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Zoning lawsuit is ‘elephant in the room’ at Providence candidates forum

October 7th, 2015 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by Amanda Wray

PROVIDENCE – The city’s “Meet the Candidates” night took a detour from campaign talk Tuesday when a City Council candidate who has sued Providence over a long-running zoning dispute was asked whether she would support enforcement of city ordinances if she is elected.

City Council candidate Sandra Checketts

Sandra Checketts

The crowd grew tense when moderator Eric Fransden asked candidate Sandra Checketts, “If elected, what is your stand on enforcing city laws and ordinances? What will be your approach on dealing with people who refuse to comply with those ordinances?”

One attendee whispered to his neighbor, “And that’s the elephant in the room.”

It’s no secret in Providence that Checketts is involved in two lawsuits against the city over their granite countertop business on Canyon Road. The dispute has dragged out for years, and cost the city thousands of dollars in legal fees.

A Canyon Road neighbor, Sharell Eames, has published information on these lawsuits online, including an open letter to voters opposing Checketts’ candidacy. Among the complaints aired on Eames’s “Save Our Providence Neighborhoods” blog are the “continuing zoning illegality” of the Checkettses’s business in a residential neighborhood, and the business’s impact on neighbors, traffic and the environment.

The letter to voters begins, “I am concerned and worried that one of the six candidates for Providence City Council appears to be running for office because of a hidden personal reason not stated in her campaign, such as her apparent preference for an arbitrary (rather than uniform for all) municipal law enforcement policy.”

During Tuesday’s candidates night event, however, Checketts declined to address those issues.

Blog criticizes Canyon Road business.

Blog criticizes Canyon Road business.

“I know a lot of you are here tonight just because of a letter you received,” she said. “I’m not going to talk about that letter, I’m going to talk about our life for the last 10 years.”

“For three years, all we heard was, ‘What if our neighbors sue us?’” she said. “For seven years, we have tried to work with the city. For seven years, we have been in and out of the court system. We had a building permit, and we invested a lot of money.”

Checketts and her husband run a counter-top business from their home. In 2005, they were issued a commercial building permit and business license, and they operated their business for three years until neighbors complained to the city, she said.

According to documents filed in 1st District Court, Providence issued a notice of violation in 2011 because manufacturing was prohibited in a residential zone. The Checketts permit was not renewed, which the city attributed to their failure to comply with the conditions of a conditional-use permit.

“I am running for the citizens so they do not have to go through what our family has gone through,” Checketts said, eliciting the only applause of the night.

“I could see where there was some negativity, but I thought it was well handled,” Providence resident Maryanna Jeppson said. “This is the one place where we can get all the candidates together and have people from the community all in one place to ask questions and get answers. It was a chance to see how the candidates want to influence our city.”

Six candidates are vying for three city council seats: Kirk Allen, Roy Sneddon, Jeffrey Turley, Dennis Giles, Rowan Cecil and Checketts. Vote-by-mail municipal elections will be Nov. 3. Ballots were mailed out on Monday. For more information on candidates and the election, visit http://www.providencecity.com/elections.htm.


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