Fenced-in property downtown causing stir with residents
For some summer residents, the long Fourth of July weekend marks their return to Jamestown. The routine is always the same. First, you head home, unload the car and check to make sure everything in the house is up and running. Then it’s off to the village to buy some groceries or get takeout, maybe stop off at the hardware store to refill the propane tank for the grill.
While downtown, you check to see what’s changed since you’ve been away. That’s when you see it. The chain-link fence surrounding the former Bank of America branch on Narragansett Avenue. The same location you used to park on summer nights when you headed to one of the downtown restaurants.
In any other community, a chain-link fence would barely register a shrug of the shoulders. But it’s different in Jamestown.
“My husband and I were over here last week and we parked the car,” said Terry Cahill of North Kingstown. “We said, ‘What the heck is this?’”
According to Cahill, the fence in the middle of the town’s economic center wasn’t what she expected.
“It looks like – I know it sounds snobbish – the inner city,” she said.
John McCauley, executive director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, agrees the fence is inconsistent with the aesthetics of the business district.
“Everyone on the boulevard thinks it looks terrible,” he said. “Putting up that big, ugly fence makes it look like there’s been a foreclosure or a distress sale.”
When the fence was first erected several months ago, the chamber was urged by some of its members to get involved. Letters were sent to the owner. Chamber officials even discussed the situation with the town to determine if anything could be done to remove it.
Town Councilor Gene Mihaly said the town made an offer to bear the cost of liability insurance if property owner Peter Ceppi agreed to keep the lot open.
Page Dickinson, Ceppi’s daughter, says she received the town’s proposal through her realtor. She “unequivocally” refused the offer.
“I had to put something up to protect myself and my family,” she said.
Dickinson says she was acting on the advice of her insurance agency. She indicated her family had been sued in the past by a local resident who claimed he was injured from a fall in the parking lot.
Dickinson admits the fence is less than ideal, but maintains it would be cost prohibitive to erect a more attractive barrier.
However, Mihaly says liability wasn’t the owner’s sole concern.
“We were told the owner was of the opinion that the property was more saleable with no cars parked there than if it were treated as a parking lot,” he said.
The 10,500-square-foot property was on the market for $1.1 million in April. The asking price has since been reduced to $899,000.
Another price reduction was expected last week.
Matthew Hadfield, owner of Hogan Associates Real Estate, says there has been a lot of interest in the property, including two offers. “The property will be lowered to $799,000 this week and we expect this price will move the property,” he said.
In the meantime, two town councilors have expressed frustration over the continuing presence of the fence.
Both Mihaly and Council President Kristine Trocki are hoping the lowered price will result in the purchase of the property. Short of that, Trocki would like to see a compromise reached.
“I would certainly like to see some sort of mediated arrangement that would benefit all interested stakeholders and would certainly be more attractive than what’s there,” she said.
Trocki’s law office is located across the street. “However, from a legal perspective, I understand that there are liability concerns and safety concerns, but ideally we would be able to reach some sort of public-private partnership that would allow it to look a lot less unattractive.”
The concept of a compromise between the town and property owner certainly sits well with resident Rick Curry.
“I’m hoping they do something with it soon,” he said. “It’s just a waste of space. I can understand why they put a fence around it. It’s a liability. But they should work with the town and figure out something to do with it.”