As many as 400 Warren residents braved rain, long lines, a traffic jam and a last-minute change of venue Monday night to overwhelmingly approve the sale of the Main Street School to the Hope & Main kitchen incubator group for $125,000.
The vote — Warren Fire Chief Al Galinelli estimated the crowd at the Kickemuit Middle School at 350 to 400, though an exact number won’t be known until later Tuesday — came out overwhelmingly in favor of the sale, with what appeared to be fewer than 10 people in the packed auditorium voting against. The ‘Yay’ vote paves the way for an all-day Adjourned Town Meeting on Monday, Oct. 29, at which voters will be asked to approve the sale once and for all.
Monday night’s vote was not without complications. Given recent financial town meetings, many of which failed to reach a quorum of 125 electors, officials initially thought the Town Hall’s town council chambers, with a capacity of 140, would suffice. Just in case, Warren Town Manager Tom Gordon said, officials also set aside the senior center downstairs for overflow, as that room can accommodate 65.
It quickly became apparent Monday night that that wouldn’t be enough. Voters started showing up at Warren Town Hall well before 7 p.m., and by 7:10 a long line stretched from the council chambers on the second floor down the stairs, out the front door and down Main Street. By 7:15 p.m., officials decided to give up on the town hall venue and spread word to the crowd that the vote was being moved to Kickemuit Middle School.
The sudden exodus of hundreds of voters created a traffic jam so tough that at one point, Warren Police Lt. Roland Brule said, there was a solid line of cars all the way from the middle school to Main Street. Police blocked off traffic on Metacom Avenue briefly to allow Route 103 traffic to clear through the intersection and keep things moving.
Once voters got to Kickemuit, things didn’t get much easier, as it took another 45 minutes for everyone to file in and register.
“We have a $22 million budget, and we can’t get a quorum,” remarked Chief Galinelli as the crowd filtered slowly in. “Look at this.”
Mr. Gordon said the turnout was heavier than many expected, though he did say the town reserved the middle school a week and a half earlier to make sure the town was covered in case of a large turnout.
The vote itself took less than five minutes, and the moderator was greeted with a loud chorus of boos when he announced that the vote would be by paper ballot. When he relented and called for a hand count, the crowd cheered. As hundreds of hands — most for, only a handful against — were shown, the crowd let out a roar. Several residents threw their hats in the air, and there were more than a few high fives traded.
Next step? The sale must be “rubber stamped” at the Oct. 29 referendum. Town officials learned only last week that there would be a need for it, said Warren Town Planner Caroline Wells, as Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto advised her and others months ago that Monday’s special Financial Town Meeting was the only step required. However, she said he sent out a memo last week apologizing for providing misinformation, and confirming that an adjourned town meeting would be required.
The Oct. 29 vote runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Warren Town Hall.
The kitchen incubator will be the state’s first, and is being funded by a $3 million loan from the United States Department of Agriculture. The non-profit business will give fledgling chefs, cooks and other food producers a venue to get their products produced, packaged and brought to market.