TIVERTON — Recusals by five members of the town planning board — a majority — have halted board consideration of a zoning change sought by the Tiverton Yacht Club (TYC).
Because the nine-member board has determined that it can’t take action at all on the zoning amendment, it notified the town council of the impasse on Monday, Nov. 26.
The amendment to the zoning code, if it is now to be considered at all, must be acted upon by the town council, which procedurally must conduct a public hearing as part of any consideration it gives to the change.
“It’s up to the town council now to schedule a hearing on the matter,” said Kenneth Tremblay, the lawyer for the TYC. “We’re not asking for much, just to let us put in a new septic system.
Greg Jones, commodore of the TYC, concurs. “It’s up to the town to figure out how to act with respect the proposed ordinance,” he said.
Previous consideration by the council of a different zoning amendment regarding the TYC, turned into a showcase of a hotly contested dispute between the club and its neighbors, and required a public hearing involving numerous witnesses that extended over multiple sessions during June, July, and August of 2010.
The property and the zoning dispute then concerned a parcel of land uphill from Riverside Drive. At issue was whether the reconstruction of the TYC clubhouse on the uphill parcel was an expansion of a non-conforming use. The club’s old clubhouse burned down in 2003.
The TYC was before the fire, and still is, a non-conforming use in the zoning district where it is located.
The TYC presented the current zoning amendment last August 27 to the council, which referred the matter to the planning board for its advisory recommendation.
This zoning amendment would allow the TYC to install a new septic system along Riverside Drive across the road from the site where the club proposes to rebuild its clubhouse.
The new septic system, required and approved by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), is larger, and has a greater capacity, than the one it replaces used by the old clubhouse years ago.
The proposed amendment would say, in effect, that the enlargement of the septic system on the Sakonnet River side of the road will not expand or enlarge the non-conforming use of the club the TYC seeks to rebuild uphill and across the road. The proposal, say the TYC proponents, would, if adopted, apply to approximately 40-50 other waterfront abutters.
Planning board members recusing, and their reasons for doing so, are:
• Peter Corr (trustee of TYC, and holder of original stock in the TYC through an inheritance);
• Stephen J . Hughes (officer and director of TYC, Ethics Commission advises recusal);
• Stuart Hardy (director of TTYC, Ethics Commission advises recusal);
• David Saurette (long time member and former Commodore of TYC);
• Carol Guimond, who had requested an ethics advisory opinion in September, then withdrew it in October. Ms. Guimond said she planned to recuse anyhow, and did not require an advisory opinion. Her daughter Denise Saurette, she said, is a member of the TYC and serves as its bookkeeper, and her daughter’s husband is David Saurette, the group’s former commodore.
Legal Counsel to the planning board, Peter Ruggeiro, says the Nov. 26 memorandum to the council, has advised that the so-called “rule of necessity,” which allows a body to act even if a majority of members have recused, is not applicable to the current situation, since the planning board’s consideration of the zoning amendment is advisory only to the town council, not mandatory or required by law.