The JD Tuell House can stay.
Warren Town Council members voted 3-0 Tuesday night to deny a request by the Wilbur Romano Funeral Home to demolish the old home at the corner of Main and Wheaton streets to make way for a parking lot.
The council’s vote came after an hour of discussion, mostly from audience members who opposed the demolition. Not voting were councilor Cathie Tattrie and David Frerichs, who recused themselves from the matter.
Houston, Texas-based Service Corporation International bought the funeral home several years ago and sought a waiver from the town’s demolition ordinance, which forbids the demolition of structures within the Waterfront Historic District without a public hearing and waiver from the town council.
Funeral home officials said no one advised them that they needed a waiver when they applied for a demolition permit several months ago, or indeed when they purchased the funeral home and all its assets. But several audience members said that was not a good reason to be granted a variance:
“That’s not a very strong argument,” said Warren Preservation Society and Warren Voluntary Historic District Commission member Steve Thompson, one of a host of people to speak against the waiver Tuesday.
“It’s very clearly in the waterfront historic district. Since 1997, there’s been a demolition waiver; this isn’t a surprise.”
Funeral home officials also said in recent months that the home home was in disrepair and had been broken into by undesirbables. Coupled with the need for additional parking and given that they’d had a hard time finding a buyer, they said, the building had to come down.
But on Tuesday, speaker after speaker gave opposing views. Preservationist Julie Blount spoke to police and obtained police logs from the area which she said disputed claims that the building’s vacancy and state of disrepair had drawn a bad element to the neighborhood. And others argued that the building was far from unsalvageable.
Much better, said councilor Joseph DePasquale, would be to properly market the property and, if need be, subdivide part of the property to help pave the way for a parking lot.
Ms. Tattrie, the owner of Smith Funeral and Memorial Services, recused herself in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict, doing so after speaking to Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto.
And Mr. Frerichs said after the meeting that he recused himself as he recently did some business with the funeral home, though he didn’t specify the nature of the business.
“I just thought it was best to” step aside, he said.
Voting to deny the waiver were councilors Chris Stanley, Scott Lial and Mr. DePasquale