The Middletown Zoning Board of Review on Tuesday night approved a vendor’s request to again sell fireworks in June at a West Main Road shopping plaza—this time in a tent in the parking lot.
Represented by area manager Kent McLaughlin from Connecticut, TNT Fireworks received the board’s unanimous approval for a Special Use Permit needed to set up the tented store from June 15 to July 6 at 1315 West Main Road in the southern corner of the lot closest to the road. Technically, the Special Use Permit allows for the "expansion of the shopping plaza" for a finite period of time, according to Building and Zoning Official Jack Kane.
Kane said that town officials had determined the tented retail structure technically qualified as a shopping center expansion because TNT does not maintain a storefront within the shopping plaza building itself.
“We have a provision within the town ordinance that allows for tents to be set up for finite periods of time in parking lots but that doesn’t apply to tenants that are transient,” Kane informed the Zoning Board. "If a store like BJ's (Wholesale Club) wanted to set up a tent to sell some items for a special promotion or Christmas trees, that wouldn't be considered an expansion."
Town officials also wanted to be careful so as to not set precedent to permit tented retail sales for everyone, Kane said.
"Otherwise we’d see these tented structures all over town popping up," he said.
TNT fireworks were sold at the same West Main Road shopping plaza last year but inside the former Linens 'n Things space. The same space is reportedly not available this year as film production company has rented that space as a soundstage, according to several town officials.
The 2010 Fourth of July season was the first year in which Rhode Island permitted the sale of certain types of Class C fireworks in the state.
“It’s limited to certain types in Rhode Island. They’re technically fireworks but they’re…non-aerial, non-explosive,” McLaughlin said following the vote. “In the businesses we call them fountains. They’re basically sparkling devices.”
TNT is an Alabama-based company that has managed the set-up and sale of independent contractors’ fireworks for about 25 years, according to McLaughlin. He said the company now sets up between 6,500 to 7,000 sales sites or “tent events” each year just before the Fourth of July throughout the United States.
Last year in Rhode Island, between 10 to 15 TNT tent events were set up.
This year the number will more than double with 30 sites planned throughout Rhode Island, McLaughlin said.
The TNT Fireworks will be sold out of a tent approximately 40 feet wide by 60 feet long, with at least two employees there at all times between the sales hours of 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends, according to McLaughlin. A security guard will also be present 24 hours per day, he said.
At the hearing Tuesday night, some Zoning Board members questioned the safety precautions to be taken.
Both Kane and McLaughlin said that Middletown’s fire marshal had reviewed the plans and only required that a gas generator not be used on site. Instead, TNT will be able to obtain electrical power from a temporary utility pole already located in the parking lot at that location, McLaughlin said.
Additionally, the store will maintain fire extinguishers on site at all times and the site will undergo inspections by the town’s building inspector and fire marshal prior to opening, he said.