Though North Kingstown voters overwhelmingly approved at an April special election selling the Old Library/Town Hall Annex building on Brown Street in Wickford, and the Town Council has signed off on the sale, for $100,000, to be developed into a restaurant/event center, residents still might be stuck with the property Caleb Chadsey donated to the town 1894.
That’s because the Attorney General’s office informed the town yesterday it believes the property in question – the stately-columned 4,600-square-foot Greek Revival building on Brown Street in Wickford – was donated as a charitable trust. Charitable trusts, as explained in the letter from the AG’s office to the town, can only be changed, or liquidated, with court approval.
“We have determined that the Wickford Library is a charitable trust,” wrote David Marzilli, an attorney for the Charitable Trust Unit of the Attorney General’s office. “Therefore, it is our opinion that North Kingstown must seek permission of the Court to sell the Library. Specifically, we believe that North Kingstown will need to file a petition which seeks relief from the trust restrictions and approval to sell the library.”
Court approval for selling the property could prove complicated as the Chadsey family opposes the sale and were already considering their legal options. “I have contacted my lawyer but we do not wish to speak of potential legalities at this time,” Alan Chadsey, the eleventh great grandson of Caleb Chadsey, told RI Future in this post that explains how the town acquired the property, and what it plans to do with it.
North Kingstown Town Councilor Ellen Waxman, the lone opposition on the Council to selling the property, brought the matter to the attention of the Attorney General’s office, according to Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. In late April – days after the referendum election in which residents approved the sale 1,598 to 386 – the AG’s office asked the town to not move forward with the sale.
In a letter Waxman wrote to Town Manager Ralph Mollis in March, she expressed concerns about selling the property. “I believe it would be irresponsible for the Town to sign any agreement concerning the conveyance of this property without first having the Chadsey’s will, probate, codicil, and the original Trustee documents from the Library Board, evaluated by the Rhode Island Attorney General, or at least an Estate and Trust expert who specializes in interpreting testator intent,” she wrote in a letter to Mollis dated March 25.
Waxman said neither Mollis or any of her colleagues on the town council cared about her concern. “They basically blew me off,” she said.
Waxman, who brought the issue to the AG’s office prior to the referendum, said the letter means the sale cannot move forward. “The plans are now not possible given the circumstances,” she said.
But Town Council President Dick Welch said the Council will wait until its Monday night meeting to decide how to move forward. When asked if the Council might proceed with the sale as planned, in spite of the letter from the Attorney General’s office, he said, “We’ll decide that Monday night.”
Mollis said the Town Council could decide to proceed with the sale as planned, though that it isn’t his recommendation as town manager. “It’s definitely an option,” he said. “And personally it may be the option I prefer but professionally the option I would recommend would be to take the legal course.”
He said the town “never considered it a charitable trust and it ceased being a library 40 years ago. We followed the legal advice. The steps we took were prudent and had legal merit.”
Eve Clulow, the Newport restaurateur who agreed to purchase the property from the town, said, “My plan is to continue to go forward with the project.” She said she has no idea to what extent the Attorney General’s decision could delay, or even derail, her plan, which was to open by next summer. “I have no way of knowing how a judge will decide,” she said.