Rock clearing proceeds without permit

Rock clearing proceeds without permit

Brian St. Croix stands in front of one of many piles of boulders on his property, at 9 Mt. Hygeia Road. He said he is grading the property to create hayfields and grass for grazing horses for his dream horse farm. (Breeze photos by Jacquelyn Moorehead)
Property owner says it’s within his rights to construct horse farm

FOSTER – After being denied a special use permit at the March 14 Zoning Board meeting, and despite being issued a cease and desist notice of violation last September, local landowner Brian St. Croix, his neighbors say, began clearing and mining gravel at his property at 9 Mount Hygeia Road in the beginning of May.

At the March meeting, the Zoning Board voted 3-2 against a special use permit for an excavation operation to construct a pond and hay field on St. Croix’s property for horses and irrigation.

With many abutting neighbors arguing against the project, some calling it a commercial operation, Zoning Board members David Paolino and Paula Mottshow voted to approve the operation, but members Tom DiRaimo, Bryan Coppola and John Esposito won the vote against issuing a special use permit.

St. Croix told The Valley Breeze & Observer Tuesday that he’s is in a unique situation, with neighbors obstructing his work even though he received permitting from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for construction of a horse farm.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s unreal,” he said of his treatment from his neighbors, adding that he hired U.S. Department of Agriculture mediators to explain what he’s doing.

“They’ve made it their life mission for me to not to build what I’m building,” he said of neighbors.

St. Croix said some have gone door-to-door lying about what he’s doing. He said he heard his neighbors say he is constructing a shooting range, a race track, and a mosque, but all he wants to do is put in ponds and a hay field for a horse farm.

“If you clear more than five acres in this town, it’s called a gravel pit,” he said.

The trouble started when he decided to dig out ponds.

“I’ve done everything the right way, and followed what they told me to do,” he added.

St. Croix said he will not stop working, despite not having a permit. He said he is currently only hauling boulders off the property, which he does not need a permit to do.

He said at least three law firms told him that he does not need a special use permit for what he is doing, and for the time being, he is not being paid for the gravel or boulders being removed. He said though he has the permitting to do so, he does not currently have rock crushers at his property.

“I’m paying to have them hauled away,” he said.

When St. Croix continued operations in 2017, Rhett Bishop, Foster’s building and zoning official, sent a notice of violation on Sept., 11, 2017, for operating without a permit, ordering him to cease and desist operations. A fine of $100 per day per violation would be issued until compliance, Bishop notified St. Croix.

A May 5 email from abutter Richard Sparks, a member of the Foster Planning Board, to Town Solicitor Joanna Achille, included photos from neighbors Joe Nadiger and Joe Nadiger Jr., depicting trucks entering and hauling material while exiting the St. Croix property.

Sparks, who recused himself during the Planning Board hearings with St. Croix, said Monday that operations have occurred over the past two weeks, with sounds of hammering and gunshots echoing through the neighborhood. He said he and neighbors are “incensed” by St. Croix’s continued operation, and have repeatedly asked the town for action.

“The fact is what he is doing is illegal,” he said. “We’ve been asking the town to enforce the regulation.” He added that the town has not yet responded to his complaints.

Bishop said Monday that he was aware of the issue, and was not surprised to hear St. Croix was back to work.

“With his attitude, I thought he’d start sooner,” Bishop said.

Other than issuing the fines, this is a civil matter that would not likely result in arrest unless St. Croix refuses to pay his fines, Bishop said.

“We have to bring this to court to recover fines for anything substantial to happen,” he said, adding that the town is in the process of issuing a citation.

The Foster Board of Appeals unanimously moved to uphold the cease and desist order during a Dec. 13 meeting.

St. Croix had a previous application for the Zoning Board of Review to hear on April 12, 2017, but was advised by his attorney that he did not need a special use permit.

Citing the “Right to Farm Act,” Robin Main, of Hinckley Allen, representing St. Croix, wrote to the town on April 7, 2017, that due to St. Croix’s efforts to restore a horse farm on the property, he had the right to sell removed gravel in an effort to revitalize horse farm operations.

The property was formerly used as a horse farm dating back to the 1950s, Main stated in the letter. She said the horse farm ceased operation in 2011, but St. Croix purchased the property with the intent of keeping horses and planting hay.

Achille advised Main in an April 7, 2017, letter that the town “did not subscribe to your conclusion that a special use permit is not required to commence the gravel bank extraction operation on the property.”

Upon reviewing the “Right to Farm” law, she said she disagreed with its application to St. Croix’s matter, and it was evident that the gravel operation was the intended purpose for the property, with the “illusive horse farm and crop operation merely an incidental use.”

Prior to the denial, the Planning Board heard St. Croix at a February 2017 meeting requesting a recommendation to the Zoning Board for a temporary gravel bank excavation operation. Members voted 5-1 against the recommendation citing the scale of the operation, along with the noise and traffic disturbance the operation would cause.

“The only definition this town has for pulling fill out is a gravel pit. There’s no – nothing else on the books. There’s nothing that says build a farm, remove dirt; there’s nothing,” St. Croix said in the Zoning Board hearing, according to the transcripts. “I came down here to build a giant horse farm.”

According to the transcript of that hearing, St. Croix proposed a two-year operation during regular business hours removing gravel from his property using 20-yard to 24-yard dump trucks to haul out approximately 850,000 cubic yards of material from the site, making around 30,000 trips, equaling out to 12 trucks each hour, six days a week.

Staying within DEM guidelines for a pond to retain drain water, Brian St. Croix said the two ponds on the property created many piles of rocks, dirt, and loam he’d like to sell to fund building his horse farm. The ponds will be used for irrigation and watering the horses, he said.
Brian St. Croix said he’d grade fields to create hay for farming and for horses.