WESTERLY — A mix of market rate apartments, manufacturing, restaurants and retail outlets is planned by the new owner of the former Bradford Dyeing Association property, according to town and court officials.
John Dorsey, the Providence-based lawyer and court-appointed special master overseeing the receivership proceeding for the property, discussed the case with the Planning Board on July 16. Town officials had petitioned the court to place the property in receivership in July 2018.
Court records identify the new owners as Rebecca Spencer and Garfield Spencer. Dorsey referred to the new owners as Rockingham Estate, a limited liability company established in Rhode Island in June. The company paid $325,000 for the property, according to court records. The transaction has not yet been recorded in the municipal land records.
The Sun was not able to reach the Spencers or representatives of the company.
According to Dorsey, Rockingham Estate's early plans for the property call for "a mixed use" involving retail, a restaurant and a boat manufacturer. After the meeting Dorsey said the company is also contemplating development of housing on the property, which is adjacent to the Pawcatuck River.
The future of the site will depend on successful development of a sewage disposal system, Dorsey said, adding that the new owners have hired an engineer to work on it. "That, in large part, is going to dictate what the potential use is," Dorsey said. He noted that the state Department of Environmental Management had obtained a court order to shut down the old system.
The town petitioned for receivership — akin to a federal bankruptcy proceeding — because BPF Realty LLC, the previous owner, had struggled to pay property taxes and other bills. Superior Court records show that more than 20 financial and environmental liens had been placed on the property before its sale to Rockinghan Estate. The town alone was owed more than $200,000 in back taxes and interest.
The receivership was also spurred by a slew of fire code violations, a dispute over fire protection coverage, and BPF Realty's refusal to allow the town's consultant onto the property to conduct an environmental assessment.
Prior to the sale, Dorsey had the property subdivided into four lots: the lagoons that were used as part of the mill's wastewater treatment system; an 18-acre wooded wetland area that the new owner agreed to put in DEM's open space program; the 500,000-square-foot main mill building; and a fourth area that was created if it is needed as a new location for telecommunications equipment that is now attached to a smokestack rising from the mill.
According to Dorsey, Rockingham Estate is now in possession of the main mill and wetlands lots. Ultimately, the company will own all four parcels. The company plans to redevelop the main mill building but will likely have to tear down part of it, Dorsey said.
The lawyer said he had met with several potential developers after a marketing effort focused on New England. According to court records, Rockingham Estate emerged as "a bona fide good faith purchaser" after a bidding process conducted by Dorsey.
The town is seeking grant funding to remediate environmental contamination associated with the textile mill. Upon being named special master, Dorsey said he was not certain that the property could be redeveloped because of the significant contamination, which he termed "a disaster," and fire safety issues. "It was not clear at the onset that this property would be developable or available for sale," he said.
Jason Parker, a former town planner and now a member of the Planning Board, questioned why the board hadn't been involved in discussions leading up to the sale. "The mill represents a hub in Bradford that is long hoped to be a form of economic regeneration for the community there," he said.
Parker noted that the subdivision had been enacted administratively with no input from the board. "Do we know this is the best use for Bradford and the town?" he asked.
Board member Justin Hopkins said he shared Parker's concerns. "This board has reviewed far less significant lot adjustments both in an advisory capacity to the Town Council and also as a matter of standard business," he said.
The Town Council has received periodic updates from Dorsey in private, closed-door executive sessions since Dorsey was appointed to serve as special master in the case.
Dorsey said he pursued the subdivision as a way to make it clear to potential developers that parts of the property could not be developed. He said that representatives of Rockingham Estate will likely be available to meet with the board in September or October.
"I understand the board's concerns but we're sort of in that gray space right now until the buyer can say, 'Here's what I'm going to do with it.' And in all fairness to them they need time to be able to do this," Dorsey said. The company understands it will have to work with the board to redevelop the property, he said.
Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said he had not met the Spencers but has talked to an intermediary working on their behalf. He said Rockingham Estate's conceptual plans call for a boat manufacturer that would employ 40 people, market rate apartments, and a restaurant overlooking the river. Rooney said the company has redeveloped old mills in Pawtucket and Connecticut.
The property was operated most recently as the Bradford Industrial Park by Nick Griseto, who previously ran Bradford Printing & Finishing on the property. Griseto also worked for Bradford Dyeing Association before it went out of business. The mill dates to 1910, when an English association bought the water rights and mill site, and built its signature sawtooth-roofed plant. It was later a supplier of textiles to the U.S. military.
The Sun has tried to obtain a copy of a report on the Phase 2 environmental assessment of the property. The town initially denied the request, saying the report was in draft form. The town later said the report had become Dorsey's property. He did not respond to a request for the report late last week.