Beavertail case settled through mediation
Richard Shutt, the Beavertail Lighthouse groundskeeper and rent-free tenant who has refused to move since his lease ended last April, now has until March 31, 2007 to vacate the premises.
Associate Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks represented the town at the hearing at Newport District Court Monday. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser attended the proceedings on behalf of the town. Shutt was represented by his recently hired semi-retired lawyer, Russell Wolfgang-Smith, a specialist in landlord/tenant law.
Keiser shared the information about the proceedings with the Town Council at its Monday night meeting.
Town Councilman Michael Schnack called the outcome "ridiculous and reprehensible," after Keiser's report. "We cut (Shutt) some slack and he drug us down. He should be ashamed." Schnack said.
Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski attempted to defend the outcome, but Schnack insisted, "There are no 'buts'." Council Vice President Julio DiGiando said, "If push came to shove, we probably would have had the same outcome. It is terribly disappointing."
Keiser said the mediated court order was clear that Shutt must move out by the end of March or sheriffs will forcibly evict him. Schnack said the town should be prepared with a moving van to carry out the eviction if Shutt does not vacate. Keiser said that the town, through Parks, did not push for immediate eviction because "there were ambiguities, some uncertainties, in the lease" between Shutt and the town.
Because of a Town Council vote in executive session in August, Parks filed for an eviction on Sept. 5. The town claimed that Shutt had remained beyond the period specified in the notice of termination served on him earlier this year.
Parks said that the civil eviction case by the town against Shutt was negotiated through a court-appointed
mediator to avoid the time and expense of a trial. "Even if we won at trial, the case could be appealed to the Newport County Superior Court, and that could allow Shutt to stay for an additional six to nine months," Parks said. "Mediation was the pragmatic choice in this situation. It saved both time and expense, and the case was settled quickly."
"We played let's make a deal," Shutt said in an interview after the proceedings. He wasn't happy that the decision was in favor of the plaintiff (the town), but he said that the conditions were fair because he was allowed time to get his affairs in order and find a place to live.
Keiser agreed that mediation was the best decision. "I'm glad it's over. Although the new tenants are inconvenienced even more, they do have a concrete date when they can move in and we can put this situation behind us," Keiser said.
Michael Turillo, a Newport Bridge and Turnpike Authority supervisor, the intended successor to Shutt as lighthouse resident and caretaker, was in court Monday. He said he would continue to seek to take over the lease if the movein date was certain, according to Keiser. Turillo, his wife Cynthia, and their four children have been waiting several months as the town attempted to resolve its standoff
with Shutt. They have continued to live in a month-by-month rental since they were named as lease successor in the spring.
Shutt was originally scheduled to leave on April 30 of this year. However, he informed the town that he couldn't find reasonable housing during the summer because the cost of seasonal accommodations rose during tourist season. The Town Council voted to allow him an extension until Aug. 31 at which time Town Planner Lisa Bryer and Keiser paid him a visit to see how he was progressing. At that point he informed them that he would not be leaving.
Since then, Shutt responded to the town's demand for eviction by filing a claim against the town in Newport District Court. A hearing was scheduled for Oct. 23 but was given a continuance until Nov. 23 to give his newly hired lawyer an opportunity to prepare the case.
Shutt believed that because he is indigent and basically unemployed, he had every right to stay because the last tenant was there for 25 years. He thought that because the rules were changed while he was living there they shouldn't apply to him.
In 2005 the Town Council reviewed the availability policy of the caretaker's apartment at the Beavertail Lighthouse and determined that it was in the best interests of the community to achieve several objectives regarding the available housing. The primary objective was to assure that the person occupying the rent-free apartment adequately maintained the lighthouse grounds and facility. The second consideration was to try to offer it to a person or family that was eligible for affordable housing.
The town also decided that the facility should only be made available as affordable housing for a limited amount of time, perhaps three to five years at the most. The idea was to give tenants a few years to save some cash from the rent-free housing, and apply their savings to buying or renting on their own, without assistance. Then the lighthouse accommodations would go to another deserving family, and give them an opportunity to do the same thing.
The Beavertail Lighthouse Committee has strongly opposed the town's position on making the facilities available for affordable housing. The town leases the property from the Coast Guard and until that situation changes, the administration feels that it has every right to manage the property as they wish provided the terms of the lease are satisfied.