Warren eyes controversial demolition policy


A small but devoted group of downtown residents has taken to the streets, literally, to spread the word about what a new demolition ordinance could mean to Warren's older buildings.

As the Warren Town Council plans a public hearing next Tuesday, August 27 for a controversial expansion of the town's demolition ordinance, the residents who want tighter restrictions on housing laws spent hours earlier this week canvassing the downtown historic neighborhood, trying to drum up attendance and handing out a flier with information on the matter.

The goal, Steve Thompson said, was to let people know about the current state of Warren's demolition ordinance, and why he and others believe it needs to be toughened.

The council first started addressing the issue earlier this year, after members of the Warren Preservation Society and others raised flags about the state of a late 1800s tenement on Westminster Street. The owners of that home received a town permissions required to renovate but proceeded to drastically alter the property, transforming it from a diminutive two-story building into a large three-story structure.

At the time, Warren Building Inspector William Nash said there was nothing in the town ordinances that forbid the work, and noted that Warren's definition of the term "demolition" is overly vague.

After that, early attempts to change the ordinance called for a tighter definition of the word "demolition," and called for steps — including hearings and a wait period — to be taken when owners anywhere in town sought to substantially change (alter more than 50 percent of) any building they own that is 100 years old or older.

In late spring, the council scaled back the proposed ordinance changes after being advised to do so by Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto. The current proposed changes, which will be the basis of discussion at Tuesday's public hearing, make the entire review process voluntary, and restrict it just to Warren's historic district, not town-wide.

Those in favor of tougher restrictions say the proposed changes are a starting point, but could go further. According to a flier passed out by volunteers including Mr. Thompson and Warren Planning Board member Brandt Heckert, "homeowners have little protection of their investment in property."

A toughened ordinance, the flier states:

n "Should establish a clear process for demolishing a building within the historic district."

n Would provide an "important delay period for alternative solutions to be found before irreversible action is taken."

n Would provide "clarity and predictability with zoning ordinances already covering commercial property in the Waterfront Overlay District."

Tuesday's special town council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Warren Town Council chambers on the second floor of Town Hall.


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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.