Charlestown Officials Say Proposed Quarry Expansion Goes Against Town Zoning
September 5, 2021
Charlestown Farms LLC owns three properties along Alton Carolina Road, not far from the Pawcatuck River. The business, owned by Thomas Miozzi, who runs a North Kingstown-based paving company, has been illegally processing off-site material and sand washing and expanded its operations onto lots 3 and 4-1 without obtaining the necessary permits, according to a July 14 notice of violation sent to Miozzi by Joseph Warner, the town’s building and zoning official.
The company also installed a concrete pad without a proper zoning permit, according to the town.
Local officials claim the actions violate the town’s zoning ordinances. Residents have also complained of gravel dust and noise pollution from trucks starting as early as 5 a.m.
Miozzi appealed the violations at a special meeting Sept. 1 of the Zoning Board of Review, arguing sand washing and expanding onto new lots were within his rights.
John Pagliarini, legal counsel for Charlestown Farms, said the business doesn’t need a special-use permit under existing town laws, as all three lots have a legal nonconforming use.
“I don’t need town approval to wash sand because your own ordinance says I can wash sand,” Pagliarini said.
Charlestown adopted its first zoning code in 1974. Any businesses present at the time of zoning were grandfathered in, even if the businesses violated the new code. The stipulation is any property owner could only keep the nonconforming legal use and avoid zoning board oversight by keeping to any activities on a property that had been done at the time of the adoption of the town’s zoning code. Any expansion, industrial intensification or new activities, such as sand washing, would require getting town approval.
One of the parcels, lot 4, was originally bought by the Kenyon Brothers in 1951, who later formed a company to quarry the property. Lot 4-1 was created from an undeveloped portion of lot 4, and sold. In 1983, the brothers bought lot 3 from a railroad company that had owned the property for almost a century.
Charlestown Farms acquired all of these properties in 2019. Zoning officials contend the nonconforming legal use does not apply to lots 3 and 4-1, as there is little evidence they were used for quarrying prior to adoption of the town’s zoning code.
Town solicitor Peter Ruggiero said the company had not done enough to prove the burden of nonconforming legal use.
“Sand washing didn’t start according to their own papers until 2007, long after 1974 when the town got zoning,” Ruggiero said.
Pagliarini disagreed with the town’s interpretation, claiming the zoning code allowed any customary uses associated with extractive industry, such as graveling. The lots in question had always seen some form of washing, just not the way it is being done today, he said.
As further evidence, Pagliarini submitted several aerial photographs from before and after 1974 that he claimed showed evidence of graveling on lots 3 and 4-1, and an affidavit from a member of the Kenyon family claiming graveling operations were conducted.
The Zoning Board of Review questioned whether the lines on the photographs were mining roads and gravel pits, as Charlestown Farms alleged, or something else entirely.
“There’s nothing definitive in front of me telling me what it is,” board chair Raymond Dreczko Jr. said. “I can use judgement calls, but I don’t see where [these] pictures prove anything to me.”
Ruggiero maintained the affidavit could not be considered as anything but hearsay. He said the burden of proof for nonconforming legal use required any witnesses or experts to testify under oath in person.
Other board members questioned if the land had always hosted the same refinement processes as it does now.
Board member Lara Wibeto expressed displeasure at the lack of oversight, saying, “This is the problem. We wanna be pro-business as a community, but there is an issue with this unbridled development when our town doesn’t allow it for anyone else in the town of Charlestown.”
“It’s not about getting control of an out-of-control industry,” Pagliarini said. “But rather the matter is and was if Mr. Warner [the town zoning official] is correct in his interpretation of the zoning ordinance.”
Charlestown Farms pledged to remove the concrete pad, saying it was built without the proper permits. As for the rest of the town’s concerns, Pagliarini warned the business is willing to take the matter to court if a decision is made not in its favor.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued Charlestown Farms a citation Aug. 10 for disturbing more than 30,000 square feet of freshwater wetlands on lots 3 and 4. According to the citation, a DEM inspection of the properties last March revealed clear-cutting of trees and shrubs and creating a surface disturbance within the forested wetland.
Charlestown Farms agreed to hire an environmental consultant to address the issue. The business is required to repair the area by October, and DEM assessed a $5,000 administrative penalty.
During the recent Zoning Board of Review meeting, Pagliarini admitted to the open violation and said Charlestown Farms would meet with DEM in the next two weeks to have scientists walk the property.
It’s not the first time Miozzi has run afoul with environmental officials.
In 2014, Miozzi’s North Kingstown company, T. Miozzi Inc., settled with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after the federal agency claimed it violated the air permit issued by DEM. Additionally, the EPA found the company failed to maintain certain records, including records relating to testing of emissions from the company’s rotary drum burner used in manufacturing asphalt and testing of equipment used to control particulate emissions.
T. Miozzi Inc. paid a penalty of $23,700 as part of the settlement and worked with EPA to correct the violations.
The Zoning Board of Review made no determination at its Sept. 1 meeting. The board is scheduled to hold another special meeting on the matter Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. to solicit public comment.