The complaint argues that the city has no right to order PRI X to demolish the property since PRI X does not even own the building in question. It is only renting the building from the state, which owns the land through its development of the Port of Galilee, PRI X now argues.
“The broader question is, if the owner is the state, can the owner of the property be ordered to do anything with this building?” said John Tarantino, PRI X’s attorney.
The answer put forward by PRI X in court is no. (In an email to The Boston Globe, the Narragansett City Council President challenged allegations in the lawsuit, including ownership of the building and whether the city zoning law applies to state-owned land.) PRI X’s lawsuit seeks a court order that the demolition order is void and no special use permit is required.
The 100-room Lighthouse Inn in the Galilee has always been a likely candidate for the wrecking ball. After years of disuse, it’s now little more than a resting place for seagulls, some of whom have managed to get inside, flap their wings in the hallways, and preen in the former tropical pool area. Although not everyone agrees on what to do with the site, several redevelopment proposals would have done away with the existing hotel building.
However, it is still unclear who is responsible for the demolition.
The city’s February 10 demolition order charged PRI X. The order, addressed to PRI X, said that after a site visit, the city had decided that the building needed to be demolished. The order cited hazardous dust and debris, falling bricks, a deteriorating structure and other hazards.
The city’s separate requirement for a special use permit to operate a parking lot there — similar demands have been made by other parking operators in the Galilee — appeared to increase pressure on a developer that has drawn vocal critics in the city.
Now PRI X is saying in court the city can’t do either. She couldn’t order the demolition because of government ownership of the property in Galilee, she argues. And, the developer argues, the city can’t apply for a special use permit because the city’s zoning doesn’t apply to state-owned land.
Although it is clear that the state itself owns the land, both under the Lighthouse Inn and around the Port of Galilee, the question of who actually owns the hotel building is not so simple.
For example, PRI X’s lawsuit filed Tuesday differs from what PRI X said when it filed a lawsuit to reduce its property tax bill in 2021. It described PRI X as the “owner” of the improvements to 307 Great Island Road. City tax collector records also list PRI X as the owner of the building but not the land.
Tarantino said he couldn’t speak about what the previous lawsuit, which he didn’t file, said or didn’t say, or what the Narragansett Assessors Database website says. PRI X pays property taxes there, but only as a leaseholder of the building from the state, he said. It is clear that PRI X only has a lease for the hotel building, not a certificate.
“There is no question that PRI X does not own this building,” Tarantino said.
The Ministry of the Environment declined to comment on the pending case.
Narragansett City Council President Ewa Dzwierzynski said in an email, “I question the merits of PRI X’s complaint.” She always understood the building to be private property, the land owned by the state, she said.
“Since the building in question is privately owned, privately constructed and paying taxes to the city, all building code matters should be the city’s jurisdiction,” said Dzwierzynski, who stressed that she spoke for herself and not the entire council. “I believe PRI X must comply with the local building authority’s demolition order and the property status of the property is irrelevant.”
Dzwierzynski also disagreed that the city’s zoning law does not apply to state-owned land, an issue that is relevant as the city is seeking a special use permit under its zoning law for the parking lots. (The state’s ownership of the parking lots, as opposed to the hotel building itself, is undisputed.) The state had to conduct a balancing test if it wanted to pursue a land use that didn’t conform to a city’s overall statute plan, she said.
“Because the state did not conduct a balancing test, I believe the state must comply with local land use regulations and actually operates several properties that violate city ordinances that specify certain site design requirements and special use permits,” Dzwierzynski said.
PRI X is a joint venture between Procaccianti Companies and Joseph R. Paolino Jr., two major players in the Rhode Island real estate world.
The hotel, once known as the Dutch Inn, closed to guests a few years ago. But PRI X continued to operate the parking lots there.
The company did this on a lease from the state, at least for the parking lot land. The Department of Environmental Management oversees the Port of Galilee, which the state acquired through sentencing decades ago to develop a fishing port. DEM prioritizes the commercial fishing industry in managing the area, which makes up a large portion of the state’s blue economy.
The 12-acre property of the Lighthouse Inn is right in the middle. But some in Narragansett thought the site could have been put to better use as a large parking lot and a vacant hotel.
In 2021, the Department of Environmental Management and PRI X solicited proposals for remediation there. Three fully fleshed out ideas emerged. PRI X’s own proposal, which included a small hotel and shops, was met with skepticism by some in Narragansett, who felt it was not ambitious enough for a parcel of land with much potential. A company proposed a fish processing plant. The city itself came up with a bold and complex proposal that included apartments, office space and other mixed-use buildings.
In the end none of them were chosen. Instead, the DEM said the Lighthouse Inn would be demolished and separated from the wider property.
It’s still unclear how much that will cost and who, as Tuesday’s lawsuit shows, is in charge.
Brian Amaral can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.