NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A laundry list of issues that were front and center in 2021 carried over into 2022 in Narragansett, where a new Town Council took over in November. Among them: a controversial ordinance aimed at college renters, the town’s work on building a new library and efforts to re-develop the former Lighthouse Inn property and provide a boost to the fishing village of Galilee. Whether the new council will be able to make quick work of them or if they will linger into 2023 remains to be seen.
Take 2: Judge again nixes ‘three-student ordinance’
For the second time, a Superior Court judge ruled the town’s controversial ordinance that puts a three-student cap on off-season rental homes is invalid.
The decision handed down Nov. 9 by Judge Sarah Taft-Carter rejects the ordinance on procedural grounds: that the council passed it in September 2021 without a review by the Planning Board. State law requires the review to ensure ordinances are consistent with local comprehensive plans and zoning regulations.
In 2020 the board found the proposal was not aligned with the 2017 comprehensive plan, and voted against recommending it. The prior council voted to adopt it anyway.
That drew a court challenge from Narragansett 2100, a grassroots group of landlords and tenants. They successfully argued the town improperly limited public comment at a virtual hearing in August 2020.
Taft-Carter ruled in June 2021 that the first attempt at the ordinance was invalid because of this, and the new council then quickly held a hearing and re-adopted a virtually identical measure.
Narragansett 2100 again took the issue to court.
Methods to limit the number of students that can occupy a single house have a long history in town.
Proponents of the change complain that single-family home ownership has been degraded over the past several decades. The ordinance will help improve quality of life and attract more families to town, they argue.
Opposing the ordinance are landlords, property managers and others who said that so-called quality-of-life issues such as arrests, nuisance reports and orange sticker violations had significantly decreased in the past several years.
The new council will decide whether to appeal the ruling, craft a new ordinance or try for a third time with the existing one. Any action is likely to happen next year.
Library plans move forward
Town officials who have spent years on efforts to open a library in the old Belmont Market, which the town bought in 2018, held a ceremonial groundbreaking in late October. Construction is expected to take a year, meaning the facility could be hosting patrons by next October.
On Oct. 17, the council voted unanimously to award the construction bid for the work to E.W. Burman, Inc.
The groundbreaking, while ceremonial, also came after the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services awarded more than $3.14 million toward the project. The OLIS funding will be used to pay down a portion of the $5.8 million in bonds voters approved in 2016 for the project.
The $8.9 million library project has generated controversy for several years, with the previous Town Council in 2019 and 2020 making several moves to stop — or at least slow down — what its then majority saw is an ill-advised purchase by the town. Those attempts led to heated meetings, with council members and library supporters yelling at each other and trading insults.
Those raucous meetings ended after a new council took over, and after voters again in 2020 reaffirmed their desire to use the $5.8 million in bonds they approved in 2016 on the library. The voters also blocked any potential sale.
State: Lighthouse Inn razing on hold
Demolition of the old Lighthouse Inn building for redevelopment of the land it sits on will have to wait until after the state completes a hazardous materials study.
The Department of Environmental Management announced July 15 that it was hitting pause on any activity regarding the former hotel, which began as the Dutch Inn, until it could hire a contractor to perform the hazardous building materials assessment.
DEM Director Terry Gray said doing so would allow the DEM to “better quantify” the costs of demolition of the building. Lessee PRI X – a partnership between large real estate company Procaccianti Companies and Paolino Properties – has left the structure vacant and allowed it to slide into disrepair over several years, critics charge.
Gray expects the assessment to take 90 days to complete, once a firm is hired and under contract. The move essentially pushed the Galilee issue to early 2023.
Procaccianti continues to lease the five-acre site from DEM and uses the lion’s share of the property for parking — a lucrative venture in an area where summer tourists seek parking to use the Block Island ferry.
Earlier this year, DEM rejected three proposals to redevelop the site, including one by the town for a hotel and event space. PRI X proposed to demolish most, but not all, of the existing hotel and maintain the single-level front section which faces Great Island Road.
Instead the DEM has allowed two of the three lots to remain as parking and plans to tear down the defunct hotel on the third lot. DEM called the move “a way forward” to make the property more attractive to prospective investors.
DEM also moved to re-negotiate its lease with PRI X to use the other two rear parcels for parking.
New council takes over
Three of the incumbents on Narragansett’s Town Council will keep their seats for another two years.
Susan Cicilline Buonanno garnered the most votes in the nonpartisan election to council.
Following her were Ewa Dzwierzynski and Deborah Kopech.
The new council, however, chose Dzwierzynski to lead it as president, a move that has drawn protests from residents and some controversy.
Voters in Narragansett also returned former council member Jill Lawler to office. Lawler was elected president pro-tem, a role she held two years ago.
Rounding out the council is Steven Ferrandi, a frequent speaker at council meetings who has come down strongly in support of the town’s controversial ordinance that limits rental homes to three unrelated college students.
The eternal problem: Parking
Planning and Town Council officials in Narragansett held talks this year to iron out parking issues in the Pier area, with an aim toward relieving congestion that happens every summer when beach visitors arrive.
The council wants to improve parking — and ultimately quality of life — for year-round residents and help local businesses, members said.
The town dusted off its 10-year-old Pier Parking Study last year and directed Town Manager James Tierney to work with staff to review the report and provide recommendations to increase parking opportunities in the Pier area.
Parking regulations currently exist as a “patchwork” of permit and time-limited parking restrictions, officials said.
The town hired consultant John M. Burke to complete an update to his 2011 review and evaluation of parking in the Pier and Boon Street areas.
Among Burke’s suggestions: expand two-hour on-street parking in Pier marketplace and Boon Street; creating a seasonal parking limit of three hours along Ocean Road from Memorial Square to Central Street; seasonal paid parking in existing and proposed time limit zones; shared lot parking agreements close to businesses; and replacing handwritten tickets with handheld electronic ticketing devices.
Additional ideas came out of staff discussions and focus groups, such as re-starting a Pier trolley service, a parking garage, a one-way traffic loop between Boon and Ocean Road and increasing parking fines to discourage beach parking on-street.