By PHILIP COZZOLINO
NARRAGANSETT – While ultimately not voting on such an option, the Narragansett Town Council floated the idea of litigation regarding the property in the Port of Galilee that houses the former Lighthouse Inn. The property, owned by the state and leased to PRI X, LLC–a subsidiary of Procaccianti Group, a national real estate development firm based in Cranston–has recently fallen into disrepair, which is a violation of the lease between the company and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
The discussion came on the heels of a memorandum of agreement between DEM and PRI X, LLC, a legal contract that will allow the developer to issue and oversee a request for proposals for the future of the property. Residents and town officials alike voiced strong opposition to this portion of the agreement at a state properties committee hearing on July 22. The memorandum, which extends PRI X’s lease of the property for 180 days after it was set to expire on July 31, was signed by both parties the same day as that state properties committee meeting, though it is unclear if the document was signed before or after the meeting, which was held virtually in the evening.
“That just doesn’t make sense to have a developer write the RFP for a property that the state has,” said councilor Ewa Dzwierzynski, who has spearheaded opposition to the extension of the state’s lease with PRI X. “I did have concerns about that…We’re talking about transparency here and I don’t know if this is smoke and mirrors. This really concerns me this is how we were starting off…this was already a done deal.”
Like much of the land in Galilee, the site, 307 Great Island Road, is owned by the state, managed by DEM and has been loaned to private companies like PRI X for development. Legally, developments on state-owned properties in Galilee that would benefit the lucrative and significant commercial fishing industry in the port are prioritized by the state. In May, the Narragansett Town Council unanimously approved a motion to request the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office investigate a possible breach of the lease between DEM and PRI X, citing language in the contract that calls for the property and any building on it to be “clean and in good repair” during the term of the lease. The attorney general’s office, however, has yet to act in writing, according to town officials. At a meeting in June, councilwoman Ewa Dzwierzynski played a video featuring drone footage of the now-dilapidated structure at the site.
Constructed and opened as The Dutch Inn in 1967, the original structure and hotel served as a hotspot for local fishermen and townsfolk, but began to decline at the turn of the century. PRI X acquired the property in 2005, when the hotel was facing bankruptcy, though little improvement was made, and the hotel was recently closed. The company has in recent years proposed for the property a 500+-space parking lot, a restaurant, and a shopping plaza with added parking options, though residents have remained skeptical that the site will mostly be dedicated to parking.
The property sits nearly adjacent to the Block Island Ferry, which every summer season attracts thousands to Galilee wishing to board vessels bound for the island.
An online petition currently features nearly 1,500 signatures of those who were opposed to DEM’s extension of its lease with PRI X.
At a town council meeting Monday, Dzwierzynski laid out several options for the town going forward to address the property that included conducting a workshop headed by an expert on land use, petition the state for the town to acquire the land and redevelop the site, seek legislative intervention by having state elected officials amend state statutes to allow for DEM to oversee the site, create a task force and finally, “litigate for site control of the Galilee parcels.”
“RIDEM has mismanaged the lease agreement resulting in blighted conditions,” said Dzwierzynski. “We’ve all seen it…This is a once-in-lifetime opportunity for us to make this right and get the quality development we deserve.”
In considering litigation, Dzwierzynski listed the following potential relief the town might seek in the courts:
-Denial of PRI X’s ability to renew their lease agreement.
-Town to receive site control and ownership of the parcels.
-State to require DEM meet all local land use regulations to include Site Design and
Review by the Town of Narragansett.
Ultimately, the council did not take any votes, though a consensus was reached that a motion to host the workshop would appear on the body’s next regular meeting agenda.