NARRAGANSETT – After the town council elected to request the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office investigate the lease agreement for the property, the group met publicly in a workshop on Monday with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and developer PRI X to air concerns about a proposal for the site of the former Lighthouse Inn which would include a small green space backed, most likely, by a parking lot.
The 5.14-acre parcel at 307 Great Island Road is owned by the state, managed by DEM and has been leased to PRI X since 2005. PRI X, LLC is a subsidiary of Procaccianti Group, a real estate firm based in Cranston. The Lighthouse Inn, which originally opened as The Dutch Inn in 1967, has since fallen into a state of disrepair and closed its doors in recent years, which some members of the council believe is a breach of the lease agreement between PRI X and DEM. The developer has now proposed a number of options for the property, with the most recent being to demolish the former motel and construct a small green space that would serve as a public park at the front of the site, while keeping the vast majority of the parcel open for either future parking opportunities or further development.
“So it seems like a lot more surface parking lot,” said Narragansett Town Councilor Ewa Dzwierzynski. “My concern is that surface parking lots have been the #1 killer of the village centers in America since the advent of the automobile and we all know that. I do appreciate the special care and the detail and the nice landscape plan…but it’s not a real development plan.”
“It would be a real shame to shame to take such an important piece of real estate primed for economic development and turn it into a parking lot,” she continued. “This low-intensity strategy is an enormous waste of economic opportunity in town.”
Much of the land in Galilee is state-owned, DEM-managed and must serve to benefit the commercial industry that defines the area. Galilee is home to the Block Island Ferry, which every summer season transports thousands of people to and from the island. According to DEM, the 40-year lease with PRI X extends through July 31, 2041, though councilors believe renewal options could be reviewed by July of this year.
“Leases in the Port of Galilee are allowed for periods up to 40 years,” said Mary Kay, DEM chief legal counsel. “It’s a very unusual situation.”
Michael Voccola, representing PRI X, proposed a 13,000-16,000-square-foot public park at the site, which he said could serve as an entryway to the port and be used by the town for public events. The park would only constitute about 7 percent of the total parcel, however, leaving just under five acres of a “shovel-ready site,” according to Voccola. Councilors, however, believed the remaining space would be used to add parking to serve the demand of the Block Island Ferry.
Voccola repeatedly stated that there were limitations with what could be developed at the site due to the state’s ownership of the land, the mandate that lease agreements for the land ultimately support commercial fishing, the existing flood zone plain and the overall nature of the area.
“It’s important to remember that this is a commercial fishing district with all of the traffic, all of the smells, all of the unpleasantness that goes with an industrial-size fishing area,” he said. “Nothing wrong with that, it’s necessary, but it certainly limits the types of things that can be done here other than additional fisherman-supporting opportunities.”
Councilors looks issue with this characterization.
“I know you’re saying it’s a stinky port, but we have a different view of it,” said town council president pro tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno.
Dzwierzynski then showed a video she had prepared showing footage of the dilapidated and closed motel, stating the lease between DEM and PRI X had been violated and that DEM had failed to hold the company accountable.
“The lessee shall keep the leased premises and any building, structure or other appurtenance thereon, clean in good repair during the term of this lease,” reads the original lease agreement in 1990.
“PRI X stopped operating the motel and the restaurant, and has allowed the property to fall into disrepair, creating a dangerous, blighted condition,” said Dzwierzysnki in the video.
Councilors also questioned how a parking lot would support commercial fishing industry of the area. The town instead suggested a mixed-use concept for the space, floating ideas such as a boutique hotel, a museum or housing.
Dzwierzynski was frustrated by the proposal and the current state of the property.
“The town of Narragansett is going to suffer for investors making money,” she said. “We’re being disregarded and that’s a fact.”
Town council president Jesse Pugh also prepared a visual presentation to show the public the scale of the proposed park, noting its small size in comparison to the rest of the property.
“To me it’s not a park,” he said. “It’s a landscaped entrance to a parking lot.”
Ultimately, DEM, which attempted to remain cordial during the at-times heated discussion, said it was willing to work with the town and PRI X to negotiate a different ratio of space being dedicated to the proposed park. The public also strongly came out against the proposal.
Being a town council workshop, no vote or action was taken. The council will likely entertain the topic at a future meeting, and currently awaits the response from the Attorney General’s Office.