calculated using information provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and that more accurate information was available from the Coastal Resources Management Council’s STORMTOOLS website.
“STORMTOOLS was developed to help support CRMC and towns in decision-making because it is recognized that the FEMA modeling is inadequate and that coastal storms have historically and continue to be more damaging than would be expected from the FEMA models,” he said.
The hearing will continue on July 24.