Bishop: The Problem with Planning - Rhode Mappers are Here From Government to ‘Help’ Farmers
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Indeed they were particularly chagrined that all this opposition could come to light now, when the ordinance is on its 6th iteration. Of course, this opinion piece could be the very first bit of ‘journalism’ on this longstanding supposedly transparent effort. But, as Douglas Adams is wont to have said through the personage of Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: the plans have been on display in a cellar without lights in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of Leopard”.
Here is a newsflash for planning professionals: Real farmers don’t sit around in stakeholder sessions negotiating their rights away. There is no possible way that what you propose is representative, sensible or farm friendly. In fact, its friendly to no one, because everyone is potentially a farmer just as everyone could potentially want to house grandma over the garage or work on a car in it in the face of planners fixations that these ‘accessory uses’ are some kind of evil -- Just as planners in Providence have spent years extirpating the evil of the corner store from neighborhoods, only to find out that people actually like them.
Farmers should get no more special treatment than anyone, the sanctity of whose property and entrepeneurship planners regularly invade, as if the whole world were a monopoly game in which planners decide where the houses and hotels [and corner stores and pig pens] go.
Elite Zoning encourages, not discourages, development
To be fair to the current crop of planners, the seeds of the destruction of their efforts were planted long ago in the adoption of zoning in Exeter to begin with. One of the last towns in the state to do so, would have been much better off without it. Without zoning, there would have been little threat to Exeter’s farms and forests to begin with. Yes, a few of them would have been developed into postage stamp lots. Instead the town is being carved up into mini-estates. The population doubled in the decade after the adoption of zoning.
Well, duh – as soon as zoning established that one could no longer put a mobile home next to some new mcmansion, Exeter was slated to be the next East Greenwich. And this is how the planners ‘saved’ us? Up until that point it had been well understood, if only articulated in impolite company, that if you moved to Exeter you would marry your cousin and your kids would turn dumb. There was no more powerful limit on development in Exeter than this perception which was undone in a flourish of bureaucracy that made the town safe for bedroom community – the very thing it proposed to avoid.
White trash stereotype was a much better check on development
For those of you not intimately familiar with swamp yankee geography, Hope Valley isn’t really part of Exeter. It's in Hopkington, next to Wyoming (which is in Richmond vs. say Mystic which is in both Stonington and Groton). But Hope Valley is right down Route 3 and it is cultural kin with Exeter in the way that Pawcatuck is part of Westerly, and Attleboro and Fall River look to Providence moreso than Boston as a relevant metro partner.
To disclose a conflict, Exeter has a special place in my heart because it is the place I went in the late 1970s to get away from the stifling bureaucracy of the city life. Little did I know that I was moving towards a far more insidious bureaucracy. As a transplant, I have to confess that I was a woodcutter and illiterate before I there. So I fit right in (esp. after they found out I was a Republican) even if I’m still a newcomer 40 years later. I did go to some of those bars Major Benjamin was talking about, and he had a point of sorts.
Bureaucrats not happy with what they were hearing at the hearing.
But even illiterates know, when someone says we’re here from the government to help you, that it is time to show them the door. A hearing last week on this Farm and Forest Accessory Business Overlay District (one can tell it’s a bad idea simply by the length of the title) so overflowed the halls of the Exeter Council chambers that it had to be rescheduled. This week the Planning Board read the tea leaves and withdrew the proposal for the time being. Not only did Exetarians turn out for this hearing, but also farmers and concerned property owners from across the state who understood the effort in Exeter to be a model that, like a contagion among the ranks of planners, would be urged for adoption in every exurban community in the state.
The dazed, if literate, planning establishment is wondering what happened. They claim they were out to help farms and secure their place in Exeter. But one has only to read the purpose of the proposed ordinance to understand that it aggrandizes planners and makes farmers subservient to bedroom community priorities: “While the Town of Exeter wants to encourage limited accessory business uses for farm and forest landowners, it also recognizes the critical need to protect the integrity of its residential areas.”(emphasis added)
Farmers are neighbors too
It isn’t that farmers expect a pass on neighborliness. But they properly bristle at the suggestion that engaging in the most normative farming activites, e.g. hosting a farmstand or pick-your-own-produce operation is a use other than farming. The biggest mess in accessory uses these days are higher profile, but if that were really the issue the planners have no business making a laundry list of minutiae that would make the post office blush.
Certainly the public will have been aware of the high profile war between two Exeter neighbors, neither of whom was a farmer in the classic sense, but both of whom have lots of money and lots of land and relied on the ‘right to farm’ in trying to advance their activities. This, of course, is the case of developer Jerry Zarella who deigned to build 4 homes rather than 10 on some 30 acres in Exeter – as if that was some gift; and make up the difference on this ‘farm’ by holding weddings and the like. A neighbor with a large adjacent holding, who was no more farmer than Zarella, took issue with this and just happened to stockpile chicken manure for spreading the week of the first weddings. This made a splash in the news but says nothing whatsoever about what farmers do or don’t need by way of traditional or emerging activities in selling produce and farm experience as a way to survive.
Farms as window dressing
The hubris of this proposed ordinance is to imagine that the town has any idea of what will make farms sustainable. And really, they don’t want farms on farms terms. They want them as bucolic window dressing that augments the “integrity” of residential uses but does not disturb the emerging order of bedroom uber alles.
This was the problem created by zoning to begin with and it is simply epitomized by planners who have nothing better to do than think up silly addendums to solve the problem of ordinances that should never have been passed in the first place.
One of the perfect examples of where planners think they know what they are doing and they know nothing is the ordinance’s attempt to define farms as nothing smaller than 5 acres. After all, anyone on less than 5 acres is surely just cynically trying to take advantage of their neighbors and couldn’t be running a serious agricultural operation, right?
In fact, one of the more longstanding and successful commercial farming operations in Exeter is Our Kids Farm. Pioneered by John and Holly Howard who had the neighborliness, if lack of good sense, to befriend me upon my arrival in Exeter. Their greenhouse based operation has grown bedding plants, hothouse tomatoes, annuals and perennials of all sorts in concert with both remote retail operation, and a farmstand selling their own produce and that of others, much frequented by the summer residents of the nearby Wawaloam Campground in Richmond. But this all takes place on a paltry 4 acres. After some 25 years the Howards sold to the current proprietors, Loren and Gina Thurn who continue to grow both flowers and produce and have an extended season for their farmstand, CSA, and deliveries to local restaurants enabled by their intensive greenhouse based operation.
Of course planners will say: this is only a simple exception. It is already established, no one was targeting Our Kids Farm. But they did target it. No one who operates a farm on under 5 acres wants to see an ordinance that says anything under 5 acres is not a farm (Just as no one with a farmstand or a pick your own operation wants to see an ordinance that says that is not farming). Indeed, the state is busy trying to shower bond money to catalyze more of this micro farming. That is as wrongheaded as the effort to zone it out of business.
Things are not made sustainable by subsidizing or regulating them; by deciding how big farms have to be and whether they will survive on eggplants, crop mazes or wedding rings. Leave them the hell alone. And if they are poor neighbors who act inconsiderately and outside the rump of what are regular contemporary farm activities then do something. But don’t adopt reams of nonsense that purports to help farms while actually undercutting their viability and making their every entrepreneurial option into a paper chase. The town doesn’t need that hassle and the farmers certainly don’t.
Related Slideshow: The Power List - Politics, 2016
Kate Coyne-McCoy - In baseball, they call them all around superstars - five tool athletes.
McCoy, who once ran for Congress, is a strong political organizer for EMILY’s List, a proven fundraiser for Raimondo’s PAC, strong with the media, and is a top lobbyist.
She is manages to balance being a partisan with her all-around effectiveness. McCoy can do it all.
Lenny Lopes - Whether you’re looking for someone to navigate the halls of the State House, manage your public relations image, or execute a contract, Lopes can do it all.
The affable and well-liked former Chief of Staff to then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch (and prior to that, Legal Counsel to Lt. Governor Charlie Fogarty) had joined forces with Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West before striking out on his own with The Victor Group, taking on such heavyweight clients as Lifespan and online gaming behemoths Fanduel and DraftKings, and more niche healthcare accounts — including the medical marijuana Rhode Island Growers Coalition.
Lopes was tapped this past spring following the tourism debacle by Havas PR to help navigate their way through the Rhode Island waters, and ultimately defend their performance and reputation to stave off their contract cancelation for now. If you’re hired to be a PR firm’s de facto PR brain, you must be on your game.
Two Coast Operative
Matt Lopes - With more than 20 different lobbying agreement Lopes has emerged as a premiere influencer in Rhode Island. His clients range from Dunkin’ Donuts to Amgen to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.
While managing one of the biggest lobbying practices he is often on the West Coast -- he is a nationally recognized Special Master for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, overseeing prison reform and compliance.
He plays with the big boys on both coasts. Easy for a guy who was a star athlete in high school and at Dartmouth.
Don Sweitzer - IGT (formerly GTECH) super lobbyist plays the game at most every level, with big ties to the Clinton organization that go all the way back to Sweitzer playing a key role with Clinton-Gore in 1992.
Sweitzer’s contacts span the political spectrum - despite his Democratic pedigree, don’t count him out if Donald Trump wins the Presidency as Sweitzer worked for Paul Manafort back in the early 1990s.
Reportedly, Raimondo asked him to serve as her chief of staff - he gracefully declined.
Segal, Bell and Regunberg - These three young Brown grads are emerging as the leaders in progressive causes in Rhode Island and across the United States. David Segal, who served on the City Council in Providence and as a State Rep, failed in a 2010 effort for Congress losing to David Cicilline in the Democratic primary.
In 2016, Segal along with Aaron Regunberg emerged as a powerful force in trying to kill of the Super-Delegate structure in the Democratic primary.
Sam Bell is leading a major effort to re-calibrate the Democratic party to the left the election season. We will know just how good Bell is after September 13’s Democratic primary - Bell is overseeing more than a dozen progressive candidates' campaigns.
Goldberg, Walsh, Ryan and Murphy - These four veteran lobbyists know the pass codes to just about every private office in the State House. For decades they have been the go-to guys. Regardless of who is in power Bob Goldberg, Joe Walsh, Mike Ryan and Bill Murphy are always in vogue.
Only Ryan was not an elected official. Murphy ran the House for a decade, Goldberg had pulled off one of the greatest political coups when he lead a small band of GOP senators and split the Dems to take power, and Walsh was the almost Governor of Rhode Island in 1984.
Combined, they have the lion's share of premier clients and have collected the millions in fees to prove it.
Nicole Pollock - The new Chief-of-Staff for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza certainly has big shoes to fill, with the recent departure of both Chief Operating Officer Brett Smiley and outgoing Chief of Staff Tony Simon but Pollack has gotten off to a strong start. Following the recent summit on Kennedy Plaza co-hosted former Mayor Joe Paolino and Elorza, Paolino told GoLocal, “[Elorza’s] new Chief of Staff, I’m very impressed with.”
Pollock had joined the administration in February 2015 as Chief Innovation Officer and then served as Chief of Policy and Innovation for the administration before being tapped for the top post. Pollock had previously served in a policy and communications role for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. A graduate of Brown University, Pollock currently serves on the Board of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association and the Providence Plan.
The city has no shortage of pressing issues to tackle, from devising a plan to handle the ongoing panhandling, homelessness, and drug use issues in Kennedy Plaza, to the ever-looming issue of the protracted legal battle with the Providence Firefighters that could have monumental financial implications for the city, depending on the outcome.
Matt Bucci - The up-and-comer on Governor Raimondo’s staff was in the mix for Chief of Staff or another promotion this summer, but may chose to take his skills and join the world of lobbying or grab another private sector position.
Made news when he was tied to Governor Raimondo’s ill fated and ultimately canceled trip to Davos Switzerland. Raimondo was going to spend a weekend with the beautiful people and raided the non-profit URI Foundation’s scholarship dollars to fund the trip.
The former staffer to Senator Jack Reed is widely respected. Look for news about Bucci in the near future. Too talented to not make a leap soon.
Chris Hunter - The strategy wunderkind has morphed into a well-established operative in his own right in veteran lobbyist Frank McMahon’s public affairs shop, Advocacy Solutions.
The long-time government and public relations manager for the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, Hunter is equally adept at the State House, having snagged emerging industry client Lyft and engaged in the hand-to-hand combat that comes with lobbying for the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.
Election seasons in particular are where Hunter’s know-how comes in handy, having managed a number of successful bond referendum in the state. Hunter is a constant presence networking around town, whether it’s hobnobbing with the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations or serving on host committees for key candidates - he’s the combination of both “who you know” and “what you know."
Nick Hemond - None may be more unabashedly and relentlessly ambitious than Hemond, who landed as an associate at powerhouse DarrowEverett in 2014.
The President of the Providence School Board lobbies at City Hall for high-profile real estate clients including Buff Chace and High Rock Management (i.e. the ownership of the Superman Building) and at the State House for labor interests (RI FOP, RI Carpenters Local Union 94), Big Health (the Hospital Association of Rhode Island) and rounding it out with such interests as AAA, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, and infrastructure firm AECOM.
If that doesn’t sound like a full load, toss in a slew of crisis communications clients in the way of bars and clubs in varying degrees of trouble (read: stabbings, shootings) before the Providence Board of Licenses. Having so many fingers in so many pies (and some of which could appear somewhat conflicting) has raised eyebrows, but in the meantime if Hemond is winning, the checks keep coming.
Leo Skenyon - The seasoned political operative is the man behind the man. Serving as Chief of Staff to Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Skenyon helped navigate a more than treacherous legislative session which saw Finance Chair Representative Ray Gallison resign, Representative John Carnevale found ineligible to run at his purported address in Providence, and a slew of financial and ethics issues for a number of Democrats.
The Speaker however emerged from the session having tackled the thorny issue of community service grants, and what had seemed up until this year a nearly impossible task, putting ethics reform — and oversight of the Assembly by the Ethics Commission — before voters this November.
Skenyon has weathered many a political season before, having been the former Chief of Staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Jack Revens in the 1980s, and then a former top aide to Governor Bruce Sundlun and U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell. Now, his boss faces both a Republican and Independent challenger in the general election in November.
Joe Shekarchi - The Chair of the House Labor Committee is running unopposed this year in District 23 in Warwick, marking just the third election season for the powerful politician-lawyer, who first won in 2012.
Given his fundraising prowess, however, one would think that Shekarchi accrued his war chest over a longer tenure, with over $528,000 cash on hand as of the second quarter of 2016, making him far and away the most flush General Assembly member (by way of comparison, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello reported just over $365,000 cash on hand for the same period; Governor Gina Raimondo had $1.4 million.)
It was managing money that helped establish him on the map as a seasoned statewide political operative — he was the campaign manager for statewide operations for Raimondo when she ran for General Treasurer in 2010. With a number of successes in business and on the Hill, keep an eye on Shekarchi's future plans.
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