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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.

Patriot January 31, 2012 at 02:23 PM
I am pleased with the outcome. Mr. Mesolella spun a pretty tale of a "Kings Grant" style architecture building, with a landscaped buffer with the residential area and increased tax receipts for the town. However, he acknowledged that he had no prospective tenants, and he would not be building on speculation. [He did not discuss how he would attract tenants for a prospective building while King's Grant has apparently been unable to do so]. A zoning change would give him a better chance of attracting quality tenants, but it would also allow him, under our current regulations, to do things that we may not necessarily want in that location, like put in a sea of asphalt, an automobile showroom, and a gas station. Mr. Mesolella would have us trust him that he really wants to build a "King's Grant-Like" development. Nothing personal with regard to Mr. Mesolella (though he has had plenty of not-so complimentary press for various actions he has taken as a developer/property owner over the years) but I think our community has learned that "trusting" a developer is never a smart way to proceed on any project.
J. Lane McMahon January 31, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Remember this moment kids, the next time you are go to complain about your property taxes going up.
Patriot January 31, 2012 at 03:32 PM
J. Lane McMahon - I agree with you if your point is that we (the town) has to be somehow more pro-business, and all our elected and would-be elected officials agree with this. And, I am frustrated that no matter what a developer/business person might propose, you can count on the council chamber being full of neighbors of the proposed business [sometimes called "Nimby's"] who are against it because it will create traffic, light, noise, visual blight, water-runoff issues etc. I don't know what the solution to this is, but I do know that I am not going to simply "trust" a would-be developer to do the right thing. If on the other hand someone came to the council with an actual specific proposal, I would be in favor of taking a serious look at the proposal, and not just summarily reject it because of a large number of residents in the chamber that evening were against it.
J. Lane McMahon January 31, 2012 at 03:48 PM
It's not a trust issue. Had the council voted yes, before anything could ever be built, plans would have to be reviewed by the Design Reveiw Board, upon approval, they would then have to get the plan approved by the Zoning Board. There is oversight. We had a golden opportunity here to shape the future of retail development in Portsmouth. Instead, we let a few make the choice for us. And let's be honest, I heard MANY of the people in that room lastnight, telling flatout LIES to each other. Even after the developer said (under oath), that he had no tenants, people in the TC audience still repeated the lies that "I heard Lowes was coming", or "Target" or....etc.
J. Lane McMahon January 31, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I was at lastnights meeting. And here are my impressions. This town council is an embarrassment. It was very clear, in the first 5 minutes that this had no chance. And then to watch out elected officials struggle through trying to understand our zoning code was laughable. Let me single a few out. Judy Staven: I don't care what you did when you bought your house. You made your mind up before you even sat down last night. You are the special interest Queen. The Hart family bought land next to a lt. Ind. zone...period. It is not your job to "protect" them at the exspense of the rest of the town. Liz Pedro: You don't understand the zoning code, so do yourself a favor and don't try to quote it. You looked stupid up there. Keith Hamilton: Don't claim we need more business, then vote against things like this. You were right about one thing. We allowed the zoning change 4 or 5 years ago to Residential, to allow the property owner to cash in on property that was at an all time high. So they got there money. Now the rest of the town must pay the price. This Council needs to go. And if you haven't lived here for 20+ years, stop telling me what the town chould look like.
Dave Hart January 31, 2012 at 05:42 PM
J. Lane: No we did NOT buy land next to Light industrial. The land is residential. I have said before many times on these boards that when we bought our home it was zoned residential all around us. We have no issue about commercial use for the light industrial land on West Main...none at all. We take issue at changing the residential section. People seem to be annoyed that we are against this and the reasoning is that "we should have known better" when we bought our home. We knew two things at the time: it was in a residential lot and there was an ordnance limiting store size. I understand and respect people's opinions on this, but don't act as though we were naive and should have expected this.
East side January 31, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Dave - The change from light industry to residential back in 2005 is still new and there are no guarantees (i think). Since many of the residential sections has gone undeveloped the town and owners would benefit by the rezoning to commerical. I'm thinking if you have a shot the Portsmouth Preservation folks are not the ones you'd benefit from. They only care about there little section of Portsmouth and no big box stores. This is a done deal. However, your house if surrounded by land owned by the Aquidneck Land Trust would jump in value and be reserved. I'd get witht the aquidneck land trust while this is a hot topic and ask them to purchase this land. Otherwise, it's only up for those with a vested interested and based on this TC, we can't wait to vote them out. So the next TC may not be as uneducated as this one is and they may rezone.
J. Lane McMahon January 31, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Dave, I know you bought into a residential plot. But you fail to understand is that a mistake was made just a few years before. That land was not meant to be residential. My point is that the rest of the town now has to give up a lot of tax revenues so that you can keep your neighborhood. and by allowing this residential re-zoning to continue, open the door for more houses to be built which will cost all of us more money. I've watched this town grow for 45 years. And one thing is for sure. It will continue to grow. We need to act now and make sure the development of Portsmouth is in a manner and direction we can all live with.
J. Lane McMahon January 31, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I think anything that AILT purchases (which is a non-profit) would become tax exempt....thereby making this an even bigger revenue hole.
J. Lane McMahon January 31, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Mr. Hart, I would also like to ask you an honest question. Are you against all commercial development? Or just this one? If a developer wanted to put a "Big Box" somewhere else, would you be opposed to that as well? How about strip malls such as the Dunkin Donuts plaza on East Main?
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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