NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown Town Council came to a split decision on awarding a Request for Proposal for the redevelopment of old Wickford Elementary School Monday night, with a second vote needed to table further discussion to the executive session ahead of their next meeting on June 8.
The Town Council voted 2-2, with Councilwoman Stacey Elliott unable to attend and Councilman Kerry McKay and Town Council President Greg Mancini voting yes while Councilwoman Mary Brimer and Councilman Richard Welch voted against the measure, with Brimer encouraging the council to take more time to discuss the proposals, particularly regarding issues surrounding the tie-in of the sewage system, and said she believed that the discussion should be held in an executive session. Mancini disagreed, arguing that all of the proposals covered the bases needed and that the town should immediately proceed with awarding the RFP.
With the vote coming to a tie, the motion was briefly held up before the council voted 4-0 to table to the June 8 executive session.
The meeting, held entirely over the video conference app Zoom, began on a somber note as Mancini honored Hallie Linacre, the daughter of North Kingstown Fire Department Battalion Chief John Linacre, who died suddenly in her sleep on May 8. She was 20 years old.
“Hallie was a shining star in our community and our state,” Mancini said, noting she was a junior at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts where she starred on their women’s soccer team and called for a moment of silence in her honor following the Pledge of Allegiance.
Following opening remarks, the council heard presentations on three proposals, coming from Unisource of East Greenwich, Fernandes Construction of North Smithfield and Hathaway Holdings of Jamestown, the last of which was previously recommended by the Planning Department in their letter to the council.
The first two proposals focused on converting the former elementary school into apartments, with Unisource promising 29 apartments ready within two years while Fernandes Construction promised to have 19-20 apartments done in a year, with representatives from both believing that rental units are preferable to purchased condos in the building at this time.
The Hathaway Holdings proposal called for 34 condo units which they said they could have done in 19 months and includes the construction of two-story rooftop townhouses, and representatives from the company argued that condos could be a good way to retain empty-nesters in town who are looking to downsize without leaving North Kingstown, with the added benefit of being within walking distance of the shops, restaurants and scenery of Wickford Village.
“I think the village of Wickford is unique on this side of Rhode Island,” Hathaway Holdings owner Paul Boghossian said, saying the next nearest location offering a similar atmosphere is Newport.
All proposals were favorable to the council, with McKay saying he liked the simplicity of the first two but personally believed the third would benefit the town the most in the long run, though shared concerns with Hathaway Holdings about their proposal to build a parking lot in the front of the building, a concern shared with members of the Planning Committee.
In other business at the meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve a two-month extension of the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the North Kingstown Firefighters Local 1651 that carries the terms of the current contract to June 30, 2022, allowing for the CBA to get back on track with the start of the fiscal calendar after previously only being able to extend the contract to the end of April 2022 due to a rule prohibiting CBAs lasting longer than three years at a time. All items on the consent agenda passed unanimously, with the exception of the abatement of uncollectable taxes from 2010, which the council voted to continue to the June 8 meeting. Brimer asked for a progress report on the collection of unpaid taxes and explored the option of advertising the unpaid amounts in the newspaper in hopes that people would pay once they saw their name in print and would want to get things settled with the town.
The council also voted to extend the Local Declaration of State of Emergency to June 9 with new language added to allow for restaurants to begin limited outdoor dining as approved by the state. Town Manager Ralph Mollis noted that the town did not have the authority to do so on their own and needed to approve the language in order to receive funding to help the restaurants in re-opening.
Mollis said he wanted to see businesses in town be able to open sooner rather than later, and that the town beach would be slated to open for Memorial Day weekend while he hoped to have municipal offices back up and running in June. He also noted that the town has allowed public parks to remain open unlike some Rhode Island communities and they would stay that way, while public playgrounds will remain closed and encouraged citizens to continue following updates on the COVID-19 pandemic on the town website.
The only item of business rejected by the council was a request for tax-exempt status for Rhode Island Farm Incubator as the council believed they had not given enough reasons for such status in their application and were not present at the meeting to state their case after the item had been continued from March 16.
The next Town Council meeting is slated for June 8.