A quorum of the Johnston Town Council, made up only of Vice President Stephanie Manzi and Councilman David Santilli, voted Monday to revoke the business license for the Raymond Acciardo Company located at 1133 Hartford Avenue. The revocation came at the end of a show cause hearing during which residents aired their complaints that have been accumulating for more than two years.
“I’ve lived with this nightmare for several years,” said Lauren Vierra, who lives next door to the Acciardo Company. “This is a quality of life issue. [Raymond Acciardo] doesn’t care about anyone else’s well-being.”
Monday’s show cause hearing was a continuation from the May meeting, at which Acciardo and his legal counsel were unable to attend. Prior to the start of the hearing, Councilman Ernest Pitochelli excused himself from the meeting, saying he was not feeling well. Two other council members, President Robert Russo and Councilwoman Eileen Fuoco, had to recuse themselves from the vote, citing conflicts of interest. Despite having only two members remaining, Town Solicitor Billy Conley said the council was within their rights to continue the hearing.
Code Enforcement Officer for the town, Peter DelPonte, rehashed for the council his experiences with the Raymond Acciardo Company, starting with complaints from neighbors from abutting Woodland Estates, which began roughly three years ago. The neighbors complained that the noise and dust from the construction company were causing a nuisance for residents. The Raymond Acciardo Company’s land is split into multiple lots. The front portion of the property is zoned B2 for commercial, but the lots abutting the condos are zoned for residential.
Upon inspection, DelPonte discovered that the company was operating some of its machinery, and keeping mounds of dirt and mulch, on the residential lots – a violation of the zoning code.
“Over the years, we tried to see if we could get it under control,” DelPonte said.
From her third floor unit, Vierra said she can see the sifter and mounds of dirt on the residential lots, and she does not believe anything will make Acciardo change. She and other residents provided photographs and offered video footage demonstrating the violations.
“The minute things quiet down, the dirt goes back there. He could have cleared that all in one day,” she said, adding, “You have no peace with that sifter.”
Maureen Gendron has to close her windows in order to be able to talk on the phone, and she said that the noise is constant. She is often woken up by the work being done next door, sometimes as early as 6:30 a.m., she said.
“We’re not trying to cause any issues, but we’ve put up with it for a long time,” she said.
Desiree Cabbabe agreed.
“It’s before business hours, it’s after business hours … and it’s very clear there is no regard for the neighbors,” she said.
DelPonte issued notices of violations, resulting in a court order on Oct. 21, 2009. The courts called upon Acciardo to install a 50-foot vegetative buffer and to remove all machinery and construction debris from the residential portion of the land.
The order was not followed and the complaints continued, resulting in additional court orders on June 24, 2011 and May 14, 2012.
“There is an explicit court order … Mr. Acciardo was found in contempt of that court order – it’s not confusing,” said Conley.
As of Monday, DelPonte reported that improvements had been made, but the property was still not in 100 percent compliance with the court order.
“There were still piles of dirt or loam in that residential area that need to be removed,” he said.
Gregory Acciardo, legal counsel for the Raymond Acciardo Company, said that there is “substantial compliance,” and felt a resolution could be reached.
Substantial compliance isn’t complete, Manzi countered.
“You can’t be half-pregnant. You’re either in compliance or you’re not,” she said.
During his statement, Gregory Acciardo also argued that complaints of dirt pollution or noise are not part of the court order, and therefore should not be taken into consideration.
The Raymond Acciardo Company has been in business since the 1950s, and at its current location since the 1960s. Attorney Acciardo pointed out that residents of Woodland Estates would have known about the business prior to moving in.
“Mr. Acciardo’s business has been there and predates when those condos were built. If someone here went into those condos, and didn’t look out the window on the day you purchased and see us there, that’s not our fault. We were there,” he said.
That argument wasn’t good enough for the Town Council. Manzi said that the company has not been a good neighbor, and has disobeyed court orders for years.
“How do you expect us to have any good faith in your client anymore?” she asked. “I would think you’d want to be a good businessperson and you’d want to ensure quality of life for everybody.”
Santilli made a motion to revoke the license, to the applause of residents in the Municipal Court, and was seconded by Manzi.
“The violations have been there for two and half years and there’s still one violation,” Santilli said. “It seems like we just keep going back and forth with this. It’s become a huge problem to the residents in the area.”