NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Narragansett Town Council in Narragansett is asking the state’s attorney general to investigate the lease of the former Lighthouse Inn property, claiming that lessee has failed to maintain the parcel for years.
The council on Monday directed that a letter be sent to Attorney General Peter Neronha to probe whether PRI X, LLC — the lessee and a part of the Procaccianti Group — violated the material terms of its lease with the state’s Department of Environmental Management.
The lease is due for renewal this August, and town officials and residents here are worried about what they said is a lack of communication from the state about its intentions for the land, which sits at a key gateway for the fishing port of Galilee.
The state would like to see the property put to use soon, given that last year’s business was lost due to COVID. Lease rates and parking rates are set by the state DEM.
“I think the town of Narragansett deserves an explanation of how and why the Lighthouse Inn has become an eyesore, and why the terms of the lease were not enforced,” Councilor Ewa Dzwierzynski, the resolution’s sponsor, said. “The lease contains very specific material terms that have been completely disregarded, with absolutely no consequences. And maybe there’s something fishy going on – we deserve an explanation.”
In February, the council unanimously passed a resolution opposing plans by PRI X to turn the site of what was also called the Dutch Inn for many years into a small retail plaza backed by more than 500 parking spaces.
“We should not be forced to accept a development proposal that is not consistent with the comprehensive master plan for Galilee,” Dzwierzynski, who also introduced that resolution, said.
Narragansett Town Solicitor Mark Davis said there appears to be a willful breach of the lease terms.
“The radio silence from the state is concerning,” he said.
Davis said the town could send a letter “to as many people as possible” in state government, but that there’s no obligation for those recipients to respond.
Dzwierzynski said there is high support in the community for some kind of investigative action into why the property has deteriorated.
“I think if we just wait and don’t do anything, it’s not going to cause any harm, by just asking for an investigation of why the property looks the way it does and why the lease terms weren’t enforced,” she said.
Resident Deb Aubin, a member of the Friends of Galilee, said she supports the council’s move.
“I think that the town has cooperated enough with the state and the Lighthouse Inn’s leaseholder, Procaccianti,” Aubin said. She said the town’s Galilee Lease Advisory Committee was agreeable to a plan in September of 2019 for an upscale restaurant and event venue with some retail shops on the site.
“It was something that was believed that would improve what’s there now, that’s for sure, and was not going to become a parking lot,” she said. “I think we need to start looking at the future, and we need to look at a better vision and for future development of Galilee.”
State Rep. Teresa Tanzi reminded the council that Galilee was created as a strategic holding by the state for the preservation and protection of critical fishing infrastructure. “That is the key mission of the state when it comes to all things Galilee. That hotel was put in as an exception many years ago, and the lease, as was stated already, for that expires in August, and there is an option for the state to renew it.”
Tanzi said the DEM has been in talks with Procaccianti Group.
“There is a difference in what they can do right now and what they can do in August,” she said. “We, as the public are not necessarily privy to every single thing that’s going on as part of their discussions and negotiations.”
Tanzi recommended that instead of a letter to the attorney general, the town write to Gov. Dan. McKee.
“We should go to the executive and ask our new governor what the plan is for this and make our plea to the new governor,” she said.
She also pledged to inform DEM of the town’s concerns about the parcel.
Councilor Susan Cicilline Buonanno wasn’t sure that asking the attorney general to investigate was the appropriate action.
“It seems weird for us to go right to Peter Neronha’s office for an investigation. I would rather go to the governor and say, ‘What’s the status,’ or go to the people of Procaccianti and ask what’s the status with the lease,” she said.
President Jesse Pugh said he at first thought the motion was too aggressive.
“However, I’ve probably got 50 or 60 e-mails and every single one was for this. Literally every one. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that. Not even one e-mail was a plea to vote no. So it was 100% for it.”
Pugh also said the town had asked DEM for details about the lease in January and that the agency “stonewalled” the request.
“It is public land, and we weren’t given even the slightest bit of information on it,” he said.