Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Using our land wisely

Moves, good and bad, to make room for homes and businesses

By Will Collette

One of the biggest challenges facing Charlestown and the rest of Rhode Island is how to house our people. It affects whether people can afford to stay in Charlestown or Rhode Island in general or whether people or businesses will move here.

It’s a complicated problem without an easy solution. It’s complicated by land loss due to climate change, the economy, interest rates, the cost of building supplies and consumer debt.

Our first-term state Senator Victoria Gu (D-Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown) was interviewed on the subject by Public’s Radio analyst Ian Donnis. Here’s what she had to say:

State Sen. VICTORIA GU (D-Charlestown): 

I’m glad to have House and Senate leadership that takes the rising cost of housing seriously. Our towns in South County have not made much progress toward the goal of having 10 percent of our housing stock be affordable, and while the towns bear some responsibility for that, it’s worth noting that we have only one nonprofit developer in the area (South County Habitat for Humanity), and Washington County Community Development Corporation is defunct.

“So even with the $166 million RFP released this year for affordable housing construction, we lack developer capacity. That’s a shame because our town councilors and residents here have many ideas.

“A South County approach to housing will mean 1) tackling our severe shortage of year-round rental housing, through accessory dwelling units and regulations on Airbnb 2) repurposing land we have already developed: old commercial buildings, motels, etc. 3) putting in more infrastructure (septic, water) and public transit to support affordable housing 4) building for climate resiliency, planning for sea level rise, and minimizing the degradation of our groundwater, wetlands and salt water ponds.

“I’m glad that some of these ideas are in the housing bill package that Speaker Shekarchi announced on Thursday. In the coming year I will make sure to advocate for resources and technical assistance to help our towns carry out their ideas for affordable housing.”

Climate change and Charlestown’s tax base

You would expect housing prices to take a hit from climate-driven rising waters and the greatly increased danger of storm damage and flooding. But according to, citing a report from the Environmental Defense Fund and its partners, New England homes are overvalued by $10 billion.

Only Rhode Island and Connecticut have laws requiring disclosure of flood risks to potential buyers, but the EDF report deems these laws to be “inadequate.” Thus, rich out-of-staters keep buying shoreline properties, which is good for Charlestown’s tax base, but raises housing prices above what working families can afford.

In concrete terms, a new report by Stacker ranks Charlestown as having the 11th largest rise in home prices in southern New England. They show the typical home value in Charlestown as $568,943, with a 1-year gain of 6.8% and a 5-year price change of 51.3%.

We’ve been ranked higher, but market pressures, such as rising interest rates, affecting home buying more than the effects of our climate crisis. But all we need is one bad hurricane hit to change all that.

But so far, Charlestown’s property values continue to surge. On March 1, at an official town Workshop on Revaluation, Charlestown Tax Assessor Ken Swain reported that our accessible tax base (called the Grand List in some jurisdictions) has risen to $4.22 billion

Odds are you will soon receive a notice from the town showing that the tax assessment on your property as gone up, perhaps substantially.

During its years of control over Charlestown, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) touted Charlestown’s relatively low tax rate without discussing how that rate is propped up by rising home prices. As everyone except the CCA seems to understand, what you pay in taxes is the assessed value of your property multiplied by the tax rate.

Still curious

Like me, you might be wondering what’s happening or going to happen at 5407 Post Road. We know about this property because of a February news release sent out by the real estate agent who sold it. That release told us that some person or persons unknown paid $2.7 million to buy the 12 acres at 5407 Post Road.

The site, currently occupied by the derelict old Lobster Pot Restaurant and long-closed Ocean View Motor Inn, includes a 23-lot trailer park up the moraine and behind the trees. 

Town records now show that long-time owner Nancy Brooks transferred the property to a new company 5407 Post Road LLC on January 24 for $10. The LLC was registered in Rhode Island last November. There’s little added detail on the new owners in the Tax Assessor’s database.

The Secretary of State’s corporate database shows Nancy Brooks as the “Resident Agent” but the company’s address is now 29 Valley Drive in Greenwich, CT.

That building in Greenwich houses several companies as well as a post office. Some of the listings seem to be simply mail drops. The company does not show up in a search of the Connecticut business database.

In their last filing with the state of Rhode Island on January 30, the company made this change to its description: “THE ENTITY'S TAX STATUS AS A DISREGARDED ENTITY SEPARATE FROM ITS MEMBER(S) IS HEREBY AMENDED TO BE TAXED AS A PARTNERSHIP”

Signing the form as the “Responsible Person” was Vincent Troisi who is not listed in Charlestown records as a property owner.

So who cares? Certainly the 23 households living in the trailer park do. So do the rest of us, given the conspicuous location of this property.

Some residents have noted the “For Rent” sign in front of the old Lobster Pot, Given the decrepit state of the building, I don't what a prospective tenant would do with the site. Putting new railing on the old decking doesn’t seem to have much point.

How long before the mysterious new owners reveal their plans for this major piece of property?

We have a long way to go to resolve our affordable housing and business development problems after 12 years of open hostility to both by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA). But the new Town Council, with a 4-1 majority held by Charlestown Residents United (CRU), seems to have a much more open-minded attitude.