Scituate Residents Scold Council About Condominium Project
December 14, 2020
SCITUATE, R.I. — The Town Council was recently knocked back on it heels by residents who berated members for failing to rein in a troublesome developer.
Neighbors to the controversial Chopmist Hill Estates condominium project accused the town of withholding documents and making decisions in closed meetings. Now that construction is underway for the 18-unit development on a wooded Chopmist Hill Road lot they are speaking out about stormwater runoff, trucks blocking traffic, and construction work at 4:30 a.m.
“It’s just madness. It’s absolute madness,” Annamarie Cimini, a resident of Chopmist Hill Road, said during the Dec. 10 online Town Council meeting.
Cimini and other residents said they were bewildered that the 6.7-acre project was approved despite ordinances requiring a minimum of 3 acres per residence. Neighbors looking for answers spoke of difficulties attaining documents and other information related to vetting the project. The town building inspector and engineer were criticized for not visiting the site in recent weeks to address alleged construction violations.
“The town and engineer and the building official are not doing their job. That’s quite clear,” resident David Iaciafano said.
Cimini noted that the building inspector, George Dumont, was appointed by the owner of the condo development, John Mahoney, when Mahoney was Town Council president. Mahoney was a member of the Independent Men of Scituate and was voted off in 2018 after serving one two-year term.
“I don’t know what else we can do but to come to you and plea for help,” Cimini said.
Residents were hoping to get answers from Dumont that night. Department heads are required to attend Town Council meetings, but Dumont was absent.
“Why isn’t he here tonight? I’ve never seen him at a council meeting,” resident Thomas Galligan said.
Town Council president James Brady Jr. couldn’t explain Dumont’s absence. Dumont didn’t reply to requests for comment.
Brady became defensive when pressed about the lack of transparency regarding documents.
“Who’s holding it back? Who’s hiding anything,” Brady said. “I’ve never said no. If that’s not transparent, I don’t know what transparent is.”
Residents spoke of favoritism toward Mahoney, who also appointed town solicitor Wyatt Brochu.
“Mr. Mahoney gets away with anything he wants in this town,“ Galligan said.
Council members tried to refrain from commenting on the Chopmist Hill Estates project because the subject wasn’t on the agenda. They also didn’t want to imperil an ongoing legal action involving the town. The lawsuit, brought by residents, asks the court to suspend the building permit and permitting process for Chopmist Hill Estates until all conditions for the development are met.
“We can’t overstep our bounds and set ourselves up for a lawsuit,” Brady said.
But the accusations became overwhelming, prompting council members to respond.
“I’ve made constant contact with any email or phone call I’ve gotten regarding this project for quite a while now,” council member Gary Grande said. “So, if someone doesn’t know what’s going on, I’ve done the best I can. They must be using [communication] in a different way.”
Brochu said he was unaware of documents being withheld and noted that the Town Council doesn’t process document requests. He later added that the Town Council isn’t responsible for oversight of the project.
“This council cannot determine violations on that property,” Brochu said. “This council cannot address a traffic concern at 4:30 in the morning.”
Council members suggested that residents get answers about stormwater control violations from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). In July, the state agency fined Mahoney $3,000 for the unauthorized building of a driveway and for violating a stormwater discharge permit. The former Town Council member has promised he will never pay the fine.
“Calling DEM is not going to do a thing,” Cimini said. “They are not the police to come out here and stop a project. You are the Town Council … it is up to you to do things about this, it is not up to DEM. I’m sorry but you’ve got to do something about this.”
Resident John Patrie noted that the town should be enforcing its ordinance for stormwater control by having Dumont or the town engineer, Joe Casali, visit the site. Town regulations, Patrie noted, place enforcement on the building official and town solicitor.
“They are our first line of defense to protect the public,” Patrie said.
Residents recently complained of polluted runoff from the property flowing into a tributary of the Scituate Reservoir. DEM’s Office of Compliance and Inspection visited the property during the week of Dec. 1, but the agency didn’t find any unauthorized work. The office, however, is determining if there are any erosion-control violations on the property.
Grande pledged to inquire with DEM about the complaints. Brady promised to place the matter on the agenda for the next Town Council meeting.
When reached by phone, Mahoney wouldn’t answer questions, but he did twice utter an expletive about self-fornication before hanging up.
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