WOONSOCKET – A Superior Court judge says the Zoning Board of Review must resolve questions of a possible conflict of interest involving member Allen Rivers before putting to rest a controversial petition to redevelop St. Francis House on Blackstone Street.
Allegations of a conflict were raised recently by Fernandes’ lawyer, Michael Kelly, who filed a $3 million lawsuit against the Zoning Board after the panel first rejected the St. Francis House petition in 2011 – before Rivers joined the panel. Fernandes renewed the petition earlier this year only to be shot down by zoners a second time, and Kelly now claims Rivers voted against it because he was improperly influenced by a business partner, Roland Michaud.
Since the allegations of a conflict surfaced, Michaud, too, has been appointed to serve on the zoning board.
The judge’s order stems from a July 24 ruling of the board in which Fernandes’ proposal for St. Francis House was denied on 2-3 vote, with three votes of support, or one shy of the regulatory minimum of a 4-1 margin required for passage under zoning rules.
Rivers and Katherine Dumais were against the proposal, which was supported by Norman Frechette, Richard Masse and Chairman Alan Leclaire.
Ruling in an appeal from the latter decision on Nov. 26, Superior Court Judge William Carnes Jr. instructed members of the zoning board to reconsider the petition and to determine whether Rivers should recuse himself because of the allegations of a conflict raised by Fernandes’ legal counsel.
Carnes instructed zoners to “review and refine any findings of fact” and to “consider the alleged conflict of member Allen Rivers and whether Member Rivers should recuse himself from hearing the application on the record.”
At issue is something zoners call “density,” or how many dwelling units Fernandes, a well-known developer from the city, should be allowed to build inside St. Francis House.
Read more in our print edition.