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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The town of Narragansett is facing a lawsuit, and possibly future legal action, over a recently-passed 60-day moratorium on new construction, an attorney for Narragansett said Monday.

The lawsuit in Kent County Superior Court sought a temporary restraining order to block the moratorium, attorney Andrew Berg told the Town Council at its meeting.

It came in response to the moratorium the council passed two weeks ago with the aim of stopping the spread of dwellings with more than four bedrooms that, some residents say, is used as dormitory-style housing for college students.

Berg explained the court procedure in instances where a restraining order is sought.

“What happens there is the judge will review the pleadings and make a very early determination of whether there might be a cause of action,” Berg said. That could have resulted in a restraining order that halts enforcement of the moratorium while the case makes its way through court.

“Obviously the town’s concern is, if the judge issued a blanket restraining order, it would allow a window of opportunity for the developers we’re concerned about to get the permits issued and proceed with their plans, much to the chagrin of some of the neighbors, and also present a serious fire hazard by overloading certain houses,” Berg said.

On Jan. 31, lawyers for both sides met with the judge and all agreed to a consent order limiting the authority of the building moratorium.

The new consent order exempts any new construction or remodeling of homes with four or fewer bedrooms from the moratorium, meaning they can proceed, Berg said.

Another condition exempted structures in R-40 and R-80 zoning from the moratorium.

“There were some large houses, single-family houses that were not a threat for student housing in these areas,” Berg said. “So they wouldn’t qualify for the four-bedroom or less exemption, so we did a limited exemption there.”

Both sides and the judge were satisfied, and a blanket restraining order was not issued — for now.

“Both sides agree there might be some additional litigation coming up, but for now the moratorium is in effect with those limitations,” Berg said. “It’s addressed the litigant’s concerns without undermining the town’s goals in passing the moratorium.”

The Town Council voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to place a 60-day moratorium on new construction of homes, responding to resident complaints of rental homes that supposedly house dozens of tenants in dorm-style arrangements.  

The issue has been festering for many years, with off-season property owners eager to cash in on rentals to University of Rhode Island students. Neighbors complain that it’s a quality of life issue for them.

The council amended the measure to allow owners of existing homes to make repairs and modifications, after some complaints from homeowners that halting all work was too restrictive.

It also made changes to allow the town’s planning and zoning boards to hear matters before them during the moratorium, to keep in line with state law.

The two-month process of changing the ordinances will involve public hearings and, if necessary, special meetings.

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