NARRAGANSETT – A hearing on a lawsuit brought against the town council by library project advocates has been scheduled for Friday, Jan. 17 at Kent County Superior Court. The date was scheduled after a court conference on Tuesday with representation from both sides in attendance. The hearing will specifically focus on the town’s recent motion to dismiss the complaint. Rhode Island Superior Court Associate Justice Jeffrey A. Lanphear is hearing the case.
On Sept. 24, Love Your Library, Inc., a coalition of residents advocating for the library project, along with the Friends of the Narragansett Library, the fundraising arm of the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library, filed a 38-page complaint against the Narragansett Town Council in Washington County Superior Court seeking both declamatory and injunctive relief, alleging the current council’s recent actions to stop the buildout of town-owned property in the pier envisioned for a new library and sell it to an out-state-developer were contrary to the public will, would cause harm to the community at large and were without legal merit. Susan Cicilline Buonanno, former Narragansett Town Council president, Win Hames, a candidate for town council in the 2018 election and current chair of town’s Democratic committee, and Laurie Kelly, Chair of the Narragansett Library Board of Trustees, were all included as plaintiffs in the complaint.
The complaint lists the Narragansett Town Council, PKV, LLC, the Connecticut-based company that was recently approved by the council to purchase the main space of the former Belmont building from the town, and DSM Pier Realty, LLC [Pier Liquors], which recently purchased the former Belmont’s second floor, as defendants. Carlos Mouta, the developer behind the PKV, LLC, backed out of the purchase and sale agreement with the town shortly after the complaint was made. The suit was filed by Matthew T. Oliverio, Esq. and Santiago H. Posas, Esq., attorneys with Oliverio & Marcaccio LLP, a law firm in Providence, on behalf of the plaintiffs.
A large focus of the library project advocates’ complaint centers around the 2016 election, which saw 68 percent of those who voted approve a $5.8 million bond referendum for a new library. In 2017, the town purchased $2.8 million of property in the Pier Marketplace, including the approximate 18,500-square-foot, former Belmont building, to serve as a location for the new library. A majority on the current council, however, which includes council president Matthew Mannix, president pro tem Jill Lawler and councilor Rick Lema, all of whom were elected about a year after the town’s purchase of the pier space was finalized, do not agree with the project and buildout location, frequently citing fiscal concerns with the project.
“In entering into the DSM and PKV [purchase and sales agreements], the Town has delivered a mortal wound to the Library’s plan,” the complaint states. “The proposed sale, if consummated, would cause irreparable harm to the Plaintiffs, as well as to the Town’s citizenry at large.”
On Nov. 13, the town responded to the complaint through its solicitor Andrew Berg, who filed an objection and motion to dismiss. In its filings, the town argued the library lawsuit lacked merit and was an attempt to bring a political disagreement to the jurisdiction of the courts and heavily pointed to the 2018 election as an indication of the public will toward the library project two years after its initial approval by the electorate.
“The instant lawsuit, brought by the Plaintiffs, improperly disguises what is essentially a political issue as a legal controversy,” reads the town’s objection. “In this regard, the Plaintiffs have suggested that they are the defenders of the voters of Narragansett who passed a 2016 bond referendum to provide funds for the relocation of the Town’s Library to the so-called Belmont Building. However, the relocation of the Library to the Belmont Building was controversial at its inception and the product of a 3-2 split of the Town Council at that time. Subsequently, when the voters had another opportunity to weigh in on the subject, in a campaign dominated by the Library issue, the election resulted in a new Town Council opposed to the project.”
All of this information and more will be considered at the superior court hearing Jan. 17. The debate over a new library has loomed large in Narragansett for the past three years, inspiring numerous protests, shouting matches and public disagreements, but the hearing date marks the first time the controversy will be heard by the courts.