Bristol could condemn, seize Belvedere Hotel by eminent domain: Bristol (RI) Phoenix, 9/30/05

By Ted Hayes

The Town of Bristol [RI] could take matters into its own hands if developers don't get the long-delayed Belvedere Court condominium and shopping project off the ground. Last Wednesday, the Bristol Town Council approved the first reading of the town's new Redevelopment Plan for Downtown Bristol, a 28-page document written by the Bristol Redevelopment Agency. Among other things, it lists the Belvedere Hotel and associated properties as one of four blighted downtown sites that should be cleaned up or rehabilitated within one year of the plan's passage.

Some town officials would like to move that deadline from one year to 90 days.

"You'll probably see that when the dust is finally settled, this project will probably be placed on the (90-day) fast track," said Bristol Town Council vice chairman David Barboza, who has been following the agency's moves with respect to the Belvedere plan.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see that (90-day deadline). I think everyone in town has had it with this development. Either they (the developers) are going to do it or we are going to come in and see that it gets done."

The redevelopment agency already rejected a proposal by member E. Keith Maloney to change the deadline to 90 days, but agency chairman Peter Calvet said he wouldn't be surprised to see the 90-day deadline brought up again at a public hearing on Oct. 26.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all, given everything that is going on with the property," said Mr. Calvet.

"It's not a bad idea, necessarily, but we rejected it from a practical standpoint," he said, adding that had the 90-day term been included in the final redevelopment plan, it would have given developers little time to get the project rolling. After all, he said, the project is essentially in limbo until the end of November (see separate story).

"This is serious business," said Mr. Calvet. "We don't want to put a deadline on it that might not be possible to meet. The public interest is not served if we jump into this."

Regardless of whether the deadline is 90 days or one year, that report spells out very clearly the town's avenues to get the properties cleaned up one way or another. Those avenues include acquisition of the land through condemnation and eminent domain.

"If ... private efforts fail," the report reads, "the agency will acquire all parcels ... and offer the site to developers through a Request for Proposals ... that will require the restoration of the hotel and carriage house, the operation of the hotel or conversion to housing, and access from State and John Street. Moreover the RFP shall require the restoration of parking for area businesses and sufficient parking to meet the needs of the restored hotel and/or housing/commercial structures."

Town solicitor Michael P. Ursillo said taking the land through eminent domain would be well within the town's rights.

"There's no question that if a property is 'blighted,' the local government can condemn it," he said. "Right now the redevelopment agency could condemn the property, but they would have to come up with the funding" to pay off the properties' owners.

Essentially, he said, the town would have to offer the owners — in this case Belvedere Developers LLC and Steven R. and Anne Marie Johnson — fair market value for all the properties comprising the blighted area.

"Then presumably they'd have to have somebody (another developer or contractor) who would be willing to take the project over," Mr. Ursillo said.

Mr. Calvet said he hopes eminent domain will be used only as a last resort.

"If you go in and take a property by eminent domain, you have to do it very carefully and make sure that every opportunity has been given to get things done by the developer."

Attorney files lien against Belvedere Hotel, other properties Barrows owns
An attorney who performed legal work for Bristol developer Ted Barrows has filed a lien against his client to recoup nearly $70,000 in legal fees he says he is owed.

Attorney Matthew F. Medeiros, an attorney with the Providence legal firm Little, Medeiros, Kinder, Bulman and Whitney, filed the lien in Bristol Town Hall in late August. He seeks $67,767.35 in unpaid fees, plus 12 percent interest, from Mr. Barrows for title work he did involving Bristol Developers LLC, Mr. Barrows' development firm. The lien was put against the four lots comprised of and surrounding the Belvedere Hotel on Hope Street, which Mr. Barrows' firm owns.

The lien isn't the firm's only financial problem. A Rhode Island Superior Court judge last week gave Belvedere Developers until Nov. 22 to repay some $1.3 million in unpaid mortgage payments it owes to Center Development Corporation, a New York City-based firm that had entered into a partnership with Mr. Barrows and Bristol developer Joseph Brito Sr. to develop the parcels into a shopping and condominium development. If the money is not paid by that date, Center Development will auction off the property to recoup its investment. Center Development attorney Jeffrey S. Brenner said his clients have set a Nov. 23 auction date in case the deadline is not met.

Redevelopment plan eyed
The Bristol Redevelopment Agency's draft Redevelopment Plan for Downtown Bristol will be discussed by the agency next week, and will also be the subject of a public hearing before the Bristol Town Council later this month.

Bristol's draft Redevelopment Plan for downtown Bristol lists the Belvedere Hotel and several associated properties — 423 Hope St., and three lots with two buildings on John, State and Thames Street — as a "blighted and substandard" area. Following is what the plan says about the area's importance to downtown Bristol:

If this (development) project is delayed or the reconstruction is not completed promptly, and not longer than one year from the adoption of this Redevelopment Plan, the Belvedere Hotel, which is currently a vacant and blighted property, will continue to impact adversely on Bristol's downtown. Given that this plan calls for a delayed implementation of up to one year following the adoption of this plan and ordinance, the condemnation of this site will not occur until such time during that year that the agency should determine that insufficient progress has been made, thereby giving the owners a clear opportunity to carry out their plans.

Note: The Bristol Redevelopment Agency may change that one-year deadline to 90 days.

The town's redevelopment powers
Under the state's Redevelopment Act of 1956, the Bristol Redevelopment Agency has the right to "undertake specific activities to reverse the cycle of deterioration within specific properties in Bristol's downtown," including the Belvedere Hotel. Those include:
  • Working with current owners to upgrade and/or rehabilitate their properties.
  • Property acquisition, by purchase or eminent domain, if private efforts fail within the time frame identified in the town's redevelopment plan.
  • Clearance and re-grading of vacant parcels.
  • Disposition of acquired property to achieve the goals of the redevelopment plan.
  • Installation of public rights of way for the purposes of improving vehicular and pedestrian circulation.
  • Other site improvements.

Bristol Phoenix: www.eastbaynewspapers.com