Roger Williams says waterfront estate won't become dorms

Bristol Town Administrator does not want property off the tax rolls

By Scott Pickering
Posted 9/20/17

Roger Williams University released a statement Wednesday afternoon, clarifying that it does not intend to put students residences, or the president's home, on an exclusive Bristol residence it plans …

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Roger Williams says waterfront estate won't become dorms

Bristol Town Administrator does not want property off the tax rolls

Posted

Roger Williams University released a statement Wednesday afternoon, clarifying that it does not intend to put students residences, or the president's home, on an exclusive Bristol residence it plans to buy later this year.

“Wind Hill,” a 20-acre estate known to many as the home of sailing legend Stanley Livingston, is located on Ferry Road, across from the university’s main entrance. Its neighbors are Columban Fathers to the north and Low Lane to the south.

Last week, the university announced it had signed a purchase and sale agreement for the property, which was being marketed by Lila Delman Real Estate for nearly $7 million. The 1890 manor house has 10 bedrooms and 6.3 bathrooms on three floors of living space. In addition to the 8,000-square-foot house, the property boasts a pool set within a walled garden area overlooking Narragansett Bay, as well as a deep-water dock, a four-bedroom carriage house, a two-bedroom historic gate house built in the 1920s, and garage space for 13 cars. There are also stables and a tennis court.

Property taxes — yes or no?

Bristol Town Administrator Stephen Contente was as surprised as anyone to learn about the university’s interest in the estate. When he heard about it, he called the university’s vice president for outreach and engagement, Peter Wilbur. He told Mr. Contente the same thing: “We don’t know what we’re going to do with it yet.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Contente has strong feelings about what could happen with the property.

“I’m not interested in seeing this property come off the tax rolls … It’s not fair to the taxpayers living here. I am going to be opposed to any change to a non-taxable zone for this property,” he said.

The private estate is zoned Residential and valued at about $3.4 million by the Town of Bristol. The annual property tax is nearly $51,000 per year.

University land, including the main campus and a residence known as the “president’s house,” which actually borders the Wind Hill estate, is zoned “University” and is not subject to property taxes.

However, while the university does not pay traditional property taxes, it pays the Town of Bristol through a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement that was amended earlier this year.

That payment had been $150,000 per year, but the new agreement includes big increases each of the next three years (see chart), topping out at $350,000. In addition, they pay the same Sewer Use Fee as any other Bristol land owner, with a current bill of $412,326 per year.

Property tax phase-out

If the university buys Wind Hill and successfully petitions the town to change its zoning (it requires town council and zoning approval), the property taxes would not vanish immediately. Under the PILOT agreement, the phase-out would take 15 years, on this schedule:

  • Years 1 to 5: University pays 100% of the tax
  • Years 6 to 10: University pays 66.7% of the tax
  • Years 11-15: University pays 33.3% of the tax

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.