NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown Town Council continued mulling potential options for the future of Town Hall, holding a public hearing during Monday’s meeting to hear opinions on which plan was most palatable.
There was confusion during the council’s previous meeting as to whether the town was committed to using $5 million in the recently approved bond toward 80 Boston Neck Road. The council sought clarification from bond counsel David Ferrera, who said there is nothing in the bond act that mentioned the money being specifically allocated to Town Hall.
He added, responding to a question from councilor Stacey Elliott, that the town has the ability to move funds around.
Shifting money around would be vital to a proposal from councilor Mary Brimer, which she made public a couple of weeks ago. Brimer wondered if some of the money could be put towards bringing Town Hall up to code, while other funds would be used to build out 100 Fairway Drive and add a council chambers. She also said that leftover bond money could be used to fix the Old Town Meeting House.
“This was very liberally worded,” Brimer said of the bond question. “We still have time to consider other options on the table.”
There was no resolution on Town Hall, but Council President Greg Mancini said the board needs to have a decision sooner than later. He said it ranks as a “high priority” to find a solution.
DBVW Architects presented three options to the town last summer. The priciest plan would cost the town $12.5 million, which $5 million in the bond could offset, and it would include an entire restoration and contain most of the town’s departments and functions.
A partial renovation would amount to about $8 million, while the cheapest option to create a council chambers and a few offices at 80 Boston Neck Road comes out to $5 million. Brimer’s plan was the fourth proposal.
Several members of the public spoke out in support of using the $5 million within the bond toward renovating Town Hall. Randy Wietman, a former Republican Town Council candidate, said it would be “disingenuous” of the town to recommit that money elsewhere and represent a “bait-and-switch.”
“At the end of the day, the $5 million was approved and it was embedded in the $27 million bond, and we need to honor that,” Wietman said. “I bring that up because if option No. 1 is seriously consider, you’d have to go back to the voters and ask for another $7.5 million.”
Wayne Trissler joined Wietman, saying that he never considered 100 Fairway Drive to be anything more than a temporary space for the town. He said it would be a “good start” to bring some town offices back to 80 Boston Neck Road.
He added that putting an exterior facade on 100 Fairway Drive, as is proposed in Brimer’s plan, would be like “putting lipstick on a pig.”
Asset Management Commission member Dianne Izzo warned the council that they may legally be able to use bond funds on other projects, but they “may not see re-election” if it is done. She received a round of applause.
Charter Review Commission member Sarilee Norton said that residents have a “very strong attachment” to Town Hall and that they understood they were voting for money to go towards it. Mancini reminded her that all options remained up for discussion and no decisions had been made.
David Wrenn also had strong words for the council on reallocating that $5 million.
“It may be legal, but [it’s] morally wrong and ethically terrible, so please don’t do it,” Wrenn said. “I voted for you folks and I think this is a great Town Council. I think you need to move forward. We need a great historic Town Hall for a great historic town.”
Councilor Richard Welch noted again that he made it known “on many occasions” during discussions of the bond that the $5 million solely go towards Town Hall. He said that he made the point “over and over again.”
In other council news:
• Town Solicitor Matthew Callaghan said after Monday’s meeting that the Rolling Greens lawsuit should be back in front of the board some time in the next month for further action.
The last council rejected a proposed amendment to the compact village district [CVD] zoning ordinance last year that would’ve effectively put a close to the lawsuit. The Planning Commission issued a positive recommendation on the amendment — which would have brought the residential to non-residential ratio from 95 percent to 5 percent to 87 percent to 13 percent — before it came to the Council.
“We’re still talking with Mark Hawkins and his attorneys,” Callaghan said. “We’ve had several discussions, at least one meeting, and we’re trying to flesh out something, but nothing we’re able to really get a grip on at this point. We’re hoping to be able to do that, yes.”
The cap for commercial building coverage would have jumped from 10,000 to 26,000 square feet as well. The Preserve at Rolling Greens developer Hawkins and his attorneys have been in mediation with the town for months now, and Callaghan said that will continue.
“I then tried to convince the Planning Commission that my client would accept the lower amount, the lower level of 26,000 square feet and would waive 40,000 square feet, would waive 36,000 square feet, would waive 32,000 square feet that was recommended in 2012,” Hawkins’ attorney Richard Boren said last May. “Three members stated that they felt that was not an appropriate balance, and wanted us to raise it, and we said, ‘No, we will accept 26,000 square feet.’”
Town Manager A. Ralph Mollis also confirmed that discussions are continuing to take place, but that he had no official update. He said its timeline on a return to the council relies on the progress of mediation.
“I’m not sure, it may, but it really matters how it takes place in litigation,” Mollis said during a break in Monday’s meeting. “What the discussion are and what the judge may recommend, but at this point there’s nothing that’s scheduled.”
Callaghan said that the courts always press mediation, and the case wasn’t any different with U.S. District Court Judge John McConnell, Jr.
“They’re not looking to do trials,” Callaghan said. “They’d like to see us resolve it. The judge is hoping we had resolved it last year. If we can get to the point where we can go back to the judge and say, ‘We’ve furthered discussions and we’d like him to take a look at it, to see if this something that would be acceptable to the court.’ We’ll do that, yes.”
Then-Councilor Kevin Maloney is a crux of the case, as Hawkins and his attorneys believe he should have been recuse as an abutter to the property. If Maloney had done so, the amendment would have failed with a 2-2 vote. The town has denied that Maloney was wrong not to recuse himself.
At the time the settlement was brought before the Council last May, Maloney was steadfastly against it. He was vocal about his dissatisfaction with the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
The amendment eventually failed, 3-2, with then-President Richard Welch casting the deciding vote. Maloney and Ellen Waxman also voted against the measure, with Councilors Kerry McKay and Doreen Costa in the affirmative.
“I understand the time involved, the angst involved, possibly from what I’m hearing that he was led into this perhaps, even though there’s no evidence of that,” then-Councilor Waxman said at the time. “I also want to come to resolve this in a way that satisfies the will of the people.”