Letter: Tiverton board could have offered solution to save old house

Posted 3/11/20

To the editor:

I would like to clarify something the Planning Board Chair has repeatedly stated in the last few meetings this year about the Wingover farmhouse's age, and the fact that it wasn't …

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Letter: Tiverton board could have offered solution to save old house

Posted

To the editor:

I would like to clarify something the Planning Board Chair has repeatedly stated in the last few meetings this year about the Wingover farmhouse's age, and the fact that it wasn't brought to the board's attention until "the eleventh hour."

I sent the attached document detailing the long history of Wingover Farm to the Planning Board in August, 2018, after the initial meeting about the proposed solar development. So the PB — and the developer at that time — have known for two years that the property was a pre-Revolutionary farm. 

It was only recently that I went further into the deeds that I found the 1750 deed selling the house to Peleg Simmons by Samuel Hart, stating that his son Jonathan Hart was living there. Since our Town's Land Evidence Records only go back as far as 1747 when we became part of Rhode Island, this was the earliest I could find in our records. But that is a moot point. 

The point is no matter how much older the house truly is, we know by this 1750 deed that the house had to be at least 20 years older than that since Hart's son was living in it. And the Planning Board and developer knew it was pre-Revolutionary since 2018. I also addressed the age of the farmhouse at nearly every meeting I was able to speak at since 2018.

Another statement made by the chair in the March 3 meeting regarding the final plan approval of the solar development was that the PB would not allow the developer to subdivide the property. To me, this seems like an illegal decision. Doesn't the property owner have a right to subdivide if the acreage to be subdivided meets the zoning requirements? 

It seems to me that the chair - and others on the board - could have offered the optimal win-win solution for this property to the applicant: allow Ameresco to subdivide the property with a lot consisting of the house, small barn, and frontal acreage to the road, leaving the rest of the property for the solar development. This way, there would not be a mixed-use violation of zoning and the house lot could then be sold to a preservationist to inhabit and maintain the property as it has been for the past three centuries.

Instead, the Planning Board's final decision has put them at odds with not only the Comprehensive Plan's stated goal of preserving Tiverton's historic scenic character, including historic buildings listed in the state's 1983 Historic and Architectural report (which this farm is), but also with the many Tiverton residents, Preserve RI, and other concerned history and preservation friends who join me in wanting to preserve this historic farmhouse. Some local residents actually knew rum-runner Herb Cavaca who lived there during Prohibition, so it is personal to them to preserve this piece of "modern" history.

I understand that the Historical Preservation Advisory Board's role is to advise the Planning Board with regards to historic structures, but it is also tasked (as stated in the Comprehensive Plan) with preserving our town's historic character in the form of its buildings, stone walls, and cellar holes that illustrate a part of the town's past and in educating the public on their preservation. 

It is frustrating to spend hours researching properties at risk of development in order to give the PB their history, believing this will help the PB realize their historic worth and value to the Town's history, only to see the same historic properties overtaken by that development as if they weren't worth saving.

It took this town three years to become a Preserve America Community. It was not a simple feat, as Stu Hardy knows, since it was just the two of us at the time who provided all the documentation to the town planner so he could forward it from the town to the federal government. We should be proud that we are a PAC, rather than acting contrary to the values it represents by failing to preserve this important piece of Tiverton's Colonial and Prohibition history.

Susan E. Anderson

Tiverton

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