Tag Archives: Cumberland RI Politics

Backwards, Downwards in Ways

“It is a disaster that wisdom forbids you to be satisfied with yourself and always sends you away dissatisfied and fearful, whereas stubbornness and foolhardiness fill their hosts with joy and assurance.” 
~Michel de Montaigne

The petition first circulated last summer to preserve our Monastery has, over the past year, garnered roughly 7,000 signatures, and the majority of those autographs were penned by Cumberland residents. Yet, one year later here we are with our hungry mayor plowing ahead, gaping at Cumberland Monastery’s open fields and woodland of what might be (if he’s allowed to reap) his delicious alfresco repast.

Raking Monastery land in the name of (what some people believe is) progress is hardly a novel idea. Rather, in this contemporary and environmentally conscientious world, it’s viewed as backwards and irresponsible—especially in light of the fact that Cumberland has several other viable but unconsidered options on which to site its “safety complex.” Mayor Murray’s refusal to bend the narrow criteria he set for determining a feasible location demonstrates an obstinance that suggests he will stop at nothing in order to destroy a good portion of Cumberland’s most cherished and most accessible open space—forest and pastureland protected in perpetuity by a 2004 Conservation Easement and Restrictive Covenant crafted specifically to prohibit the development of any portion of the green and lush Monastery for any purpose whatsoever.

No matter, the mayor and some other town leaders forge ahead with this short-sighted, banal plan as if there were no obstacle, only a little inconvenient Easement and unreasonable citizens demanding that the land remain untouched, as it were from the time the Easement was signed.

But we are not unreasonable. We are practical and caring. We recognize the importance of saving every square inch of the Monastery’s land and the implication should all those square inches not be saved. And why wouldn’t we want all 525 acres of this historically and environmentally significant land protected? What has changed since the Easement was drafted in 2004? If anything, what has changed is Cumberland’s landscape, the development of much of our accessible land and open space, the destruction of historical structures, the continued failure to maintain town-owned existing (some historical) structures and land. If anything, what we have learned most from the past is that our future, our open space, must be protected. As more humans consume raw land, the more populated our town becomes; thus, the more open space, or refuge, we will need for the purpose of escaping the noise and pollution and commerce of our overdeveloped town. Should that refuge not be located in the center of town, rather than the constant hum and whirl of a safety complex and, surely, the ensuing sprawl of other municipal buildings?

Refuge: a place of protection or shelter from trouble or danger; anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief or escape. Right now, Cumberland has various lots of open space around town, but many, if not most, are wetland or are difficult to access. The Monastery offers a highly accessible place where we may indulge our essential human need for refuge, seek those quiet moments in nature, the necessary and healing escape, the shelter and relief from the storm of our congested and oft confusing world. It is the Monastery that offers us the very best aid, the sort that rejuvenates mind, body and spirit.

On the eve of June 25, 2015 the Safety Complex Location Committee voted (dubiously 8 to 3) to advance the Monastery to the final list of safety complex locations after one member (fiercely arguing that the Monastery was “not eligible for consideration” while simultaneously reassuring the members that Murray would protect the remainder of the Monastery land) successfully assuaged feelings of culpability. Also on the final list is the old Drop Zone (if combined with the existing Sher-Le-Mon property), and the parcel(s) of land to the rear of Cumberland House of Pizza (strip center) off Mendon Road, as well as the National Grid site.

The 8 to 3 recommendation gave Murray—in his estimation—the green light to begin the safety complex planning phase (and other municipal buildings) on the quiet northeastern portion of Monastery land. Fortunately, there are hurdles over which Murray must leap. And Murray has noted one: he is not permitted to spend more than $5,000. for legal fees in connection with revoking the Easement, though we are not certain whether or not Murray may spend any funds of any nature, and we will closely monitor our town’s activity, as well as confirm precisely what is permissible.

Murray has also voiced his concern over three of the remaining four sites (too complex, too wet, too many environmental issues, too this or that) but interestingly, the Monastery land is considered the best option despite its many obvious constraints, such as ledge, slope, wetlands, etc—never mind the Easement itself. None of the four sites have had any impact studies or due diligence performed and, during the last six months, 26 sites were summarily dismissed without performing impact studies or due diligence (something the town refused to pursue) for reasons that were far less serious than a Conservation Easement.

One year later, not a penny has been spent on due diligence, except, perhaps, surveys done on Monastery land. (And Murray has interviewed outside attorneys.)

While he attempts to commence legal action, Murray is also hoping that Cumberland residents will excitedly offer him a big “thumbs up” to take a giant bite out of the Monastery land. ( 160x160x1f44d-thumbs-down-sign-apple-new-2015.png.pagespeed.ic.6yVp-rdy_W)

At the same time, we are hearing that some of our Town Council members do not support legal action for the purpose of developing Monastery land. They, unlike the mayor, have been listening to their constituents, and we are most grateful for this.

The problem is obvious. Our mayor will not budge, will not consider revitalizing buildings or lots in need of care, will not entertain sites that contain less acreage, or sites outside the precise center of town, nor will he recognize the worth of the Monastery in its present form—that is, as 525 acres of much needed refuge.

How is refuge valued? Who will buy homes in Cumberland in the years to come? Why would someone purchase a home in a place where protected land, a refuge (paid by the taxpayers of this town) is easily taken, stripped bare and paved over? Imagine Cumberland without the Monastery as it is now. Imagine its northeastern buffer gone—sloping forest, swaying ferns, vernal pools, streams, gentle stone walls—swallowed by machines of avarice. Every last morsel.

There will be no leftovers, only the bitter taste of stone cold buildings sprouting from deadened earth. Swallow hard. Let it slide down the long and slimy tube of progress, burning your chest, churning your stomach. 

Digest. Down, down, downward.

Once the descent, the downward process, has squeezed every last bit of beauty out of the raw material, what remains, the end form, surely looks familiar. And, beyond question, stinks.

Monastery Preservation Alliance Member Meeting

Dear Members of the MPA and all Lovers of the Monastery Land:

We will be holding a Monastery Preservation Alliance meeting this Wednesday, June 10, 2015, at 6:30 p.m. in the 2nd floor Community Room of the Cumberland Public Library.

We’ll be discussing recent developments, including the June 5th Advisory Opinion from the Department of the RI Attorney General, Monday’s (6/8/15) SCLC meeting outcome, and the formation of an action plan in accordance with these recent developments.

We hope you’ll join us this Wednesday evening. And, as always, thank you so very much for all your kind, enthusiastic support and Monastery love!

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“This Changes Nothing”

“… as far as I’m concerned.” So says Mayor Murray in today’s Press Release.

What does this mean? We’ll let you infer from it what you will. As this is all any one of us can do.

Please note that the Mayor’s statement comes after his receipt of a very thoughtful and well researched answer (to Tom Hefner’s question regarding the Conservation Easement covering the Monastery land) was delivered to the town of Cumberland from the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General, where matters of this sort are taken seriously. See the full text of the AG’s opinion here.

Despite the difficulty in decoding the words in Murray’s statement, we beg to differ: This changes everything, as our Town Council cannot vote for or against developing the Monastery’s conservation land protected in perpetuity. Rather, it seems now that the only concern which the Town Council might be asked to vote on is whether or not the town of Cumberland should take this matter to the courts. The language of the AG’s opinion is clear and unambiguous as to the matter, this town cannot move forward with its scheme to destroy conservation land without court approval. Murray has expressed that he will do what’s best for the community of Cumberland, and we’ll hold him to that sentiment.

6-8-2015 Press Release Monastery

Small Triumph for the Monastery!

And smart decision by the Office of Attorney General.

We have just received word that yesterday afternoon the Department of Attorney General released an advisory opinion as requested by Cumberland’s Town Solicitor Tom Hefner. In it, the AG rejected Hefner’s opinion, stating, essentially, that the town may not simply amend a legally binding conservation easement as Chapter 39, Title 34 of the RI General Laws is applicable to the 525 acres of conserved Monastery land.

Just as the MPA, in an April 8, 2015 blog post,  illustrated the simple and definitive language of the 2004 Conservation Easement, the AG’s opinion also points to the clear and unambiguous language of Chapter 39, Title 34 which governs such Conservation Easement.

The opinion, signed by Assistant Attorney General Michael Field and Special Assistant Attorney General Gregory Shultz, states “…there is no doubt that in November 2004 the Town intended to (and did) impose a conservation easement/restriction upon the 525 acre parcel. Even your request acknowledges that a ‘conservation easement and restrictive covenants [was] placed on the 525 acres on November 8, 2004 in Book 1236 at page298 [ ] by the Town itself after its purchase of the land’ and that the instant issue concerns a ‘self-imposed easement and restrictive covenants.'”

The town, it appears, didn’t argue the imposition of the Easement, but rather, argued that because the Easement was “self-imposed” it could be just as easily amended or revoked by the Town. The AG’s opinion notes that the “Town cites no legal authority for this proposition and our legal research soundly rejects this position.”

Simply stated, the town of Cumberland “may not terminate the conservation easement/restriction in a manner that is inconsistent with Chapter 39 of Title 34.” Which further means that the Town Council may not vote to seize Monastery property, but may vote only on whether or not the town should take this matter to court—the only place where this matter may be challenged and resolved, if it must be challenged and resolved.

This, of course, is fantastic news and a little victory for the MPA. And while we are most thankful for the Office of Attorney General’s prudent opinion, as it is a huge step in the right direction, it does not necessarily mean that the town of Cumberland’s Mayor, Bill Murray, will not pursue (even without Town Council support) any and all other avenues, including taking this matter to court, to amend or revoke the Conservation Easement in order to take the Monastery land for municipal purposes.

So while we celebrate this small triumph, we must remain vigilant and involved, in anticipation that the town may likely move forward with legal action. But let’s hope Cumberland’s leaders see the wisdom in our Attorney General’s decision and come to respect the opinions of thousands of town residents by abandoning its plan to destroy Monastery land.

It’s time for Cumberland to look to towns like North Attleboro, MA, where an old mill was refurbished as a new police station. No. Attleboro takes great pride in their remarkable police station, which consumed no open space in the development process. Now that’s what we call smart growth.

See the full text of the AG’s opinion hereAGAdvisoryOpinion

Precious Natural Objects of Rare Beauty

More than 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Walden is a book that many of us grew up with, a book—especially if your father was an English teacher—that you studied, you memorized, and you felt at your very core, because your English teacher father told you it was an American classic and a treasure, and he took you to Walden Pond, showed you around its shoreline, walked you through the woods, as he extolled the ideas of self-sufficiency and stewardship of the earth; well, that, and a bunch of literary stuff that you didn’t necessarily understand. But you got the other stuff: stewardship and self-sufficiency—being kind to the world, living within your means—these were virtues to live by and easy to understand.

Thoreau’s memoir covers two short years in which he lived in deep personal introspection in the woods of Walden Pond. The simplicity of Thoreau’s Walden is brilliant, and, in its time, was progressive and radical. And it still is. Thoreau, a prophet of what would prove to be the ceaseless degradation of our natural surroundings at the hands of humans, understood how the quality of our environment affected the quality of our economy.

In his various journals, he wrote:

  • What are the natural features which make a township handsome? A river, with its waterfalls and meadows, a lake, a hill, a cliff or individual rocks, a forest, and ancient trees standing singly. Such things are beautiful; they have a high use which dollars and cents never represent. If the inhabitants of a town were wise, they would seek to preserve these things, though at a considerable expense; for such things educate far more than any hired teachers or preachers… I do not think him fit to be the founder of a state or even of a town who does not foresee the use of these things… [Journal, 3 January 1861]
  • Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation. We hear of cow-commons and ministerial lots, but we want men-commons and lay lots, inalienable forever. [Journal, 15 October 1859]
  • As in many countries precious metals belong to the crown, so here more precious natural objects of rare beauty should belong to the public. [Journal, 3 January 1861]

Meanwhile, our Cumberland Monastery, protected in perpetuity under a conservation easement and belonging to the public, is about to lose its rightful place as a crown jewel. And for what? A safety building? A complex of concrete, steel, manufactured wood and paved roads?

If the inhabitants of a town were wise, they would seek to preserve these things . . . at a considerable expense . . . such things educate far more than any hired teachers or preachers . . . I do not think him fit to be the founder of a state or even of a town who does not foresee the use of these things…

Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.

[P]recious metals belong to the crown, so here more precious natural objects of rare beauty should belong to the public.

Given Thoreau’s prescient words, you might find it odd that the town of Cumberland, in its 2004 Conservation and Management Plan—The Monastery, states that the Monastery is the “oldest and largest parcel of Town-owned open space, and is often referred to as the  “Jewel” of Cumberland . . .   [o]ne of the pillars of the Cumberland Greenway . . .  is very important to completing the Greenway vision. Expanding the Cumberland Greenway area through acquisitions of nearby properties is a top priority of the Town.”

Isn’t it also odd that some 150+ years later we—the citizens of Cumberland, RI—should be uttering the same words Thoreau wrote in his journals?

It’s true. Everything changes. And nothing changes.

Progress, from the Latin progresses, means to go forth, onward, gradually moving toward betterment—such as the progressive development of mankind (the sort of betterment, or enlightenment, for which Thoreau wished). The active verb progress signifies change, development; that is, development to a higher, better or more advanced stage. Progress does not mean the development of open space, farmland, forest and fields, nor does it mean the demolition of precious natural objects of rare beauty.

Raw land, nature, a forest, moves toward its own betterment, in its own time, over the course of all the years in all the time the earth can offer. Just as you cannot step twice into the same river, you cannot saunter twice into the same forest, for everything changes, it progresses, moves forward. Left alone, to cycle through its own seasonal rhythms, to open and fold and open again, the forest repeats, remains the same, year in and year out as the kingdoms of man rise and fall. And there, also, nothing changes.

Progressive ideas reflect the very meaning of progress, “making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities,” and improving upon such ideas, moving, always, forward or onward. Today’s progressives understand, as did Thoreau and many of his contemporaries, that the wisdom and sustenance that nature offers (and mankind needs) is not only for quiet contemplation, but also for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink—for our very existence.

Conservation, people of Cumberland, is a progressive movement, progressive act, and progress for mankind. Conservation is why Thoreau wrote about our precious world.

The Monastery land is Cumberland’s premier conservation area. It is one of the best and most loved natural areas in northeast Rhode Island. It’s enjoyed and cherished by many people from within and without the town of Cumberland.

Prodigal men—men who prodigiously rake the land—squander our natural resources and commit acts of retrogression by killing complex systems on which human life relies. Why? In the name of progress they tell us.

If Cumberland’s leaders and planners were wise, and progressive (and maybe even radical!), they would seek to preserve these things, these natural resources that belong to the people of this town, the beneficiaries of a conservation easement protecting the Monastery’s land.

We ask, how is the denigration of our environment, our precious land, our “jewel” of Cumberland, progress? Are our town’s leaders so deluded, so arrogant, so foolish and myopic that they cannot fathom a better solution? Groping in the darkness, we are, it seems, blind to our precious natural objects of rare beauty—the Monastery, the crown jewel of Cumberland—about to be crushed beneath our own careless steps.

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Teach your children well, peeps.

Peace.