WESTERLY — The Town Council has asked for more information about a proposed legal proceeding aimed at demolishing the dilapidated Potter Hill Mill property.
The council met for 35 minutes in executive session on Monday to discuss hiring a lawyer who would petition a Superior Court judge, on the town's behalf, to be named as a special master to assist the town with its long-running goal of demolishing buildings on the the property that are falling into the Pawcatuck River. A special master is appointed by a judge to oversee one or more aspects of litigation.
"The council made no decisions, in fact, we asked for more information," said Town Council President Christopher Duhamel.
Officials and neighbors of the 4.5-acre property are concerned that the run-down buildings pose a threat to people who might trespass on the property, and that a dam associated with the property is not being maintained. "There's a lot of liability with that property," Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said Thursday.
Rooney said he asked the council to consider mastership as a means to address the mill property after discussing the idea with John Dorsey, a lawyer who is serving as special master in a case involving the former Bradford Dyeing Association site.
Ideally, Rooney said, mastership would allow the town to eliminate the safety hazards without taking ownership of the property. Dorsey, who has not been hired for the case, declined to comment.
The town obtained a demolition order from the Superior Court in the 1980s but never followed through on the demolition. The property, which remained subject to the demolition order, was then sold to Edward Carapezza in 1992. The town agreed to hold off on demolishing the property to give Carapezza time to redevelop it, but eventually moved to commence demolition in the belief that Carapezza had failed to meet provisions of the agreement.
Carapezza's Renewable Resources Inc., of Hopkinton, obtained a restraining order against the town to stop the demolition but the order was eventually lifted in 2013. The Superior Court judge who vacated the restraining order said the town had demonstrated its willingness to work with Carapezza and shared his hope that the property could be redeveloped. But by holding off on demolition, the town had "placed itself at risk. By not immediately eliminating the hazard, the town risked that people might get hurt in the buildings," Associate Justice Brian Stern wrote in 2013.
Carapezza appealed, but the state Supreme Court upheld the demolition order later in 2013. Two years later, however, Carapezza was approved for $500,000 in tax credits through the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission and the state Department of Revenue for what was estimated to be a $3 million renovation to two buildings on the property. The tax credits are believed to have expired.
Carapezza did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Between 1762 and 1958, when the Westerly Woolen Co. closed, the site was home to grist, saw, cotton and wool mills. A fire in the 1970s decimated much of the property.
In 2018, Carapezza was cited by the state Department of Environmental Management for violating wetlands regulations at property he owns in Hopkinton.