Of­fi­cials: ‘Bye Bye Barry?’

Mayor moves to over­come deed re­stric­tions on sale of Barry Field

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By RUSS OLIVO ro­livo@woonsock.et­call.com

WOONSOCKET – Some mem­bers of the City Coun­cil are cry­ing foul af­ter learn­ing Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt qui­etly filed suit in Su­pe­rior Court two months ago in at­tempts to mod­ify the deed to Barry Field so the land could po­ten­tially be sold for pri­vate de­vel­op­ment.

Home of the Woonsocket High School Villa No­vans foot­ball, soc­cer and field hockey teams, Barry Field was con­veyed to the city in 1925 by the now-de­funct Woonsocket Agri­cul­tural, Hor­ti­cul­tural and In­dus­trial So­ci­ety on con­di­tion that the 22-acre par­cel be used only for ath­letic fields, play­grounds or school build­ings.

Baldelli-Hunt says no one has ex­pressed an in­ter­est in buy­ing Barry Field, but the deed re­stric­tions make it con­sid­er­ably more dif­fi­cult to open a di­a­logue with a pos­si­ble suitor. If the land were sold, how­ever, she says the pro­ceeds could off­set the cost of re­de­vel­op­ing Cass Park as a mod­ern, multi-com­po­nent ath­letic com­plex, with a new foot­ball field, con­ve­niently sit­u­ated ad­ja­cent to the high school, as its cen­ter­piece.

“It opens up the door for po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment in the fu­ture,” the mayor said. “It’s much easier to have op­tions and con­ver­sa­tions in the fu­ture when the re­stric­tions have al­ready been re­moved.”

The Call learned of the suit when a con­sult­ing law firm placed an order for a re­lated le­gal ad­ver­tise­ment in the news­pa­per on Tues­day. City

of­fi­cials later con­firmed the ex­is­tence of the com­plaint and an­swered ques­tions about it.

“This seems to be a com­mon theme with this ad­min­is­tra­tion – keep the pub­lic and the city coun­cil in the dark un­til the eleventh hour,” said City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Daniel Gen­dron. “Once again this is the ad­min­is­tra­tion go­ing rogue and act­ing with­out any con­sul­ta­tion with the coun­cil prior to do­ing these le­gal ac­tions.”

The sale of Barry Field has been a point of de­bate in the city for many years, with many op­posed to it on the grounds that the land came with ex­plicit strings at­tached from the sell­ers.

Yet the mayor moved for­ward on such a hot-but­ton is­sue with­out so much as a phone call or an e-mail to any mem­ber of the coun­cil, said Gen­dron.

Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Jon Brien said he, too, was blind­sided by news of the law­suit and voiced ob­jec­tions sim­i­lar to those ex­pressed by Gen­dron.

A lawyer, Brien added that the mayor could be set­ting a dan­ger­ous prece­dent by mov­ing to strike long­stand­ing deed re­stric­tions that were im­posed as the prop­erty when it was con­veyed to the city in 1925.

“By seek­ing to re­v­erse the re­stric­tions on this land, what does that say about other peo­ple that want to do­nate land for other causes in the city?” Brien said. “It ba­si­cally says other peo­ple’s wishes are null and void and what­ever the po­lit­i­cal whim of the day is what stands. That to­tally cir­cum­vents the rule of law.”

More­over, Brien said there is no way the coun­cil can legally ob­ject in court now with­out, in ef­fect, tak­ing on its own law depart­ment, which au­tho­rized the com­plaint even though the work was out­sourced. The coun­cil, he said, has com­plained of “poor process in the past and this process sucks.”

Mayor: A wor­thy project

Baldelli-Hunt de­fended the suit as “good planning” for a wor­thy project.

“This is an ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tion and not ev­ery ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tion that takes place each day needs to be re­viewed with a city coun­cil,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity as mayor to ad­min­is­tra­tively move for­ward with plans and ideas and this is one of them.”

Ac­cord­ing to pa­pers filed in Su­pe­rior Court, the suit was filed on Sept. 20 by Richard Si­napi of Warwick, a lawyer Baldelli-Hunt chose for his ex­per­tise in the area of ti­tle law, she said.

The le­gal ac­tion is de­signed to “re­move any cloud” on the ti­tle to Barry Field, “specif­i­cally a re­stric­tion on the use of the prop­erty as an ath­letic field and play­ground for pupils of the pub­lic schools in the city of Woonsocket or for erect­ing school build­ings, in­so­far as the plain­tiff no longer has any use for the prop­erty in the man­ner lim­ited by said re­stric­tions,” pa­pers filed in the case say.

The 6-page com­plaint es­sen­tially ar­gues that over the years, Barry Field has come to be mired in a clus­ter of fast-foot restau­rants and re­tail stores, iso­lated and too far away from the high school to be con­ve­niently ac­ces­si­ble to stu­dents.

The orig­i­nal deed gave de­ci­sion-mak­ing power over the prop­erty to the School Com­mit­tee, which re­jected a pro­posal to sell Barry Field in 1987. Com­mit­tee­man Paul Bour­get says the au­thor­ity to dis­pose of the land prop­erly rests with the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause mem­bers are now ap­pointed by the mayor.

Bour­get says the mayor’s plan to move the foot­ball field to Cass Park makes sense, but he hopes the ad­min­is­tra­tion hon­ors the spirit of the deed to Barry Field, per­haps by ded­i­cat­ing a rev­enue stream from the pri­vate de­vel­op­ment of the fa­cil­ity if and when it’s sold.

“Sports com­plex? Sounds great,” said Bour­get. “Woonsocket High is ac­tu­ally go­ing to have its own field. Al­right, but what do you do with Barry Field? I’m hop­ing the mayor can find some way to make sure that we do achieve some ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fit out of that land.”

The suit names as a de­fen­dant the pre­vi­ous owner of the prop­erty, Woonsocket Agri­cul­tural and Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety, an or­ga­ni­za­tion char­tered by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly in 1867. The char­ter was re­voked in 1934, but the suit makes pro­vi­sion for par­ties who might have an en­dur­ing in­ter­est in de­fend­ing the deed to step for­ward to do so.

On Oct. 30, a Su­pe­rior Court judge or­dered Si­napi to reach out to any con­ceiv­able group or in­di­vid­ual with a po­ten­tial in­ter­est in the par­cel be­fore the suit is given any fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion. The law­suit de­scribes the tar­get group as the “Woonsocket Agri­cul­tural, Hor­ti­cul­tural and In­dus­trial So­ci­ety, its suc­ces­sors, as­signs and/or its mem­bers, share­hold­ers and/or their re­spec­tive heirs, ex­ecu­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors, suc­ces­sors and/or as­signs and all per­sons un­known and unascer­tained, claim­ing, or who may claim, any right, ti­tle, es­tate, lien or in­ter­est” in Barry Field.

Un­der the terms of the order, Si­napi must place two le­gal ad­ver­tise­ments in a news­pa­per of record, which in­cludes The Call and pos­si­bly other news­pa­pers in the re­gion. The ads will in­vite po­ten­tial lit­i­gants to state their claim in writ­ing to the court and are ex­pected to ap­pear this week and next.

Coun­ter­claims must be pre­sented to the court no later than Dec. 15, oth­er­wise there will never be an­other op­por­tu­nity to ob­ject.

“Un­less your ap­pear­ance is filed by or for you, your de­fault will be recorded, the com­plaint will be taken as con­fessed, and you will be for­ever barred from con­test­ing the com­plaint or any judg­ment en­tered thereon,” the ads will say.

Once known as Trot­ting Park, Barry Field – con­trary to many pub­lished re­ports – was not do­nated to the city. Ac­cord­ing to notes in the files of The Call writ­ten by the late Edgar Al­laire, a noted his­to­rian who worked for the pa­per as a re­porter, the city paid the hor­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety $75,000 for the land abut­ting the North Smith­field line and the City Coun­cil ap­proved the pur­chase on a 4-3 vote in 1926.

The agri­cul­tural so­ci­ety had owned the land since 1870. A year af­ter pur­chas­ing the par­cel, the city reded­i­cated it as Barry Field in trib­ute to the late Dr. Wil­liam F. Barry, a for­mer chair­man of the School Com­mit­tee.

Photo by Ernest A. Brown

Barry Field in Woonsocket is the topic of con­ver­sa­tion as the city weighs its op­tions for a pos­si­ble sale of the prop­erty and a po­ten­tial new home for the Villa No­van ath­letic fields.

Photo by Ernest A. Brown

Barry Field in Woonsocket is the topic of con­ver­sa­tion as the city weighs its op­tions for a pos­si­ble sale of the prop­erty and a po­ten­tial new home for the Villa No­van ath­letic fields.

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