In Warren, 11th hour effort to save church from development


Dozens of Warren residents are mounting an 11th hour campaign to halt the sale of the former St. Mark's Church, one of the town's oldest houses of worship, to a pair of local developers.

In June, developers Bill Camara and Nick Ferrara signed an agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island to purchase the building, closed since 2010, for $150,000; though their plan hasn't been made public, opponents of the sale first heard about it last week, and said they've been told the pair want to transform the 1830 Russell Warren-designed church into a series of condominium units. It is possible that the church's imposing portico will also be removed.

Since rumors of the sale started floating through the neighborhood a week ago, former parishioners, members of Warren's preservation community and others have organized in an attempt to block it. Concerned citizens held a neighborhood meeting Sunday night, and neighbor Helen Hunt tracked down dozens of former St. Mark's parishioners for a petition which was sent to the Bishop Nick Knisely and other Diocesan officials. On Tuesday, July 23, the Voluntary Historic District Commission will hold an emergency hearing on the matter.

Things have gone even further. After he caught wind of the potential sale late last week, 30 Cutler Street owner and operator David Wescott toured the building with Realtor Paula Silva and submitted his own offer for the building — $150,000 cash. The Diocese rejected his offer last Friday after officials asked their attorneys whether they could legally get out of the Camara/Ferrara deal. The answer was no, a spokeswoman said.

Statement from the Diocese

"We are also concerned and would prefer to sell the building to someone who is going to preserve it," said Diocese spokeswoman Ruth Meteer. "We did approach the buyers to try to get out of the purchase and sale agreement. We offered them money to walk away and they refused to work with us."

The preservation society and others opposed to the sale aren't against development of the church, preservation society vice president Steven Thompson said Friday. However, the group wants to see respectful development that preserves the character of the historic building.

"We want to make sure whatever occurs with this iconic structure is done without losing what makes St. Mark's an irreplaceable part of our community," he said.

At this point, Mr. Thompson said the only hope is to continue to publicize St. Mark's precarious state. He believes Tuesday's meeting will be well-attended.

"There's a community value to the building, a history component to it," he said. "We're still trying."

Note: The developers were contacted Friday about their plans for the building and agreed to meet after the publication of this piece; when they speak of their plans publicly they will be included in follow-up pieces. Check back often.





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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.