majority

[From left to right] Council president Matthew Mannix, council president pro tem Jill Lawler and councilor Rick Lema, the three of whom form a council majority opposing the library project in the pier, confer during a council meeting.    

NARRAGANSETT - Love Your Library, a grassroots coalition of residents, filed suit against the Narragansett Town Council in Washington County Superior Court today. The 38-page complaint alleges that the 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-of-state developer were contrary to the public will, would cause harm to the community at large and were without legal merit. The complaint also seeks to stop the pending sale and ensure the property would be used for a new municipal library.

Plaintiffs identified in the document are Love Your Library, Inc., Friends of the Narragansett Library, Inc., [former Narragansett Town Council President] Susan Cicilline Buonanno, [Narragansett Democratic Town Committee Chair] Winters B. Hames III and [Narragansett Library Board of Trustees Chair] Laurie Kelly. The complaint lists the Narragansett Town Council, PKV, LLC, the Connecticut-based company that recently purchased 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. The complaint was filed by Matthew T. Oliverio, Esq. and Santiago H. Posas, Esq., attorneys with Oliverio & Marcaccio LLP, a law firm in Providence.     

“Plaintiffs, all Narragansett citizens and local advocacy organizations, bring this action to protect and enforce the substantial and unique public interests of the citizens of Narragansett as expressed in the 2016 general election and as granted to them in the Town Charter,” the complaint reads. “Specifically, Plaintiffs seek to protect the intent of the citizens as expressed on the referendum presented to them in the [2016 general election]. That referendum, which was approved by 67.9 percent of the town electorate, authorized the issuance of certain bonds for the acquisition and renovation of a building at the site of the former Belmont Marketplace at the Narragansett Pier Marketplace for use as the new home of the Library.”

“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.” 

The document makes note of the 2016 general election outcome that saw more than a two-thirds approval on a $5.8 million bond referendum for a new library. In accordance, the town purchased the former Belmont Building and other Pier Marketplace property for $2.8 million in March of 2018. However, the 2018 election, taking place roughly eight months later, saw a shakeup that shifted the majority of council membership against the project as envisioned in the pier plaza. In January, that majority, which typically enjoys three council votes out of a possible five, elected to put up for sale the pier property originally purchased by the town for a new library. 

Specifically, the complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief on two counts. The first alleges the council undermined the will of the people in regard to the 2016 vote and that this action, while holding no legal standing, would ultimately result in the state's revocation of the library's recognition due to the current facility being out of compliance with both ADA and fire code since 2015. The second count highlights a series of resident-submitted petitions via Narragansett Town Charter concerning the library project, one of which would require by law the former Belmont building be used for a future library and another amending the Narragansett Town Charter to restrict the town council from selling property without a referendum. Both documents are currently still making their way through town approval before coming back to the council for a vote. The complaint states that the sale of the pier property while the petitions concerning it still make their way through the legislative process was in violation of the town charter and "unlawfully usurped" the powers of the electorate as guaranteed in the charter.

In August, the council majority sold the second floor of the former Belmont building to DSM Pier Realty, LLC, for $735,000.  A few weeks later, in a move that drew hours of criticism from the public, the majority sold the main space to PKV, LLC for $2,070,145, detailing that Hartford-based developer Carlos Mouta planned to turn the space into a food court and market.

In March, Cicilline Buonanno filed another complaint against the council alleging its determination that a petition she filed with the town seeking to preserve the Belmont Building for a library was not valid. That is a separate complaint from the one filed Tuesday and is scheduled to be heard on Dec. 16 in Washington County Superior Court. 

pcozzolino@ricentral.com

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