Lawsuit says city of Narragansett can’t force demolition of Lighthouse Inn

The complaint argues that the city has no right to tell PRI X to demolish the property because PRI X doesn’t even own the building in question. It only rents the building from the state, which owns the property through the development of the Port of Galilee, PRI X now states.

“The broader issue is, can the owner of the property, where the owner is the state, be ordered to do anything with that building?” said John Tarantino, PRI X’s attorney.

The answer that PRI X has put forward in court is no. (In an email to The Boston Globe, the president of the Narragansett City Council disputed the allegations in the lawsuit, including ownership of the building and whether the zoning applied to state land.) PRI X’s lawsuit seeks a court order that the demolition order is null and void and that no special use permit is required.

The 100-room Lighthouse Inn in the Galilee was always a likely candidate for the wrecking ball. After years of disuse it is now little more than a resting place for seagulls, some of which have managed to come in, flap their wings in the corridors and preen in what was once the tropically themed pool. While not everyone agrees on what to do with the site, multiple proposals to redevelop it would have done away with the existing hotel building.

What is still unclear, however, is who will be responsible for that demolition.

Seagulls atop the closed Lighthouse Inn of Galilee, focus of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the state’s Superior Court.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The city’s demolition order of Feb. 10 placed the burden on PRI X. The order, addressed to PRI X, said that after an on-site visit, the city had decided that the building should be demolished. The order cited hazardous dust and debris, falling rocks, deteriorating construction and other hazards.

The city’s separate demand for a special use permit to operate a parking lot there — similar demands were made to other parking lot operators in the Galilee — seemed to increase pressure on a developer that has attracted vociferous critics in the city.

Now, in court, PRI X says the city can do neither. It cannot order the demolition because of state ownership of the Galilee property, it says. And, the developer argues, the city can’t apply for a special use permit because the zoning doesn’t apply to state land.

While 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 itself is not so straightforward.

For example, the lawsuit filed by PRI X on Tuesday differs from what PRI X said when it filed suit in 2021 to lower property taxes. It described PRI X as the “owner” of the improvements to 307 Great Island Road. The tax adviser’s records also state PRI X as the owner of the building, but not of the land.

Tarantino said he couldn’t speak to what the previous lawsuit, which he didn’t file, said or didn’t say, or what the Narragansett assessor database website says. PRI X does pay property taxes there, but only as a leaseholder of the building from the state, he said. What is clear, he said, is that PRI X only has a lease, not a deed, for the hotel building.

“There’s no question that PRI X doesn’t own that building,” Tarantino said.

The Department of the Environment declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Narragansett City Council President Ewa Dzwierzynski said in an email: “I question the merits of PRI X’s complaint.” She had always understood that the building was privately owned and the land owned by the state, she said.

“Since the building in question is privately owned, built privately and pays taxes to the municipality, all building regulations should be under the jurisdiction of the municipality,” said Dzwierzynski, who stressed that she was speaking for herself and not for the entire municipality. . “I believe that PRI X must comply with the demolition order issued by the local building officer and that the ownership status of the land is irrelevant.”

Dzwierzynski also disagreed that the city’s zoning law did not apply to state land, an issue relevant as the city pursued a special use permit under its parking lot zoning law. (The state ownership of the parking lots, as opposed to the hotel building itself, is not in question.) The state had to apply a trade-off if it wanted to pursue a land use that fell short of a city’s comprehensive master plan, she said.

“Since the state has not applied a balance test, I believe the state must comply with local land use regulations and, in fact, operate several properties in violation of city ordinances that require certain site design and permitting requirements. specify special use,” Dzwierzynski said.

PRI X is a joint venture of Procaccianti Companies and Joseph R. Paolino Jr., two major players in the Rhode Island real estate industry.

The hotel, once known as the Dutch Inn, closed to guests a few years ago. But PRI X continued to operate the parking spaces there.

The company did so with a long lease from the state, at least for the parking lots. The Department of Environmental Management oversees the Port of Galilee, which the state acquired decades ago by order to develop a fishing port. DEM prioritizes the commercial fishing industry in managing the area, an important part of the state’s blue economy.

The 5-acre Lighthouse Inn site is right in the middle of it. But some in Narragansett thought the site could have been put to better use than a large parking lot and an empty hotel.

In 2021, the Environmental Management department and PRI X have made proposals for a redevelopment there. Three fully developed ideas emerged. PRI X’s own proposal, which included a small hotel and shops, was greeted with skepticism by some in Narragansett, who did not consider it ambitious enough for a lot of potential. A company proposed a fish processing plant. The city itself came forward with what it described as a bold and complex proposal involving housing, office space and other mixed-use developments.

In the end, none of them were selected. Instead, the DEM said the Lighthouse Inn would be torn down and separated from the wider property.

It is still unclear how much that will cost and, as Tuesday’s lawsuit indicates, who calls the shots.

Brian Amaral can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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