Zoning violation alleged on Portsmouth lot

PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council would have been hard pressed to find a better argument for a municipal court than the one it heard Tuesday night.

A Lehigh Terrace resident, James Hall, accused East Coast Construction of operating illegally in a residential zone on land just south of the Lehigh overlook off West Main Road.

But the owner of the property in question, Allen Shers, said every time he’s responded to the site after getting a complaint, he’s never found any evidence of wrongdoing.

In the middle is Building Inspector George Medeiros, the town’s zoning enforcement officer, who said he’s seen construction equipment on the property but never evidence of any illegal activity. Besides, it would be difficult to build a strong case against Mr. Shers with the limited staff and resources at his disposal, he said.

“So what’s the next step on this?” asked Town Council President James Seveney.

“Municipal court,” responded Mr. Medeiros. “I’ve been an advocate for years.”

The problem is, the town doesn’t yet have such a court, which typically hear matters relating to zoning, traffic, harbor patrol, disorderly conduct and animal code violations. The council did vote last month, however, to seek legislation to allow the town to establish a municipal court.

That day can’t come soon enough for Mr. Hall, whose frustration was visible Tuesday night. “I was surprised to see that there had been 12 notices of violation or instances where Mr. Medeiros has gone to this lot based on people making complaints,” said Mr. Hall, adding that they go back to 2005. “My problem is that Mr. Shers’ tenant has quite obviously outgrown his location down on Chase Road and has decided that right next to Lehigh Terrace would be a good place to run his operation, or a good portion of it.”

He complained of noise from slamming tailgates and alarms and claimed East Coast has processed a stone-type material that’s being stored on site. The operation is particularly bothersome to his 10-year-old daughter, whom he says has serious health issues and is often home from school.

Mr. Hall’s mother, Beverly Hall, who also lives on the street, said the property “is being worked on all the time, five days a week, eight hours a day.” She described her backyard as a sandpile.

Mr. Shers said he’s owned the lot for 34 years and allows East Coast Construction to deposit fill there from other projects. He said he’s gotten “a couple of calls about dust in the summer” or other complaints, but whenever he goes on the property to investigate, he doesn’t find any violations. If he learns that East Coast is conducting a business there, he’ll stop their operations, he said.

“In other words, you don’t know what they’re doing on your property,” said Mr. Seveney.

Council member Michael Buddemeyer said he found it odd that two representatives from East Coast were at the meeting but “conveniently left” before the agenda item came up.

“If you want to call them into the next meeting, God bless because I want to see them get their keisters in here,” said Mr. Shers.

Mr. Hall said it’s not his family’s nature to complain, but he’s had enough. “He’s being unethical, he’s lying,” he said in reference to Mr. Shers. “You’re not allowed to stockpile materials on a residential lot.”

Again, said Mr. Seveney, the issue could be resolved if the town had a municipal court in place.

“I don’t know what to tell you because everything you say is the complete opposite from what Mr. Shers says,” he said. “I can’t get my hands around the fact that there are such diametrically opposed stories.”

Recycling educator added

In other news Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to hire a part-time recycling educator and purchase recycling bins using about $41,000 in Rhode Island Resource Recovery (RIRRC) rebate funds.

“There’s a big need to go out to schools and help them set up recycling efforts and programs,” said Bob Gessler, chairman of the town’s Solid Waste/Recycling Committee. He said the job will exist only if the rebate funds are available.

Town Administrator John Klimm agreed that the job is needed, adding that there’s no one at Town Hall to answer questions about recycling.

Transfer station

The council voted unanimously approved a three-year contract for J.R. Vinagro Corp. to keep operating the transfer station on Hedly Street at $135,897.44 per year. The only other company under consideration was Waste Management, which bid $230,000 per year.

The council delayed action, however, on awarding a bid for a two-year security contract for the transfer station.

The low bidder — at $13.48 an hour — was RIBI Security, which handles security on the site now. However, several council members said they were concerned about the current level of service.

“I get repeated e-mails about people coming to the transfer station early in the morning and there’s no one there,” said council member Elizabeth Pedro.

Mr. Seveney added that he knows of someone who dumped trash at the station for weeks without a sticker.

The council voted unanimously to table the bid award until the next regular meeting.

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