A decision on whether or not to allow the demolition of a 152-year-old Main Street home to make way for a parking lot won’t come any time soon.
The Warren Town Council voted 4-0 Friday afternoon to hold a required public hearing on the matter of 613 Main St. on Tuesday, Nov. 20. That will leave the town plenty of time to review the proposal by the building’s owner, the Wilbur Romano Funeral Home, which has said that the home is in disrepair and is not savable. Town review will include an early November review of the demolition request by the Warren Voluntary Historic District, and Warren Building Inspector William Nash will also inspect the home to document its condition.
When the proposed demolition was first discussed by the town council last week, councilor Cathie Tattrie said she felt “badly” for the funeral home, which she said was having to wait too long to have a hearing before the town. She suggested the town hold a public hearing as soon as possible, a requirement for demolition since the home lies within the boundaries of the Warren Waterfront Historic District.
But at Friday’s 4 p.m. meeting, councilor Scott Lial said the last thing the town needs to do is hurry the petition along.
“There’s no anti-business quotient” to making sure there’s adequate time before a public hearing, he said. “I don’t think we need to rush this; I don’t like the idea of sprinting to the finish line on this thing.”
His fellow councilors agreed, with Ms. Tattrie absent.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Tattrie said she asked the town’s attorney to determine whether she should vote on or recuse herself from the vote that will follow November’s public hearing. Ms. Tattrie, who owns Smith Funeral and Memorial Services on Schoolhouse Road, is a direct competitor of the Wilbur-Romano Funeral Home.
Ms. Tattrie said she sought town solicitor Anthony DeSisto’s advice in the wake of a letter she received Friday morning from resident Steve Thompson, who suggested that she may have an ethical conflict if she votes on the application.
Mr. Thompson, a member of the Warren Preservation Society and the Voluntary Historic District Commission, suggested in his letter that she obtain an advisory opinion on the matter from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. He referenced a portion of state ethics laws that state that “a conflict of interest may exist if an official or employee can reasonably expect that his or her official conduct will directly result in a financial benefit to the official, his or her family, business associates, employers, or businesses that the official represents. The conflict need not be certain to occur, but the probability must be greater than ‘conceivably.’”
Ms. Tattrie said that she doesn’t believe she needs a state opinion and will not seek one, because she doesn’t believe she has any financial incentive to vote on the proposal either way. However, she said she has asked for Mr. DeSisto’s advice and said she will do what he advises.
“To keep everything on the up and up, I wouldn’t want to be a tie-breaker” when the funeral home’s application comes to a vote, she said.
The possible conflict referenced by Mr. Thompson became an issue after Wilbur-Romano officials first appeared before the council last Tuesday in part to help set a date for a public hearing on the demolition, as is required by law. At the meeting, Ms. Tattrie asked that the hearing be held in mid-October and said she felt “badly” for the funeral home, which she said had mistakenly been told more than a month ago that the demolition would be a relatively easy, quick process.
Mr. Nash contested those remarks Tuesday, saying he told the funeral home’s demolition company a month ago that town laws require that the demolition be subject to a public hearing, as it lies in the Warren Waterfront Historic District.
The possible demolition has drawn fire from members of Warren’s preservation community. The house, known as the JD Tuell home, was built between 1850 and 1860 by the owner of a copper foundry at the corner of Wheaton and Water streets. Funeral home members say they need to bring it down for space reasons, and also because it is in ill repair.
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