No changes at Warren Town Common

Councilors will not spell out allowed uses after concerts controversy

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/13/21

Warren Town Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to make no changes to the way the Town Common is regulated, saying they'll decide on a case by case basis what kind of events are and are …

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No changes at Warren Town Common

Councilors will not spell out allowed uses after concerts controversy

Posted

Warren Town Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to make no changes to the way the Town Common is regulated, saying they'll decide on a case by case basis what kind of events are and are not welcome there.

The council's vote came a month after the council voted 3-2 to approve a series of amplified acoustic concerts there this summer, only to have the organization that proposed them cancel the series in the face of opposition from council members John Hanley, Steve Calenda and Dave McCarthy, of the Warren Veterans' Honor Roll Committee.

In a letter to the council prior to the vote, Mr. McCarthy wrote of his belief that the Common, as home to veterans' and fire fighters' memorials, is a solemn place and that the memory of those honored there would be disrespected by holding such events.

Unlike Burr's Hill and other public spaces in town classified as "passive recreation" or "conservation" areas, the Common and its allowable uses are not mentioned anywhere in the Warren Town Code. Given no clear direction on what is allowable or not, councilors brought the issue back up this month to explore whether they should spell out allowed uses. And as happened last month, councilors disagreed during their discussion.

"It seems like a stretch that we're having this discussion because of an application to hold a very sort of low key event there," council president Keri Cronin said. "It wasn't suggested that Coachella happens at the town common," referring to a large music festival in California.

"I don't think the people whose names are on those monuments would agree that we should exclude everybody from the Common unless they're there for that specific memorial," councilor Brandt Heckert said.

"I don't see why there isn't room for both."

But Mr. Calenda and Mr. Hanley, the council vice president, seemed to indicate that they still believe the common is the wrong place for such events.

"There's been concerts at Burr's Hill since I can remember," Mr. Calenda said. "That would probably be the logical place for us to have musical events. The policy should be, if the place for the concerts is Burr's Hill Park, that's the place. If the place for the war memorial and the honor roll is the town common, then that's the place."

"If this was an Indian honor roll, would you guys have it the same way or keep it solemn?" Mr. Hanley asked.

"May I answer that loaded question?" asked councilor Joseph DePasquale, who later said he thought it disingenous to compare the Common with with Burr's Hill, which before being taken over by the town was (and still is) a Native American burying ground.

"We should remove the use of Burr's Hill, we should remove the idea that playing in a cemetery is OK, and we should do it with your lead," he told Mr. Hanley.

"You asked the question either out of mockery or natural curiosity (but) point out the bodies that are buried at the Common and then we can have that discussion."

Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto suggested that councilors could add a passage to the code codifying allowed uses of the Common, saying that unlike other areas in town, its unique nature is probably why it was never addressed — but could certainly be if the council chose.

But Ms. Cronin said that probably is not necessary:

"I'm not opposed to the idea of just accepting applications," she said. "I was comfortable with that decision (last month, and) I was in the majority."

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.