EAST PROVIDENCE — By a 3-2 vote at its Tuesday, June 18, meeting, the East Providence City Council voted to defeat a motion to remove two vacant parcels located in the Harding Avenue area of Riverside from a surplus properties list, thus keeping them on the market and likely sold in the coming weeks.Councilors James Briden, Helder Cunha and Thomas Rose voted against the motion, which means a purchase and sales agreements currently underway with potential buyers of the land remain in place. Councilman Chrissy Rossi, who represents the Harding Avenue constituents in Ward 4, and Councilman At-Large Tracy Capobianco voted in favor of the motion.
Following a previous discussion on the subject at its June 4 meeting, the Council voted 2-1 with two abstentions to initiate removal of the parcels from the city’s surplus properties list and to return separate $1,000 down payment checks to the buyer. Mrs. Capobianco and Mrs. Rossi voted in favor of the move, Mr. Briden voted against with Messrs. Rose and Cunha abstaining.
City Solicitor Timothy Chapman provided the Council with an update on the situation at Tuesday’s meeting, noting the agreements in place and legal ramification the city could face if it attempted to rescind those pacts.
“The facts and difficulties (the Harding Avenue residents) face are not disputed,” Councilman Briden said Tuesday in voicing his opposition to the resolution. “The issue is as we move forward would the (purchasing) parties initiate legal action against the city.”
Mr. Briden later added, “It’s a dilemma…On the one hand, you want to do what’s good and right. But on the other hand we’re bound legally to move forward (with the sale).”
The properties in dispute are officially located according to city records on Harding Avenue, Map 313, Block 8, Parcels Nos. 15 and 17. Mr. Chapman told the Council valid sale and purchase agreements have been initiated with a potential buyer for Parcel No. 15 at a price of $67,200 and for Parcel No. 17 at a price of $82,400.
Residents of the Harding Avenue neighborhood, known for its extremely narrow roadways, have for years used the vacant parcels as parking lots. According to testimony on the matter at the June 4 Council meeting, they have long sought to purchase the land from the city but claimed they were often rebuffed or outright misled by past administrators and administrations.
As a means of clarification, Mr. Chapman said his research found no actual evidence of Harding Avenue residents ever having submitted offers in writing to the city to purchase the properties and also there is nothing in writing granting them the legal ability to park their cars in the lot.
Mr. Chapman concluded by telling the Council, “As far a legally, the city is in a position where you have to make a decision whether or not you want to invite litigation or not.”
Mrs. Rossi, in her support of the neighbors, said the Harding Avenue parcels “never should have been identified as surplus properties.” She added, “These people have been hosed enough…What has happened to these people is completely wrong and completely unfair.”
The prospect of selling the land, which seemed moot for the time being, was revived over the last year when the state-appointed Budget Commission opted to group the Harding Avenue parcels with other vacant/dormant city-owned properties for sale. The Commission and later the current City Council voted in favor of the move. The realty firm of Keller Williams was then given the contract to facilitate the transactions.