2016-01-14 / Front Page

Rockingham group launches website, zoning change petition

By Allan Stein

ROCKINGHAM — A newly formed citizens group, Rockingham For Progress, is calling for creative adaptive reuse of the town's empty paper mills and for changes in the town's zoning regulations.

The group has created a website, RockinghamForProgress.org, which launches this week, and is distributing "Don't Jail Our Future" lawn signs around town.

Rockingham For Progress opposes Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark's proposal to turn the Liberty Paper Co. mill building into a federal detention center.

The website gives an overview of the detention center controvery, provides a list of factual reasons for opposing the proposal, and offers residents a means for contacting elected officials, media and other interested parties.

"It's not hard to imagine projects that would bring jobs without threatening the fabric of our community," said RFP member and software engineer Doug Anarino. "I'm all for reforming the justice system, but the way this project does so is essentially making a deal with the devil."

Clark's plan is considered highly controversial, with charges that public input has been deliberately minimized. Critics also argue that the details of the project are sketchy, and that the project is of questionable benefit to the town.

A petition calls for changing the definition of a "public/municipal facility" under which the project's proponents claim it would currently fall. The petition would also seek to change permitted uses in the Riverfront 14 zone, where the building, the former Chemco plant, sits.

The petition specifically would seek to disallow "any facility in which more than 18 people are incarcerated at any time or in which any person or persons are incarcerated for seven or more consecutive years" while regarding such activity as incompatible with the recreational potential of riverfront property in Bellows Falls.

RFP's goal is to garner 250 signatures for the petition.

A petition for a special town meeting requires the signatures of 5 percent of the registered voters.

"I believe the detention facility will negatively impact the quality of life in our small town," said Merritt Schnipper, a criminal defense lawyer active with RFP.

"Others may disagree, and their voices should be heard, but what must not happen, either in Rockingham or anywhere else in Vermont, is the siting of a major public facility in the middle of a small town without the approval of the citizens whose lives and community will be most affected," said Schnipper.

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