A Johnston scrap yard may be out of business for 30 days.
Town Council has ordered a one-month suspension of J&S Scrap Metal & Recycling’s business license until its owners formulate an “action plan” with town building officials, and peace is restored to the Starr Street neighborhood following a long-brewing feud with neighbors.
Sharon Cadieux and her son Jeff appeared at a more than 3-hour Show Cause Hearing with Town Council Tuesday night, represented by Attorney Christopher A. D’Ovidio, of Warwick.
“This is a man right here,” D’Ovidio said. “Okay? A guy who lives in Johnston. If you take away his license and don’t give him a chance to continue the good faith effort he’s tried … he’s going to be out of a job; his kid who plays youth football and baseball … What is he going to do? Sell his house? Where’s he going to go? He has not been recalcitrant. He has responded to authority in every way asked.”
Tuesday night’s Show Cause Hearing explored neighborhood complaints against J&S Scrap Metal and Recycling, at 36 Starr St.
The business was asked “to Show Cause why the business license should not be suspended or revoked for Operation outside of business hours, Nuisances, Debris on the Street leading to the property’s entrance and street parking of unauthorized vehicles,” according to the meeting agenda.
Issues have been mounting at the scrap yard for years, according to some neighbors and town officials.
The owners purchased a vacant home across the street and started storing scrap metal there, on a plot with residential zoning.
Cadieux spent around $10,000 to attempt to have the plot rezoned for industrial use, according to D’Ovidio, but his client eventually withdrew the application.
An explosion and fire erupted at the scrap yard in late August. Two Johnston firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion while fighting to extinguish the blaze.
Following the fire, the business was shuttered for several days, and the owner was forced to clear the home across the street of scrap metal storage. Eventually Johnston Building Official Ed Civito said he was satisfied with progress at the site, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management cleared the business of wrongdoing in connection with the fire.
Neighborhood complaints continued pouring in to city officials, according to Town Council Vice President Joseph Polisena Jr. and Council Member Linda Folcarelli.
Town Council spent hours discussing the scrap yard at its September meeting, which was initially advertised as a Show Cause hearing, connected to the zoning violations across the street. When Cadieux withdrew the rezoning application and cleared the site, the point was moot. However, neighbor after neighbor offered testimony portraying the scrap yard as a residential nuisance.
The testimony led to Tuesday night’s Show Cause Hearing.
“Whatever way we need to move towards satisfying or making that harmony exist, let’s do it,” D’Ovidio said. “It’s not that … someone gets a haircut and the other one gets beheaded. Everyone can take a haircut here. And we can work and live together. I’m hopeful of that. I’m confident; confident we can do that.”
At last month’s meeting, Town Council President Robert Russo stated the issue simply: “Your business doesn’t belong there; it's too big for the neighborhood.”
And then on Tuesday night, Russo added: “I think we have to balance his interest in running his business, with the neighbors’ interest in having a good quality of life.”
Polisena Jr. first suggested Tuesday night’s Show Cause hearing. He said he has been hearing concerns from constituents that the Town of Johnston may be prioritizing business interests over residents.
“It’s great that Johnston has all these businesses coming in, and like I said, we are a pro-business town,” Polisena Jr. said Tuesday night. “But we are a town of residents first. We are not an industrial town. We are a suburban town. The western part is a more rural area of town. With that, Mr. President, I would like to make a motion for a 30-day, temporary suspension. Within that 30 days, for the owner of the business to come up with an action plan with Ed Civino, and an action plan that can be implemented.”
Civino told the Town Council that he has been called out to J&S around 10-15 times per month recently, and that around 75 percent of the calls have been founded.
“There’s clearly something going on over there,” Polisena Jr. said. “Again, I will reiterate to the council, if something is not done, why would anybody ever believe us when we say … ‘OK, we’ll put this business in here but we’ll keep an eye on it’?”
Polisena Jr. made the motion to suspend J&S’s business license for 30 days.
“While that suspension is happening, have the owner of this business come up with a mitigation plan, for all of the issues that his attorney mentioned that they were coming up anyway,” he said. “And if they have them already, that’s less work that they have to do.”
The town’s legal counsel, Solicitor William J. Conley Jr. explained the process and options Town Council has at their disposal.
“That type of sanction is certainly within the Council’s authority,” Conley said. “And by 30-day suspension, I take that to mean the business will be closed for 30 days.”
Revoking the scrap yard’s license permanently would be considered a much harsher action, leading to closure of the business.
“Closing a business is the most severe sanction that the Council can impose,” Conley explained. “And closure typically means that the Council has found that there is an imminent danger to health and safety, and if the business is not closed, then the health and safety of the residents are at risk. Absent an imminent danger to health and safety, there’s a strong preference from the Department of Business Regulation (DBR) that the local licensing authority essentially impose terms and conditions and restrictions to address the specific problems that have been identified on the record, and manage and review; review for compliance, review to see if the proposed conditions and measures have addressed the problems that have been brought before the Council.”
The scrap yard owners, however, could appeal the decision. On Tuesday night, following the hearing, D’Ovidio said he would have to speak to his clients to discuss whether they would file an appeal.
“On an appeal of a closure, if for instance DBR did not find that the record contained evidence that shows there is an imminent danger to health and safety, it would not be sustained,” Conley said. “It would be sent back to the Council; remanded to the Council, for the Council to review, to impose what other terms and conditions that the Council may deem sufficient to address the concerns, to remediate the problems.”
Prior to last month’s meeting, Jeff Cadieux said he would work hard to keep the business open.
“I don’t plan on going anywhere,” Cadieux said during a phone interview. “Certain people think that I’m a nuisance. And they’d rather me not be here anymore … I’d rather just keep working. I’ll do the right thing, and try to make as many people happy as possible.”
At last month’s meeting, his mother, Sharon Cadieux, exchanged barbs with the neighbors who attended the meeting to make complaints.
“All right, as you know, we've got this issue with my business, which my son now runs due to the fact that I ended up with PTSD due to a double murder there,” she told Town Council. “Okay? We got a lot of people here, a lot of neighbors. They're all doing a lot of complaining; and I get it. My son did make a big mistake at 31 Starr St., which was Residential, which he was coming in front of you people to get it Industrial. So, of course, he got shut down. All well and good. He needed that. It got clean, it’s clean, it’s okay.”
Jeff Cadieux and his mother live on Water Street in Johnston.
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