A long simmering feud between the Town of Tiverton and Jim Long, owner of the Longplex Family & Sports Center, escalated Monday night when the town council delayed taking action on two special …
A long simmering feud between the Town of Tiverton and Jim Long, owner of the Longplex Family & Sports Center, escalated Monday night when the town council delayed taking action on two special events planned for the facility in April.
Longplex/Tiverton Recreation LLC intends to host a two-day home and garden show and a three-day children’s consignment sale at its massive facility in coming weeks, despite the council’s contention that such activities are not permitted under current zoning laws.
Long, however, believes the Longplex has the legal right to offer such events in part because of rulings in his favor by the Zoning Board of Appeals in January and by a Superior Court judge just last Friday.
He and his attorney, Daniel Reilly, say the town council’s decision to not consider licensing of the special events at its recent meeting is an example of the barriers they typically face in dealing with town officials.
“The Town of Tiverton has been extremely difficult to work with, to put it lightly,” Reilly said in an e-mailed statement sent on behalf of Long. “Every attempt at following every process…has seemingly led to issues.”
Town officials, however, say they have valid reasons for their objections.
In an e-mail, Town Administrator Chris Cotta said Longplex was holding functions that were not what the town considered indoor recreation, which is what the company was permitted for when it opened.
Cotta said the special events were “nothing more than rental functions to Longplex and the events themselves were commercial transaction-based versus recreation. In other words, you went to look at and ultimately buy as a retail consumer an item you might use recreationally versus participating in a sporting/recreational event offered [at the] venue.”
The origins of a zoning dispute
The town views non-sporting special events, such as the children’s consignment sale which has been held numerous times at the Longplex in recent years, as a violation of the zoning ordinance because they are retail in nature and more appropriate for a convention center, which is not a permitted use.
Late last year, the town’s Building and Zoning Officer, John Hoyle, Jr., issued Longplex a notice of violation and a cease-and-desist order which blocked the company from running any event that did not fall strictly within its current zoned category of “indoor recreational facility.”
Long appealed the action and after presenting his case to the Zoning Board of Appeals, its members, in a 3-2 vote, reversed Hoyle’s notice of violation. That vote, presumably, would have allowed Long to continue to sponsor non-sporting special events.
However, in a move that surprised Long and his attorneys, the town and Hoyle filed an appeal of the zoning board’s decision with Newport County Superior Court. Additionally, the town hired outside counsel, Attorney Richard Boren, to represent the Zoning Board of Appeals in the matter.
The town submitted to the court a motion for a stay on any Longplex event applications while the appeal was being heard, argued and resolved. If approved, the stay would have negated the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision and Long would have been back to where he was when Hoyle’s cease-and-desist order was originally issued.
On Friday, March 24, the judge in the case denied the request for a stay.
Asked if this represented a victory for Long, one of his attorneys, Matthew Fabisch, said “This is absolutely a victory for us. But it’s a battle we shouldn’t be fighting.”
Following the court hearing, Long’s attorneys learned that the pending event applications would not be on the March 27 town council agenda. Nonetheless, Long, his attorneys, the event applicants, and a group of 10 or so supporters, turned out for Monday’s meeting.
When questioned by Reilly during public comment about the council’s rationale for not including the applications on the agenda, council president Denise deMedeiros said the agenda had been set prior to the court’s decision and she as well as three others involved at the agenda meeting decided to postpone consideration of the applications until the council’s April 10 meeting.
Reilly suggested a more reasonable approach would have been to add the items to the agenda and table them if the court had not issued a ruling by Monday night. He said the council’s action left the event applicants in an untenable position in terms of planning and marketing.
“The closer we push this out to the actual date of the event, the less tenable these events will be. And that hurts my client’s business, and that hurts the applicants’ business.”
In describing the next steps in the town’s legal action, Reilly said briefs will be filed by both sides and then a hearing will be held on the arguments.
“The town is proposing a 45-day briefing, meaning each side gets 45 days to reply to each other, so this is going to be a drawn out and expensive process.”