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The Latest on the Battle for Cluck! Your Help Is Still Needed
I’ve written twice before about Cluck’s attempts to open an urban farm supply store at 399 Broadway in Providence. Unfortunately, after many months of planning, build-out, stocking the store with inventory and constant persistence from Cluck’s owner Drake Patten, the store has still not been able to open it’s doors. Now, more than ever, in this fight to not only open a store but to do what’s right for small business in Rhode Island, Cluck needs your support to move forward. This is not going to be a brief story, if you don’t read all the way through, please do visit the Indiegogo “A few bucks for Cluck” campaign and pledge whatever you are able to help Cluck get through this legal battle. As you will read below, this has been and continues to be an arduous process, and if you’d like to see an urban farm supply business like Cluck succeed your financial support is greatly appreciated. To find out what’s gone on before this, please read, Support Cluck! Urban Farm Supply on Broadway in Providence, and then come back to this story. A lot has happened in the last couple of months since the City of Providence Zoning Board of Review ruled in favor of the zoning variance needed for Cluck to open. The opposition to Patten’s store, Anthony Paolino, Monica Paolino, John Paterra, Elizabeth Monaco and Sts. Vartanantz Church, filed an appeal for a stay of the business and an overturn of the zoning decision. Unfortunately, the judge ruled in favor of the opposition. Patten posted a full explanation of the proceedings to the Cluck Facebook page and in short, John Paterra and Elizabeth Monaco, both of 414 Broadway, claimed to be legal abutters who were not informed of the Zoning Board of Review meeting, even though Paterra had previously signed and notarized a petition to the Zoning Board being circulated by Sts. Vartanantz Church. In this writer’s opinion, the opposition’s lawyer used a legal technicality to win. Patten can go through the Zoning process again, this time making sure to inform all abutters of the process. There’s no reason to think the 4-to-1 decision in her favor would change this second time around. However, the financial burden this legal battle has taken on Patten and her business has become heavy. It cost approximately $10,000 to go through the Zoning Board of Review decision the first time, and before the appeal loss Patten went ahead and renovated the 399 Broadway space, fully-stocking it with merchandise for the spring growing season, an investment of perhaps $60,000 or more. To help with this financial burden, Coryndon Luxmoore, a user experience designer at Buildium and advocate for a strong Rhode Island design and startup community, created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo called “A few bucks for Cluck” with the hopes of helping Patten’s continuing legal battle. It is imperative to give if you can to fund this fight since it is definitely not slowing. Since the ruling to overturn the Zoning variance, Patten was able to acquire a City of Providence peddler’s license and hold a makeshift yard sale on the 399 Broadway property for the last couple of weeks. Patten can’t open the store and sell out of it. However, with her landlord’s permission, Patten has been able to set up a few carts of merchandise and sell what she has out on the lot for the day. It’s far from a great situation, but at least it allows her to move some merchandise, especially merchandise which is very seasonally dependent. This form of sale is licensed by the city, though that didn’t stop the opposition from sending City Building Inspectors with a Notice of Violation on Thursday, April 25th. Fortunately the City of Providence recognized that Patten can’t be violating a license that the City itself granted her, and the Notice was withdrawn the following day. Clearly not finished in harrassing Patten, on Monday, April 29th the opposition’s lawyer served Patten’s lawyer with a restraining order. The effects of the restraining order remain to be seen. A new Zoning Board date of Monday, May 13th has been issued and Patten asks that supporters once again send an email or a letter of support to the Zoning Board of Review via Peter Carnevale, Director of Zoning, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please attend the hearing on May 13 at 5:30 p.m. at 444 Westminster Street, at the corner of Empire Street and Westminster Street. That looks to be the story so far. You can follow Cluck’s updates on their Facebook page. Below is a report on the community gathering that happened at Cluck two weeks ago. Transcripts of some of Patten’s speech along with comments from local politicians and my interview with Providence Mayor Taveras follow. On April 14th a crowd of almost 200 people gathered at 399 Broadway to voice their support for Cluck at an event West Side resident Mike Ritz helped put together. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, State Representative John J. Lombardi and Providence City Councilman Bryan Principe all were in attendance and Lombardi and Principe both spoke to the crowd. The owners of several Providence small businesses, Adler’s Hardware, Jephry Floral Studio, Julians, Stock Culinary Goods and The Grange, all voiced their support for Cluck. Patten offered the following remarks, some in answer to questions from the crowd.
“This is a big deal. You are a big deal to me today. Looking out over this crowd I can’t believe it. I just wanted to open a business. That was the goal. There has been a lot of misinformation about this business. This is a small business that wants to be part of the evolution of this city. I believe and I think many of you believe that we have to grow and change as a city and this business is an example of that. “I think the misinformation has been spread in part around what I’m doing here. This is urban farm supply. I want to help people grow food. We are a city that’s committed to grow food. Today is a larger conversation about what our city will be and in specific this neighborhood which is struggling between old ideas and new ideas and somehow this little business, unwillingly, is in the middle of that conversation. As I look out across this crowd I see the future and I see your support as getting my doors open. I’ll be honest with you, we have to start over in this zoning process. It’s been expensive. It’s cost close to $10,000.00 to go through the zoning. It was hard for me and hard for me and it was a big decision. But when I looked out over this crowd today I decided we’re going to do it again. I’m going to need your support and I’m going to rely on the support of the City and our elected officials, who by the way have been extraordinary, and that’s no small thing. I want this to be a celebration of what will happen here. I’m going to need your support to move this forward and I know I can count on you. Reach out to our elected officials, who are our voice, and talk about not just this business but how we will open other businesses. Both our mayor and our governor have committed to small business. This is a case study about how this will happen. We need financing. I’m doing this business with investors and private financing. We need as much as we can to have financing that’s not necessarily private, that comes from other agencies. We have a great EDC. We need to support that because this is the future of our city. I don’t accept that there’s a political machine. There are politics and there are politics at play here. I’m a bit of a Pollyanna. I will go through the legal process as I did before and this time we won’t forget to notify a person. I will have faith in the Zoning Board. I think they made a very fair decision last time. Nothing has changed. If anything we have this incredible example of what can be here. So I’m going to place my faith in the legal system. That may be foolish but I have to believe. Any business that comes into this location will change potentially the traffic situation. So whether it’s Cluck or anything else it will change it. We are providing parking spaces on-site, the legal number that we have to provide, and importantly we have built a business on a bike route and a bus route, that was intentional. We also will be doing delivery. We don’t expect that the majority of people who come here will be in cars. This is a business that is designed for a walkable city and a public transportation city. And in closing and limiting our curb cuts, we will also be providing new spaces. So in all those ways we have been thoughtful about the impact on the street and actually see what we’re doing as increasing parking spaces for those who need it but not really for the people who necessarily will come here. We will have adequate on-site parking at any time.”
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras didn’t speak at the event, but I took a moment to ask him his thoughts. eat drink RI: Why did you come here today? Mayor Angel Taveras: I came to listen. Any time you have your citizens organized around an issue . . . This is a Sunday morning, to see over a hundred people out here, that’s good. We need more community involvement. I think that we can always learn how we can do things better. We always try to strive to improve the process. We’ll look to do that. This whole process, it’s unfortunate that Drake has to go through it again, but what we’re going to do is use it as an opportunity to examine what has happened and what can we do better as a city and what can we do better to be supportive of applicants and how can we improve the process. edRI: I approach it from a food angle. There’s been great movement in the city for urban farming, but there’s still a lot of food insecurity and a lot of food deserts. Do you think something like this could help that? MAT: I’m very supportive of sustainability. I look at it even broader than just food. It is sustainability and this is a big part of it. That’s why I supported the Fertile Underground. I’ve been very supportive of the Southside Community Land Trust. We just started Lots of Hope, where we’re going to turn abandoned lots into urban farms. When you talk about the issue more specifically like that, it’s something that I believe in. [I’ve] been working very hard with Healthy Communities [Office] that we started, Peter Asen leading that effort. And you’re so right about the food deserts that exist in our city and it’s something that we need to address to make everybody eating better and this is a great opportunity. It’s an important issue and I’d like to see us do an even better job. We are leaders with respect to it, but we need to continue to lead. From City Councilman Principe:
“Small business is the backbone of the Rhode Island economy. . . .You are the backbone of our community. You are the backbone that keep our small businesses thriving in a time when we so desperately need that. Keep up the support. Remain vigilant, as you are. Remain respectful, as you are, even with those with differing opinions on the issue. That’s the way we do things here. When we come to the politics of this, I know the city has been supportive. Drake and I have had numerous conversations in regards to the issues that she is facing and we will take the lessons learned from this, adjust and revise, as we welcome a new business into our community.”
From State Representative Lombardi:
“Is it [Cluck] going to create congestion? Is it going to create bad atmosphere? And I say, because I live within the 200′ radius, bike paths, busses, major thoroughfare, walking distance, come on, what congestion? It just makes no sense. This building was empty for many, many years, and it was the subject of graffiti, prostitution, drugs, vandalism. It was an eyesore. It was a pall on the neighborhood. The resistance that you’re getting is the naysayers, the traditional, perennial naysayers who don’t live in the neighborhood. They have property in the neighborhood. They represent that they live in the neighborhood. But guess what? They’re not being truthful. This was an opportunity for free parking for many individuals and I say . . . if we can get more people in this neighborhood to create business, to buy gasoline, to hire an accountant, to go and pray, to hire a lawyer . . . isn’t it what it’s all about? This is about doing the right thing. What did it cost her in merchandise? What about her sweat equity? You’re not talking $10-$20K here, you’re probably already talking over $100K. So bear that in mind. She’s going to need your support. Support her.”
“Starting a campaign for my friend Drake is a natural extension of my interest in seeing new businesses start in Providence and watching Sin work so hard at becoming successful. I felt that providing a forum for contributing would provide a meaningful way for others who wanted to see this kind of progress to contribute, in addition to expressing their feelings online and to their elected officials. Finally, this delay to a small business that is dependent on the spring season to make a large percentage of their revenue could easily be a deathblow. My hope is this will be a small way of reducing that impact and to demonstrate to private investors that the community is willing to put their money where their mouth is in supporting the business.”