The right-of-way planets have aligned in East Greenwich, as diverse factions are coming together to try to resolve some long-disputed questions surrounding this town's rights of way, in particular at Rocky Hollow Road and King Street.
A recent meeting of the East Greenwich Cove Commission was a good example. The board, which usually operates in relative obscurity, was suddenly the most popular place in town Tuesday afternoon. Residents of Water Street, Ken Harris and supporters, as well as at least two journalists were there for the discussion on rights of way.
No matter, as members and Planning Department staff member Lea Anthony took pains to point out, that rights of way were a regular agenda item for the board, which meets monthly.
And it wasn't just the visitors that seemed to have a bee in their bonnet about rights of way. Board Chair Richard Friend said he was frustrated that the King Street ROW was being used for parking. That ROW runs along the building at 20 Water Street (which houses a real estate firm, the old gaol, and Blu on the Water). It ends on a deck that was installed 30 or so years ago.
Friend suggested the town install more prominent signage.
Anthony then announced that the property owner, Sal Marinosci, had just submitted a preliminary sketch for changes to that very ROW. His idea: to add more grass and lighting, i.e. to make it less of a driveway.
But that raised the hackles of one Water Street resident, who said the deck at the end of King Street was just a place "for drunk people who want to drink" – not a place for people to be able to enjoy access to the water.
And several people wanted to know why the deck was allowed at all. As journalist and environmental activist Bob Plain pointed out, the King Street ROW does not comply with the state's constitution, which says rights of way must allow access to the water for activities such as swimming, fishing and gathering of seaweed.
None of that is possible from the King Street right of way.
Then there was the issue of the Rocky Hollow ROW. The Cove Commission said Ken Harris, owner of the shanty at the right of way, needs to move docks piled up beside his shanty. In previous summers dating back decades, those docks were in the water, but last summer the Coastal Resources Management Council told Harris that without the proper permits, he could no longer operate his marina there.
For Harris, the quest for permits has been a bureaucratic quagmire. He has argued he should be allowed to operate there because he pays taxes on the shanty, which sits on town-owned land.
Board Chair Friend said several times the Cove Commission was only looking for Harris to remove the piled up docks and that the commission did not have the authority to do anything else there.
Plain and others urged the board to use its voice but Friend pointed out the board was advisory in nature and thus did not have a great deal of power.
At least one member, Chris Peirce, agreed.
"Obviously, there's a lot of steam in the kettle and I think that's good," he said, referring to the lively debate. But, he said, "I think there's been a gross overstatement of our authority."
Marinosci will be meeting with town department heads on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 9:30 to discuss his plans.