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1/3/2022 Exeter Town Council RI Grows presentation

Updated: May 9


Mr. Schartner addressed Council: His family is building a 25-acre greenhouse on the Schartner’s Farm on Route 2. He asked for the removal of the Cease & Desist issued to him. It is preventing construction of the greenhouse and blocking funding for the project and causing financial hardship to him personally and to the project. Exeter will lose $400,000.00 in PILOT money without the project. In 2018, he filed his pre-application with the Town. In October 2020, he received approval from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to start moving earth. He notified the Town. Over a year later, the Cease & Desist was issued. He admits that some things could have been done differently. He wishes to keep the Schartner Farm in agriculture. This project will help him do that. He he has a long history with the Town and hopes for an amenable solution. He apologized for misunderstanding that the greenhouse was exempt and for not paying the advertising fee (he thought the public for the overlay was brought by the Town not him).

Michael Kelly, Esq, representing RIGrows and Schartner Family: The greenhouse will be glass and completely green, will produce millions of pounds of agricultural produce per year on 25 acres of Schartner Farm’s 256 acres, will employee a great number of employees, and will offer University of Rhode Island students internships and jobs.

In 2015, the farm’s stand was destroyed by fire, putting the farm in dire financial straits. In an effort to keep the farm and not develop it, Mr. Schartner is pursuing the greenhouse project. In 2018, Ken Ayers, head of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Agricultural Division, cited RIGL 45-24-37, wherein “plant agriculture is a permitted use within all zoning districts.” John Leyden, State Building Commissioner at the time, cited Chapter 31 of the Building Code, “greenhouses [including those that are glass enclosed] if used for agricultural purposes are exempt from the requirement for a building permit.”

Mr. Lefebvre noted: Ron DeFrancesco, Town of Exeter Building Inspector, on July 25, 2021, indicates that John Cambio, State Building Commissioner at the time, agreed that the proposed structure requires a building permit.

Attorney Kelly: Mr. Cambio was wrong. State law is clear.

Ms. DeFrancesco: The agenda item tonight is for presentation by Mr. Schartner and not an attempt to circumvent the process. Council has heard Mr. Schartner, has all the information regarding the project, and should move on.

Attorney Kelly: Mr. Schartner is suffering damages daily as a result of the Cease & Desist and Stop Work Order, which refer to items of the project not started. RI Grows agrees to obtain permits for everything it should, but not the greenhouse. The Town will benefit with new jobs, PILOT money, and keeping the Schartner Farm agriculture.

Ms. DeFrancesco: How can Council trust that the PILOT funds will be paid when the advertising fees for the second public hearing on the overlay application have not been paid?

Attorney Kelly: The advertising fees will be paid promptly. The Town has choice to allow the project and preserve the farm or let it go to housing. RI Grows and Mr. Schartner are not being confrontational, but wish to cooperate and work with the Town. A Public Hearing is scheduled with the Zoning Board of Review on January 13, 2022, regarding the Cease & Desist. The Stop Work Order is being appealed before the State Building Commission. Council has the authority to settle the disputes.

Mr. Patterson: Council does not have the authority to rescind the Cease and Desist. The process has to be followed. Administrative remedies must be exhausted before Council can consider settlement.

Mr. Ellis: Mr. Schartner was not invited to tonight’s meeting. He asked to be put on the agenda.

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