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Charlestown, the metaphorically gated town

Ms. Margaret Hogan, a lawyer, in her letter to the editor of July 6 (“Proposed subdivision regs are a land grab”), calls proposed zoning ordinance 397 a land grab. I agree with Ms. Hogan. Additionally, I consider it a ploy by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance to prevent any growth in Charlestown. Both of my concerns are hidden under the guise of conservation.

CCA’s informal criteria for Charlestown residency appears to fall into two general categories:

  1. Residents must have no children of school age or will become of school age, or be retired;

  2. Residents must be wealthy.

These categories make it difficult for the average young family to move into town. As a result, the CCA is rapidly converting Charlestown into the equivalent of a gated town.

Ten years ago my brother and I inherited a 68-acre parcel of land in Charlestown our family had owned for over 60 years. I hired a surveyor to calculate how many buildable lots could be developed on the parcel, which had a half-mile road frontage. He came up with only nine buildable lots in the yield plan based on the planning and zoning rules at that time. We did not subdivide. This calculation only included 40% open space. Proposed ordinance 397 with open space set at 70% would have had the town or a “legally constituted organization” controlling 48 of our 68 acres. The maximum number of lots in the remaining 20 acres would have been six, but these would have been further limited by wetlands, steep slopes, rare habitat, storm drainage and disturbed soil to even fewer lots. By use of the planning and zoning commissions I believe the intent of the CCA is to make it too expensive and complex for an average-size house to be built; that was my conclusion 10 years ago. Now, ordinance 397 will make matters even worse. There is nothing creative or beneficial about it, as claimed by Councilor Bonnie Van Slyke. It just hinders normal progress while causing landowners to suffer loss of control of their land, therefore loss of money, while allowing the town to gain possession of the land.

Ordinance 397 is farcically promoted as a “conservation” ordinance when the real goal is political control of the town. I find it very hypocritical that the ordinance only mentions conservation restrictions impacting new subdivisions, but south of Route 1; new houses can be built, houses can be torn down and replaced by bigger houses, or houses can be vastly expanded, all without any new conservation restrictions. The issues of conserving water, environmental impact due to extra sewage, excess fertilizer usage, possible land subsidence, etc. south of Route 1 are not addressed.

There are some who will say the CCA is doing a great job. Of course they would; it turns Charlestown into their private resort. CCA is catering to this attitude at the average family’s expense; proposed ordinance 397 is a perfect example. Unfortunately, this is possible because the CCA controls all of our key government institutions; Town Council, Planning Commission, Zoning Commission, and the Finance Department. I don’t want Charlestown to become another Boca Raton. Don’t let the CCA gate up the town with its planning and zoning philosophy. Show up Aug. 22 at the elementary school to speak against ordinance 397. In November, vote the CCA out of office.

Steven J. Williams Charlestown

This article first appeared as a Letter To the Editor in The Westerly Sun on August 7, 2022.

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