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How Private Development Can Help Repurpose Historic Buildings in Rhode Island

As one of the original 13 colonies that ultimately declared independence from Britain and became a U.S. state, Rhode Island is the home to thousands of historic buildings, many from the 19th and 18th centuries. Historic communal buildings, such as schools, municipal complexes, and churches, are often the last remaining historic buildings from a bygone era. As historic buildings age and deteriorate, the state and local governments are forced to balance the interests of historical preservation with those of safety, aesthetics, and a city’s comprehensive development plan. A division of the Rhode Island Superior Court recently addressed townspeople’s objection to an approved development project in the Wickford Village Center District of the town of North Kingstown.

The Town of North Kingstown is the home of the former Wickford Elementary School, built in the 1800s. The building, which currently leaves an 11,000-square-foot footprint, has been the source of problems for the town for years. The town has attempted to facilitate renovation and development of the abandoned building several times since it went vacant over 15 years ago. The appellee in the recently decided case is a development company that submitted a plan to the town to convert the old schoolhouse into a 39-unit condominium complex. The appellee sought and was granted several dimensional and use variances from the town’s zoning board to allow the project to continue. To gain approval for the project, the appellee called several expert witnesses to testify about the feasibility and effects of their development project.

Neighboring property owners objected to the project at the planning and zoning stage. They ultimately appealed the zoning board’s approval to the superior court, arguing that the size of the project, as well as the amount of parking that would be needed, disrupted the townspeople’s use and enjoyment of their property. The appellee responded that each of the townspeople’s objections to the project had been addressed by the expert witnesses who testified before the zoning board, and the townspeople did not object to or challenge the experts at the time.

The superior court found that the town zoning board and the appellee had done all of the required legwork to obtain valid approval for the project. The town found that the project was safe, helpful to the community and that it would not unjustly disrupt the rights of the abutting property owners. Because the appellants failed to demonstrate that the project would harm them as claimed, the Superior Court affirmed the zoning board’s decision, and the project will progress toward completion.

Do You Have Questions About a Rhode Island Development Proposal?

If you or an associate has questions about a Rhode Island construction or real estate issue, the experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP can help. Our qualified Rhode Island property attorneys understand the relevant land use ordinances and other laws, and we know how to get the results you are looking for. If you have questions about a Rhode Island easement issue, call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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