SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Lisa Manning’s house sits on rental property at Roy Carpenter’s Beach in Matunuck. She has enjoyed her summers there along the ocean, with the offshore breeze and many neighbors she has come to know in this summer enclave.
But this year there’s a looming large question — will she be able to use her summer house and how often?
Right now, she and the hundreds of other owners — a close-knit group that stays connected in and off-season — can’t even spend the day there unless they are doing work on the house.
“We have been informed by Matunuck Beach Properties that RCB is still considered a campground in the Town of South Kingstown land records and, therefore, may not open at this time,” she wrote in a recent letter to South Kingstown town officials.
This year there are fears that the coronavirus might start camping out there.
For the more than 380 owners at Roy Carpenter’s Beach — a settlement of beach houses mostly without flushing toilets and used only in the summer — the campground designation shuts down for now their summer “slice of heaven” as it’s called.
The fear, among state and local officials, is that these very close side-by-side homes could become a breeding ground for the contagious coronavirus sickening people and deadly for senior citizens.
Near the South Kingstown Town Beach, Roy Carpenter’s Beach fronts the ocean at 240 Cards Pond Road. Decades ago the late Roy Carpenter started renting the land for daily parking.
Gradually it included overnight stays by people with trailers and tents. A community eventually developed into cottages, built after the Hurricane of 1938, and are owned by individuals who pay yearly fees to lease the land.
Today, the land is owned by Nancy Thoresen, granddaughter of Carpenter, along with her children, Rob and Christa, and they operate Matunuck Beach Properties.
At issue with opening the community for the summer are two matters that will be discussed this week by town and state officials, said Town Manager Robert Zarnetske.
A lack of flushing toilets can create health concerns for the spread of any disease is one problem, officials said.
Another and unrelated problem is a direct Coronavirus-focused matter about the spreading of the virus because of people living so close together, they added.
Whether out-of-state owners or Rhode Island residents, the close contact could create hot spots for the virus spreading with only one to two people bringing it there, state and local officials have mentioned.
In addition, this close contact, when coupled with residents having visitors or summer parties, creates additional chances of a virus outbreak there, they said.
With no flushing toilets within individual homes, public toilets there may be insufficient given all the protections and cautions needed today.
Because the land is designated as a campground, it remains closed under orders from the state.
Homeowner Manning disagrees with state and local officials retaining Roy Carpenter’s Beach as a campground now after all the changes over the decades.
“Tenants live in cottages that are completely independent and owned by residents. Each cottage owner pays annual personal property and fire tax to the Town of South Kingstown and is required to hold $500,000 in liability insurance,” she wrote to officials.
“I mow my lawn, have electricity, running water, cable TV, a kitchen and bathroom with shower and composting toilet. It is a home in every sense, not a campsite,” she said.
Land is rented at Roy Carpenter’s Beach, which consists of about 50 acres.
Manning wrote about the rental fee, “Matunuck Beach Properties is requiring its residents pay $4,000 for the season, regardless of when (or if) it opens which as you can imagine is a hardship for most of us during this time.”
Matunuck Beach Properties owners in an email to tenants said they did not know when it would open this year, but has asked that rental payments be made by the June 1 deadline. To capture as much rent as possible, the owners offered to delay an increase next year to those paying by the deadline.
“If your rent for the cottage is not paid in full by June 1, 2020, you will not be able to take advantage of this, and you will be asked to pay the yet to be determined 2021 rent in full,” they wrote to tenants, adding that anyone with financial problems should contact them to discuss a payment plan.
“Currently, we are closed indefinitely and cannot say with certainty when we will be allowed to reopen and what conditions might be imposed on our reopening by the state and local authorities, so it is difficult to say what the entire season might look like,” they wrote.