NORTH SMITHFIELD – Material Sampling Technologies has filed an appeal in Rhode Island Superior Court challenging a decision by the North Smithfield Zoning Board to deny the business’s application to expand operations on Central Street, saying they did not receive a fair hearing.
Efforts to secure the needed permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for the project, which would see a new 23,600-square-foot building erected on a currently vacant 9.7-acre lot that holds forested wetlands, have also continued, in an initiative that has spurred local concerns over water protection.
The business filed the complaint against the Zoning Board under the name Tech Realty, LLC, stating that their request for dimensional relief for the project was unlawfully denied.
The litigation focuses on MST’s proposal to expand operations from their current precious metal reclamation facility at 800 Central St. to an adjacent lot purchased by the business in 2021. The lot holds streams, along with three acres of forested wetlands and a special aquatic site, creating limited space for a new building, and resulting in a plan that would need relief from the town’s front, side and rear setback requirements.
A master plan application for the project was unanimously approved by the North Smithfield Planning Board last June, with conditions that included obtaining the required dimensional variances from zoning.
Opponents of the project have noted that prior to map changes approved by the Town Council in 2020, the property was included in a Water Supply Protection Overlay District, which would have triggered many additional regulations for approval and construction. Zoning Board member Gail Berlinghof recused herself from the MST hearing and obtained an ethics opinion in order to speak on the issue and point out an aquifer on the property to zoners.
Her testimony regarding the 2020 map change has since led, in part, to creation of a new Water Supply Review Committee in town focused on water protection issues. Next week, members of the Town Council are scheduled to hear the board’s findings, and consider a change to the protected area that would revert to the original standards and re-include MST’s still vacant lot.
But even if the revisions are approved by the council next week, the change won’t apply to the disputed proposal, which was submitted under the ordinance from 2020.
Berlinghof was among many to speak against the proposed expansion, with several residents of the primarily residential neighborhood expressing concerns regarding issues ranging from well safety and lighting, to traffic and quality of life.
Councilor John Beauregard, who at the time was the Town Council president, was also among those to speak against the application at a public hearing last October.
At a meeting in November, Zoners Scott Martin and Paul Pasquariello ultimately voted against the application, while Vincent Marcantonio abstained, effectively denying the request in a split 2-2 vote.
Now, MST is alleging that Beauregard’s testimony biased the process, also stating that zoners’ basis for denial of the requested variance was unrelated to the actual relief sought, and therefore beyond the board’s purview.
An appeal filed by Tech Realty states the decision was made upon, “unlawful procedure,” and in violation of constitutional, statutory or ordinance provisions. Denial of the application was, “arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion,” according to Tech.
The business is requesting reversal of the November decision as well as litigation expenses citing a law known as Equal Access to Justice for Small Businesses and Individuals.