Stanley: Warren would entertain Wightman's Farm purchase talk

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The owners of Wightman's Farm still intend to develop their 18-acre Metacom Avenue property, despite the Warren Town Council's decision last week to deny a zone change on a portion of the property from residential to commercial — and despite word that town officials would be interested in discussions about the town buying the property.

Bristol realtor Brian Clark, the owner of Clark Properties Group in that town, has been marketing the property for sale for months, though not seriously. On Monday, he said he and Wightman's principals — Robert Avila, his daughter Robin Remy and her sisters — have not yet come up with an asking price for the land, and instead continue to look to develop it under its existing zoning designation, R-10.

"The owners really wanted to have a zone change in order to work on an office development for the Wightman’s Farm," he said. "With the zoning change denied, we will be looking at all options allowable."

Those include affordable housing, which the farm's attorney, Bruce Cox, estimated last week could allow them to build as many as 80 to 90 housing units there.

Whether those options work out, or the owners decide to sell instead, has yet to be determined. As for the asking price?

"The purchase price will be addressed once we decide which direction to go," Mr. Clark said.

His comments come a few days after Warren Town Council president Chris Stanley told the Warren Times-Gazette that he would be interested in talking with the owners about the town acquiring the property with open space funds.

"I am surprised that they did not approach the town in the first place," he said, noting that there are many open space parcels around town that he and others would like to see preserved. "That is something that I would support."

If the town intends to use its money to purchase the property,  though, it will likely need some help.

The property is broken into three lots and in total is assessed by the town at $980,400. Wightman's Farm owners sought only to re-zone two of the western-most properties (520 and 536 Metacom Ave.), which total 6.25 acres and are  assessed at $620,500. In addition, the third lot, an 11.92-acre parcel at 5 Libby Lane, is assessed at $359,000. There were never plans to re-zone that section of the farm.

Meanwhile, the Town of Warren has $322,500 in its "Open Space Acquisition" account, according to Warren Town Manager Thomas Gordon. The money was approved by voters two years ago, and the account would have been substantially larger but for last year's Adjourned Town Meeting, held on May 31, 2011, when voters rejected by 88 to 49 the placing of an additional $500,000 in the account. Voters were not asked to approve any open space funds this year.

Given that voters turned down additional open space funds, Mr. Stanley said, "we would have to look to outside agencies, preservation groups and philanthropic groups to increase our purchasing power."

Still, he said it's worth looking into, despite the fact that the owners have a right to do what they want with the land as long as it conforms to zoning.

"Property owners who are looking to sell development rights are encourage to contact the town," he noted.

 

Wightman's Farm

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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.