Keeping Watch Over Town Hall

Elaine Vespia was walking toward Town Hall Tuesday morning, Nov. 21, when she looked up and saw a hawk, right there on top of the roof closest to Peirce Street. Vespia, who works in the Town Clerk’s office, had never seen one there.

She was wary – not quite sure what the hawk would do – but she decided she just had to take a photo or two. After Vespia had taken pictures from a couple of different angles, the hawk took flight, swooping down toward the Varnum Yard across the street and away.

Later, referring to the close up she got of the hawk, Vespia said, “I even surprised myself with this one.” 

Thanks for sharing the pictures, Elaine!

 

 

Developer Proposes Multi-Use Building for Prime Main Street Corner

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The 695 Main Street site as it currently appears.

The empty corner at First Avenue and Main Street – site of a former Sunoco station – has been an eyesore for years but that may finally be changing. At a Planning Board meeting earlier this month, applicant 20 Water Street Realty LLC brought its proposal for 695 Main Street for a pre-application review – a three-story mixed-use building with commercial spaces on the first floor, offices and apartments on the second floor and apartments on the third floor. A total of eight residential apartments are being proposed.

And, in general, the Planning Board liked what it saw.

In the seven years since Sunoco closed the station, the property has sat vacant and, at times, weed strewn. Early on, there was a move afoot to put a Walgreens on the site. That fell apart because of traffic concerns. The site is challenging. It’s not a huge parcel and it’s part of a busy intersection. A drug store would have provided more in-and-out traffic than the lot could bear.

The carwash on Second Street and First Avenue is on a separate lot and would remain.

Later, there was the possibility of a bank for that site. In theory, a bank could have worked, since banks don’t excite huge traffic, but that developer dropped out very early in the process.

More recently, it looked like the site would be home to a used car lot. But the used cars never materialized.

The proposal is similar to the Piazza Zarrella building at 652 Main St., which sits kitty-corner to 695 Main Street. That building has commercial businesses at street level (a lighting store, a photographer, a lawyer) and apartments upstairs, with parking behind. The new proposal would place the building right on the First Avenue and Main Street corner, with parking on the Second Avenue side. The carwash on Second Street and First Avenue is on a separate lot and would remain. There would be entrances to the parking area on First Avenue, Main Street and Second Street.

A pre-application review is non-binding. Rather, it’s an opportunity for a developer to show the Planning Board what it wants to do and get feedback. This was the developer’s second visit before the Planning Board and members were more favorable this time. In particular, members liked that the building was now flush with the street and provided more of a “gateway” appearance at an intersection that is considered the southern entry point to East Greenwich’s main downtown section.

The Planning Department’s staff report noted that the project would need approval from the Historic District Commission, since the property lies within the Downtown Historic District. In addition, while the parking plan seemed appropriate, if someone wanted to open a restaurant on the first floor, the report said, “the parking calculation would need to be re-examined.”

The next step for the project is Master Plan approval.

A Moment’s Reflection

By Bob Houghtaling

Winter’s chill is upon us, which for many people around here means that the Holidays are near. While the hustle and bustle of the time can be frustrating, let’s not lose sight of what these seasonal celebrations are intended for.

It goes without saying that our world can occasionally seem scary and complicated. All too often, during moments of fear, people shy away from reaching out and resort to isolation, accompanied by tribalistic attitudes, promoting us vs. them dynamics. When this occurs, it is imperative to recall the wisdom of the ages that asks that we remember how important compassion, love and understanding are. Even though this sounds so simple, reminding ourselves of these long held precepts, from time-to-time, is essential.

I am wishing you all a wonderful Holiday Season. Hopefully, we each can find a moment to reflect on our gifts as well as gain additional insight into our place in this amazing, yet crazy, universe. Every individual’s uniqueness must be extolled. The uniqueness of neighbors must be equally considered. We are all in this together, alone. Man is a social and spiritual creature. Relating to others is part of the human experience. Everyone can benefit from the introspection that this time of year offers.

Holidays can teach us much. Love rises above politics. Fairness is its own power. Justice presides in the heavens–and mercy is our way of forgiving along with helping others. Adults bestow kindness towards their children and each child endures endless anticipation awaiting the season’s magical moments. All of these are guided by something larger than any of us. Everyone knows that at our core, someone’s worth is more than cents in a dollar, it also includes a sense of decency. We get bogged down in believing that our driving the bus is apparent when, all along, the fare for the ride has been paid beyond human control. Sometimes, humbly accepting the journey is in order.

So, revel in these times. Sing, dine and gather together. East Greenwich is a beautiful town, one shared by thousands of wonderful human beings. There might be disagreements on occasion but, upon reflection, most know that the Town’s strength comes from ongoing friendships and cooperation. We cannot forget this. Perhaps the following poem might be a simple reminder.

The Stars

Evening stars dance in the dark
Celebrating this extra time
Holidays are here again
Bringing moments so sublime

Friends all gather for worship
Families celebrate in their homes
Taking care for reflection
That we are not alone

Let’s sing hymns to the world
Ask for love and grace
All the while remembering
Upon everyone’s special place

Gaze into the heavens
Join each hand-in-hand
Feel the spirit of the days
Love your fellow man

Enjoy this special time of year. Wherever you are, whatever you believe, it is important to be connected. Bridges are better than walls. The world is better because you are here. Make it better still. Hope to see you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the East Greenwich substance abuse counselor. He is also head of the Academy Foundation and is on the board of East Greenwich News.

 

This Week in EG: Council Meeting, Tree Lighting (& Santa!) at Town Hall

A weekly article that lists happenings in East Greenwich and nearby. If you have something you’d like to add, send your information to egreenwichnews@gmail.com.

Benny’s third – and final – East Greenwich incarnation, at 5600 Post Road.

Monday, Nov. 27

EG Benny’s closes Come 5 p.m., the venerable Rhode Island chain will close doors in East Greenwich for the last time. If you missed it when it ran originally, be sure to check out Mark Thompson’s excellent remembrance of Benny’s in EG.

Community Supper – Christ Community Kitchen offers a free monthly dinner for any and all who would like to meet and dine in community. This month, the menu is turkey! Dinner is served starting at 5 and everything wraps up by 6:30 p.m. In the dining room at St. Luke’s Church, 99 Peirce St. Donations are accepted.

Town Council meetingOn the agenda, the council will be voting on annual victualing and liquor licenses. The council must approve all such licenses and business taxes and sewer fees must be paid up. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center.

Tuesday, Nov. 28

Zoning Board meeting – On the agenda, Ocean State Veterinary Hospital is seeking a variance to add onto its building on South County Trail and the owner of Kai Bar on Main Street is requesting that the board review its earlier decision on valet parking. That same owner is also seeking parking relief for 205 Main St. (former site of Flex Appeal), where the owner is looking to open a hookah bar. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Town Hall.

Wednesday, Nov. 29

Lunch on the Hill – If you are looking for some good food and company, stop by the dining room at St. Luke’s Church on Peirce Street where you will find both. A free lunch is offered every week, sponsored by various local churches and restaurants – a different church-restaurant combination each week.From 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.Learn more and check out the full schedule here: Lunch On The Hill Info Sheet.

Planning Board meetingOn the agenda is a discussion and recommendation to the Town Council on changes to the zoning ordinance pertaining to medical marijuana. In particular, the board will be looking at amendments of the “Terms Defined,” “Table of Permitted Uses,” and changes to the standards of review for “cooperative cultivations.” The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Town Hall.

Friday, Dec. 1

Town Hall Tree Lighting … and Santa! – The annual tree lighting events start at 5 with live music. Santa arrives at 6 to light the tree and then kids can visit with the jolly fellow in Council Chambers and get their picture taken. [Editor’s Note: The original date posted with this item was incorrect. We apologize.]

Saturday, Dec. 2

Fall ’17 Festival of Little Plays – The St. Luke’s Little Theatre presents three short plays, “Death Knocks,” by Woody Allen; “Checkout Time” by Tom Maguire, and a scene from “The Little Flower of East Orange,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. The event is free but donations to benefit Loaves & Fishes RI will be accepted. 8 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 3

“Fezziwig” Fundraiser – The East Greenwich Academy Foundation’s annual “Fezziwig” fundraiser (as in Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s generous and fun employer from A Christmas Carol) takes place at Frank & John’s Pizza on Main Street. $10 per person (or more if you can manage it) and open to all. Meet new friends, enjoy delicious pizza and raise money for the cause of your choice.

Fall ’17 Festival of Little Plays – The St. Luke’s Little Theatre presents three short plays, “Death Knocks,” by Woody Allen; “Checkout Time” by Tom Maguire, and a scene from “The Little Flower of East Orange,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. The event is free but donations to benefit Loaves & Fishes RI will be accepted. 3 p.m.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

Recycling is ON this week. Yard waste will be picked up through Dec. 8.

Register for email updates from the town – Sign up through the town’s Notify Me system and you can receive anything from a weekly email listing meetings and events to targeted emails about specific boards and commissions you are interested in. In addition, you will be notified in case of emergencies (i.e. parking bans, other important information). Click here to get started. And, for those who signed up before August, revisit the link if you have specific topics about which you’d like more information.

Town Holiday Donation ProgramFamilies in need should contact Department of Senior / Human Services (DSHS) as soon as possible.  Those needing assistance in providing gifts for their children during the December holidays can complete an application at the Department’s office, located at the Swift Community Center, 121 Peirce Street or call 886-8638.  The deadline to complete an application is Friday, December 1st.  Applications received after December 1st will be matched with donors contingent on availability. Donor and recipient personal information is strictly confidential.  Gifts will be delivered, unwrapped to the Swift Community Center by Monday, Dec, 18.  Each adopted family will be contacted to make arrangements for gift distribution.

December Holiday Meals – The town’s Senior Services offers holiday meals to needy residents. The deadline to sign up is Wednesday, Dec. 6. To see if you are eligible and to register, contact Carol Tudino at ctudino@eastgreenwichri.com or 401-886-8638.

Police Log: High-Speed Chase, Diner Fight

By Bethany Hashway

Wednesday, Nov. 1

9:45 a.m. – Police arrested an Exeter man, 71, for simple assault and disorderly conduct after he got into an argument with another patron about insurance while at The Beacon Diner on South County Trail. The Exeter man said the other man was wrong, swore at him, then punched him in the face. The Exeter man proceeded to choke the other man, who was now on the floor, until an employee attempted to stop him. The Exeter man shoved the employee aside, but then stopped after he realized what he’d done. When police arrived, the man was arrested and taken to EGPD for processing and was later released with a District Court summons.

11:16 a.m. – Police arrested a Coventry man, 34, on a bench warrant after he was pulled over for going through a stop sign in the area of King and Duke streets. Routine checks showed the warrant. He was taken into custody, and taken to Superior Court for arraignment.

Thursday, Nov. 2

11:15 a.m. – An East Greenwich woman told police that she had been scammed by a caller who said he was with the FBI and that there was a warrant out for her arrest for money laundering. The caller got the woman to give him the last four digits of her Social Security number and asked about her credit cards and bank accounts. The caller then gave the woman another phone number to call to help her straighten things out. The second man told her to cancel her credit card, buy five $100 gift cards at CVS, then call him back and read the gift card numbers to him. After she did all this, the woman told her husband, who said she’d been scammed and needed to call the police.

Friday, Nov. 3

1:21 a.m. – Police arrested a Providence man, 31, speeding and a number of moving violations, as well as driving with a suspended license after a high-speed chase with police. Police noticed the driver after he turned left from Exchange Street to King Street without signaling, then failed to stop at a stop sign on King Street. Police activated lights and siren on Main Street to get the driver to pull over, but he did not pull over. Police followed the driver onto Division Street, heading west. The driver shut off his headlights and, according to the report, accelerated to 70 mph in a 25 mph zone. The driver passed five cars on the left and passed through two stop signs without slowing, then turned right onto the Route 95 on ramp northbound. EGPD called the officer off the chase and notified State Police to pick it up. The car stopped at Exit 11 and EGPD arrested the driver, who was taken to the police department and held overnight before being taken to District Court.

2:30 p.m. – A Meadowbrook Road resident told police someone had put holes in her front window on Halloween. She said she heard three knocks at 9 p.m. and then noticed the damaged window. She said she saw three kids running down the street but did not recognize them.

Saturday, Nov. 4

6:16 pm. – Police arrested Thomas Campbell, 36, of North Kingstown, for felony charges of domestic assault (third offense) and mayhem and a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct from an Oct. 25 incident. Coventry police had picked up Campbell on a hit-and-run offense. After seeing a warrant in the system for Campbell’s arrest, Coventry PD notified EGPD. EGPD picked Campbell up and took him to the station for processing.

Sunday Nov. 5

4:22 a.m. – Police arrested an East Greenwich man, 30, for domestic disorderly conduct and domestic simple assault after he allegedly tackled his roommate causing a picture to fall from the wall, gashing the roommate’s head. The roommate told police he had been sleeping but woke up to the sounds of the East Greenwich man “trashing the kitchen.” When police arrived, they found the suspect in bed, with a large knife on the bed with him. He was arrested without incident and taken to EGPD for processing. Someone was called to pick up the man’s three children, who were sleeping in the basement at the time. Police also arrested the roommate, 21, who had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court.

4:30 p.m. – An East Greenwich woman told police she had what could be an explosive device from WWII that her father had given her a few years earlier. Someone from the state fire marshal’s office arrived at the house and took the possible ordinance into custody. He said it did not look like an explosive device but that he would have it x-rayed and would return it to the homeowner if it was deemed safe.

Friday Nov. 10

5:56 p.m. – Police arrested a Warwick man, 46, on a bench warrant after someone tipped off police about the outstanding warrant. Police pulled the car over on First Avenue after routine checks turned up the warrant. The man was taken into custody, processed at EGPD, then delivered to the ACI in Cranston. 

Monday Nov. 13 

4:06 a.m. – Police arrested a Warwick man, 66, for domestic disorderly conduct and domestic simple assault and battery after he slapped his girlfriend while waiting for his dog to be treated at the animal hospital on South County Trail. According to the report, the girlfriend had wanted to bring in the dog, who may have swallowed marijuana. The man had not wanted that information disclosed. The couple began arguing and the man grabbed the woman by her shirt, pushing her away. He then slapped her with his open hand, then left. Police found him at his residence. He initially denied having struck the woman but changed his story after he learned a camera had captured the incident. He was arrested and taken to EGPD headquarters where he was processed. He was later transported to the ACI in Cranston. 

More Than 500 Turn Out for 7th Annual Turkey Trot

The weather gods blessed the Main Street Association of EG’s 7th Annual Turkey Trot, with relatively mild temperatures for the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run. And more than 500 people signed up to participate.

The top finisher was Bronson Venable, 27, of Warwick with a time of 15:16. Top female finisher was Coco Arcand, 16, of Sutton, Mass., who completed the run in 18:43. For all the finish times, click here.

Proceeds from the Turkey Trot will be donated to the Cultural Organization of the Arts (COA), a local nonprofit dedicated to bringing arts programming into East Greenwich public schools. On Saturday, the MSA also made a $500 donation from its general fund to the Gianna Cirella Foundation, which was established in the wake of the death of Gianna Cirella, daughter of EG Deputy Police Chief Skip Cirella, earlier this month.

Town Advertises for Town Manager

Town manager job posting on ICMA.org.

A job posting for town manager was up on the town’s website, Indeed.com,  GovJobs.com and ICMA.org (no link – you need to be a member), as well as with the R.I. League of Cities and Towns as of Wednesday, Nov. 22. In addition, the posting will run in the Providence Journal in this Sunday’s paper and online for 30 days, according to Chief of Staff Michaela Antunes.

The post begins, “The Town of East Greenwich, R.I., (pop. 13,146) is seeking a Town Manager responsible for the daily operation and administration of municipal government, fiscal management, capital planning, collective bargaining, procurement and management of personnel, oversight of Town departments, preparation of an annual operating budget of approximately $62 million, and other related duties, as defined in the Town Charter.”

The salary range for the position was listed as $130,000 to $160,000 a year.  Current Town Manager Gayle Corrigan makes $160,000.

Among the qualifications sought are a minimum of 10 years of experience as  a business leader, administrator or similar position leading an organization and team of professional employees, and a minimum of 5 years municipal collective bargaining experience.

The deadline for resumes is Dec. 22.

Town Councilman Nino Granatiero is the council’s point person for the search. He has said he wants to have a five-member search committee made up of recommendations from council members. He said the council will also meet with the town’s personnel board.

School Committee Questions Town’s $200,000 Sewer Debt Claim

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Finance Director Linda Dykeman at the Nov. 21 School Committee meeting.

At the Town Council meeting Nov. 6, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan said the school district was $200,000 in debt to the town’s sewer enterprise fund. That was news to the school district. But it turns out Finance Director Linda Dykeman hasn’t yet resolved what the district might owe on sewers. That’s what she told the School Committee during their meeting Tuesday night.

“There’s a possibility that payments might not have been applied properly. There are invoices people don’t think are accurate,” Dykeman said. She said she was in the process of listing all invoices and all payments made by the school district to figure out what the balance actually is.

“There are two pieces of this puzzle. The first is what is owed and then why is it owed. I’m hearing from Mr. Wilmarth [director of facilities for the schools] that there’s different theories of what the agreements were regarding the deduct meter that was put in for the irrigation system,” said Dykeman, referring to the fields irrigation system at the high school that was installed in 2011. “People aren’t remembering these conversations the same is what I’m hearing. So once we get the actual invoices and know the payments and know the amount due, then we can sit down with those invoices and figure out if was there an anomaly, were there problems with the billing and go from there.”

Dykeman said Wilmarth told her he’d asked “repeatedly” for the invoices but did not receive them and that she was looking into that as well.

“It sounds to me that it’s not accurate to make the statement that the school owes the municipality $200,000,” said Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark. “We actually don’t know the actual number.”

Councilman Matt Plain pressed Dykeman harder on that point.

“The notion that $200,000 is owed is merely an allegation, until it can either be confirmed or dispelled,” he said, then asked, “The $200,000 is not verified, correct? That’s a yes or no.”

Dykeman declined to answer that directly.

“I haven’t done an audit to trace the payments and the lack of payments that produced that $200,000,” she said.

Committee member Michael Fain said he thought getting the real information should be a priority for the district, “if the town’s going to stand up there and say we owe them $200,000.”

The challenge for Dykeman is that, under the recent town-school consolidation, she is both the finance director for the town and for the schools. Her priority is to prepare for the town’s audit, which is to begin in soon.

The School Committee is also looking to Dykeman to supply an updated budget picture for the current fiscal year – and to find out if the district will have to dip into its fund balance as much as it had budgeted. So far, Dykeman said, it looks like it would be.

Chairwoman Mark asked Dykeman to get to the bottom of the sewer questions by the next School Committee meeting on Dec. 5 and get other information to the committee before it meets in joint session with the Town Council Dec. 18.

You can watch video of the meeting here.

Can School District Afford Curriculum Director This Year?

If they decide they can, school officials agree they need to commit to the position, even if the town level funds the schools.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

School Committee members Jeff Dronzek (left) and Matt Plain (center) both advocated pressing the Town Council to address additional funding for special education, which could help pay for a curriculum director.

When the School Committee approved a final budget last June, they voted to approve hiring a director of teaching and learning (in old parlance, a curriculum director) in January, halfway through the year to make the addition a little easier to bear budget-wise. But the vote was contingent on the town taking over the district’s $45,000 sewer bill, which in theory anyway would line up with the town’s stated “One Town” policy.

With January a mere number of weeks away, some on the School Committee are pushing to fill that position, even though the town said no to paying the district’s sewer bill.

The Town Council level-funded the schools this year, but their One Town consolidation plan saved the district $530,000. The district, however, had requested an additional $1.3 million so the council’s decision to level fund the schools ultimately cut the district’s budget request by $770,000. [Ed. Note: figures in this paragraph had been incorrect in an earlier version.]

Hiring a director of teaching and learning would cost upwards of $100,000 for a year, half that if the new director started in January.

“I think we should figure out a way to get those on board [curriculum director and HS librarian] and if we don’t get paid what we’re owed, that’s not on us,” argued Councilman Jeff Dronzek, head of the committee’s finance subcommittee.

Dronzek was referring to the state’s failure as of now to pay all that it had promised in state aid because of the delay in passing the state budget, as well as the town’s promise to help with unexpected and unbudgeted special education costs. The district has already seen such an expense, with a bump in preschool enrollment for children with special needs. The district hired the extra teacher in August. The town has not, as yet, agreed to give the schools anything extra for special unexpected education expenses such as the preschool hire.

“We’ve got to get this in our budget or we’re never going to get these positions,” Dronzek said. “If we wait until we get all the fund balance info, we’re not going to get these positions in this year.”

Matt Plain suggested that School Committee members press the Town Council directly to get an item about supplemental appropriations on the council’s agenda through “a letter for all of us, a letter from each of us, repeated letters and emails from each of us. Letting the public know we’re requesting that…. Something to ensure that it’s getting at least an opportunity to be discussed and voted on by the Town Council.”

He added, “We need the money.”

Chairwoman Carolyn Mark did not disagree with her colleagues but she said the committee would need to be ready to cut other things if the district was level funded in fiscal year 2019.

“What’s going to go so that we can keep that position?” she said.

“We couldn’t look to hire someone for five months and five months only,” said Councilwoman Lori McEwen. I think we would have to take a vote, we would have to commit that that is a line that stays in – a position in the org chart that is very clear.”

McEwen added that hiring someone to fill the director of teaching and learning position would not, in and of itself, solve the district’s curriculum-related issues.

“Hiring a director of teaching and learning will not categorically change the district,” she said. “There will be major changes for the good but … that role alone, that person will not be coming in with a cape.”

Chairwoman Mark asked Supt. Mercurio to try to meet with Town Manager Gayle Corrigan to learn exactly what the town considers is a special education “demonstrated need” before the committee’s next meeting Dec. 5. In addition, Mercurio said he would write a draft job description so the district would be ready to go with a search.

Letter to the Editor: Council Actions Brave

Town Councilor Sean Todd talks with residents after the council’s vote to return Corrigan as town manager Monday, 11/20/17.

The Town Council meeting last night was filled with opposition. Most attending seemed less disturbed by the revelations underpinning the Town’s runaway spending than by the unseemly disruption to the Town’s facade of comity. Case in point: Councilman Schwager took umbrage at Council President Cienki’s prerogative to post very specific financial facts on the Town’s website, suggesting these findings were the Councilwoman’s opinion. Dr. Schwager did not, however, offer any facts to refute Mrs. Cienki, but instead he opined on the need step back and take time to smooth things over.

 As reasonable as this sounds, the instinct to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy seems like part of the problem. “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” and “the time to strike is when the iron is hot.” Old bromides, for sure, but lose the initiative, and these problems – building up over time – are as likely as not to slip back into obscurity, and it won’t be until more people start moving out of town than into town that these facts hit home again. By then it could be too late. Many people who have lived here for decades can no longer afford the rapidly escalating tax levy. For them, living in East Greenwich is not just about property values; these people have deep roots, and to be forced out by taxes, cutting those ties, is a very unhappy thing.
EG is top heavy. The nature of top-heavy vessels is they tend to flip suddenly. What the Town Council is doing is one of the bravest things tackled by local politicians in many years. They have reasserted a bold but necessary agenda. It behooves dissenters to wear the Town Council’s shoes and pursue realistic and timely compromise. In my prayers this Thanksgiving will be the entreaty, “Lord, help East Greenwich act wisely.”
                                                                                                                          – Dean Fachon