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Council Denies Former Rep's Request to Change Zoning; Residents Applaud [VIDEO]

The Portsmouth Town Council heard a request to change zoning at the former Briggs' farm Monday night at Town Hall.

A fully-packed Town Council chamber erupted in applause Monday night after the council denied a change in zoning for the Briggs' property on West Main Road. 

the council to change the Briggs' property at 905 West Main Road from "light industrial" to "commercial." 

After hearing from nearly a half dozen Portsmouth residents and Mesolella, the council voted 6-0 to deny the petition for a zoning change. Councilor Jim Seveney was absent. 

Nearly an hour and a half earlier, the hearing seemed like it might not be held at all. 

Council President Joe Robicheau questioned whether the council would consider continuing since the Planning Board did not provide all the necessary documentation. 

"Apparently, the Planning Board has not submitted all the documents required. I'm a little uncomfortable proceeding," he said. "One thing they are supposed to submit is their findings."

The hearing eventually continued with council members first questioning Mesolella about the zoning change. 

Council sharply questions former state rep

Councilor Michael Buddemeyer was the first to question the use of the land, when he asked, "What's the value to the town if we make this change?" 

Mesolella said tax revenue from retail or mixed-use could exceed $1 million for the town. 

Buddemeyer further questioned the property's use, bringing up the Clock Tower Square development just down the road. 

"People don't go where they ain't. They ain't gonna go where there's no activity," Mesolella said. "...Where you find a McDonalds, you find a Burger King, you find a Wendy's; that's what attracts people." 

Councilors further questioned the use of this development and potential future tenants. Mesolella said there were no tenants in mind.

"There's a misconception that a Target will be built there, or a Lowe's or a K-Mart. I'm here to tell you, none of that is true," said the former state representative. 

However, he later said the site could very well be used for "petroleum distribution," or in other words, a gas station.

Residents ask council to deny request 

One after another, several residents of Kings Grant and neighboring streets asked the council to deny the request. 

‎"To change this beautiful dairy and farm into Helter Skelter is not what's good for Portsmouth," said resident Claudette Weissinger.

At one point, a resident recommended the council ask how many in the audience were in support of the change.

Robicheau asked those in favor to raise their hands. Not one single hand was seen.

He then asked those against the change to raise their hands. More than 50 arms shot up throughout the chamber. 

Bill Clark, business director for the town of Portsmouth, spoke in favor of commercial development. Councilor Paul Kesson also said there was a need for business growth. 

"This town has to move forward with commercial development, but it has to be consistent with the town," Kesson said.

East side January 31, 2012 at 08:56 PM
I beleive this is the only political correctiness strategy for saving the land in this area is to use the Aquidneck Land Trust. Forget tax revenue, that would go away but as stated elsewhere, so would the tax income for residential to remain. this is a unique area as there is a traffic light, much traffic, easy access to 24 and Bristol Ferry. I would think if someone where looking to put a business in this location (i.e. Frosty Freeze), they would do well.
albert January 31, 2012 at 11:17 PM
What if the council changed the zoning to commercial and the developer received an offer from a large car dealership. What would the planning board be able to do? and then they decided to put a Mobil station? The council informed us last night that the clock tower is built in LI property, hence if there are viable new businesses that are not big box stores, there is the opportunity there. Also the council informed us that there is plenty of additional space that is already zoned commercial. If you want to create revenue have them build on these sites or come to the council / planning board with a plan for the LI side of the property,
J. Lane McMahon February 01, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Albert, Yes, if the re-zoning had gone through, then the developer could have put in a car lot. I don't really see the problem with that, but ok. On the gas station, the short answer is no. To put a gas station in a C-1 zone, they would need a special use permit. There maybe other restrictions there because I believe that area is part of the Melville watershed. I also wish to point out that at no point did the developer ask for a zoning variance from the sq. ft. ordinance....so a big box may never even have been on the plate. All of the "information" about Lowe's, Target, etc. was gossip and in some cases flat out lies put out by the opponents of this zoning change.
Portsmouth Citizen February 01, 2012 at 09:28 PM
@J. Lane McMahon: In general the ALT doesn't purchase land, they only purchase an open space easement on it. The ownership doesn't change. For example, the Escobar farm is still owned by Escobar. Taxes are still paid. What might change is the valuation of the land. A large chunk of land with potential to be developed into houses, retail, whatever, would have a certain value. That same land with an easement preventing that development is less valuable, so the taxes collectable on it are less. But the owner still pays taxes. Just wanted to clarify.
J. Lane McMahon February 01, 2012 at 10:14 PM
But, I don't think that even applies here. Since then land is zoned LI, selling the development rights would make it what it is today. An empty lot, but with no value. Since ALT does not pay anywhere near the value of the land, I doubt anyone in their right mind would ever consider it in a case like this. And the resulting re-evalutation would remove most if not all of it from the tax rolls. That's not a win-win....

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