Future uncertain for longtime Burrillville auto yard

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BURRILLVILLE – A longtime auto salvage, repair and sales business in Pascoag was unable to renew its annual junk yard license this week following news that it is no longer in compliance with state law.

The Burrillville Town Council tabled the license for Rhode Island Auto Recycling Inc. at 1134 South Main St. following explanation from Solicitor William Dimitri last week that the business’s corporate charter was revoked in 2019.

The late Lawrence Therien operated an auto repair and sales shop on the property, known as Route 100 Auto Sales, prior to his death last year. Dimitri told councilors that for years, Therien operated as sole proprietorship, while using the business’s corporate name. It is now owned his daughter, Kaitlin Therien.

In 2019, the business had its corporate charter revoked for failing to file an annual report with the state Department of Taxation. The charter was reinstated in December, but according to Dimitri, the gap in compliance triggered additional issues from a state law that the business did not previously have to follow – requiring additional setbacks.

Building Official Joseph Raymond said it is an issue he encountered in the past with another junk yard in Nasonville in the 1980s, due to a change in state law passed in 1966.

“The problem that comes in is that when you lose your license, you have to go under the new ordinance,” Raymond said, “When you have to go under the new ordinance, it makes it hard to stay in the same location.”

The law dictates that all junk yards in Rhode Island must operate exclusively inside a building and for the purpose of salvaging the value as scrap of the material collected, as opposed to reselling parts. It states that such businesses must be located in a built-up industrial area, more than 600 feet from the nearest edge of any state highway, and screened from view by either fencing or natural objects.

“RI Auto was in existence at the time of the legislation enacted in 1966 and was therefore ‘grandfathered’ in,” Dmitri explained of the longtime town business in a note to councilors.

“The TC would be in its rights and on ‘solid ground’ to deny the renewal of the license,” he noted.

Attorney Peter Hopkins spoke on behalf of the new owner.

“There are some significant issues,” said Hopkins of the business. “The plan is that my clients want to sell the property. If they can’ sell the property, then they want to operate the property, and they want to be good neighbors too. We want to operate a viable business.”

The property, which includes three buildings on a 3.4 acre lot and a second buildable 3.48 acre lot, is currently listed for sale for $699,900.

“They just want to be able to a sell it, or if there is no interest, be able to operate it as a business and continue the legacy,” said Hopkins.

Town officials noted that the business has expanded onto second lot not authorized for business use, as well as a neighboring property behind it.

“It appears from the map the the junk yard has encroached on another possible property,” Dimitri said.

Raymond noted that another state requirement could complicated efforts to clean up the area.

“Even if the town wants this to be cleaned up because it is not being utilized or it’s not legal anymore, a license is going to be required just to move the junk there,” Raymond said.

Councilors said they hope to hear more information before they decide how to act on the renewal license.

“We are very business friendly here in Burrillville. We bend over backwards,” said Councilor Stephen Rawson. “Right now the set back is a violation. It isn’t as if that property is a brand new junk yard. But we have to be careful not to violate state law. There might be some kind of compromise.”

Councilors voted unanimously to table the renewal.

“This is in no way an indication that we don’t want a business in town, especially a business that’s been there for many years,” said Town Council President Donald Fox of the decision.

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