NORTH KINGSTOWN—On Tuesday evening, the North Kingstown Planning Commission held a lengthy discussion on the future of the Stonecroft property at at 173 Boston Neck Road.
The 87,728 square foot piece of land in Wickford Village has been in limbo since 2007, when preliminary approval was given by the Planning Commission to owner Richard Fryburg to use a comprehensive permit in order to build low to moderate income, along with market rate, structures on the site.
At the time, the commission stipulated that the historic two-story colonial household would have to be preserved as two affordable housing units in order for the project to move forth. The application was subsequently approved preliminarily by the commission in 2010, but no official decision was recorded. No restoration work to date has been conducted by Fryburg on the site, which has left the structure in a state of significant dereliction.
“[Building inspector] Gary Tedeschi and I went out to the site, and the building is in tough shape,” said director of Planning Jon Reiner. “Part of the roof has been exposed, and there is a significant amount of rot.”
This past March, a local developer met with the commission to propose demolishing the historical building, a suggestion which members rejected unless more information about whether the structure was truly unsalvageable. On Tuesday evening, a new applicant, SA Builders, LLC of Narragansett, presented the council with an engineering study by Carrigan Engineering, Inc., also of Narragansett, which states that the building should be demolished.
“We have a purchase and sales agreement to buy the property, but we can walk away,” said Matthew Callaghan, attorney for SA Builders. “The current owner will then be the future owner, and that will not be a good thing for the preservation of that house because it is apparent to me he has no intention of preserving that house.”
“We have hired structural engineer, and he has told my client is it is not going to work, so that is all there is to it,” he added. “It does not work from a structural and economic point. Even if it could be fixed, [the costs] would be so astronomical, no one would undertake it.”
Commission members continued to express their apprehension towards demolition of the colonial home, stating that the information that was asked for in March had still not been adequately provided by this newest applicant.
“When I read the report, I thought it was incredibly brief,” said James Grundy. “Having rebuilt historic houses and relocated historic houses myself, I don’t see where the replacement of beams is a hardship. Paints badly peeling on the exterior is hardly a reason to demolish a building.”
“My concern [has been] strictly whether this was salvageable or not,” said Harriett Powell. “I would feel a lot better if somebody looked at it from an historical standpoint, and I would like to know if it is irreversibly in a condition to not be restored.”
Alexander Petrucci, owner of SA Builders, LLC, implored the planning commission to consider options outside of full restoration of the building, stating that in order for the site to be developed properly, the building would most likely have to be removed.
“I looked at this project and had no intention of taking this building down,” said Petrucci. “My structural engineer right away was totally disgusted with it. Wickford is a very beautiful little town, and when I am done with this project, you people will be very proud of that development.”
“I am here to say let’s work together to make it look beautiful,” he continued. If we can’t work together, I can’t do it, and I am not going to do it mickey mouse.”
Petrucci further noted that he has three months to close on the property’s purchase. Commission members continued with a debate about whether Petrucci would be willing to start the process over with a new application after the requisite information about the building’s restoration was received. Paul Dion supported the idea, emphasizing that the commission should not be forced into decisions by applicants when the responsibility of the current owner to restore the historical building, per the preliminary application approval, has been ignored.
“I am not going to reward a property owner who was beyond negligent,” said Dion. “Why would we ever want to? Why are we being asked to be flexible when the owner of that land can lower their asking price for the land?”
“Nobody on this board or in town government did anything to put that house in the condition it is now,” he continued. “I am all in favor of a clean slate.”
Chair Gardiner H. Palmer, Jr. expressed his desire to find a solution with the current application, however, which has comprehensive plan and preliminary approval dating back to 2007.
“I am not in favor of rewarding, but also not punishing someone who has reached a certain level of completeness with a project,” said Palmer.
Ultimately, the commission asked Petrucci to provide a more in-depth engineering report and cost analysis for the potential restoration of the site, as well as allowing the town to hire a third-party engineering firm to provide an outside opinion on the structure’s salvageability.
Reiner stated that the Planning Department would communicate with Petrucci and SA Builders, LLC in order that the application is heard on the next commission meeting on Aug. 20.