Landscapers fought 5 years to access their land in West Warwick. Now the Supreme Court has ruled in their favor
After five years and more than $80,000 in legal fees, the owner of a West Warwick landscaping company has finally secured a one-acre piece of property to upgrade his business after the Rhode Island Supreme Court agreed he should have access to the land that was being blocked along a right of way adjacent to the parcel.
John Read and his son Derek bought the property on Industrial Lane in 2016 from a company owned in part by a former state representative, in what they believed would be a simple land transaction. A Hummel Report investigation, published in The Providence Sunday Journal in August 2019, detailed their persistence in fighting the town and the owner of the property, with a first-hand look at local government along the way.
“All of it was so unnecessary,” John Read said after the decision. “We should have never had to go to court. I think it’s a very sad state of affairs for anybody who has to go through this. It was an education for me. Because from the start I tried to do things by the book."
It began in early 2016, when Read was looking for a place to relocate his business, Read’s Landscape Construction, which includes half a dozen large vehicles parked every night in a residential neighborhood.
The Reads heard that 4N Properties was subdividing a large tract of land a couple of miles away on Industrial Lane into several commercial lots. Jared Nunes, who was a state representative at the time, is a principal in the company, but Read said he only dealt with Nunes' father, Ron.
It seemed ideal: what Read saw during a visit, and what was contained in documents approved by The Planning Board at Town Hall, was a flat piece of land with access along one side from Nunes Lane, a long-established a right of way. Read didn’t hesitate to pay the asking price of $80,000.
After the closing, Read found out the land description in the deed on file at Town Hall was not the one 4N Properties had drawn up by a surveyor that included Nunes Lane.
That would touch off months of haggling and eventually lead to the Reads filling a lawsuit against the town of West Warwick and 4N Properties. Before filing the suit they asked the town to correct the situation and avoid a legal battle.
As the attorneys fees began to pile up the Reads dismissed the town from the lawsuit, as they believed the solicitor, Timothy Williamson, was prolonging the case to run up the bill. Two years ago a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Reads, but 4N Properties appealed to the state Supreme Court. Read has paid nearly $12,000 in property taxes since 2016, with no use of his land.
He said he was confident the high court would rule in their favor, based on oral arguments in April and several testy exchanges between the 4N attorney and Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg.
On Monday, a 4N employees began removing huge rocks and dirt that had been dumped in the right of way over the years.
The Supreme Court said the Reads were entitled to go back to Superior Court to seek damages and attorneys’ fees for what they’ve gone through the last five years.
“This for me, was a no-brainer because the law was so clear,” said Joelle C. Rocha, a Providence attorney who represents the Reads. “It’s unfortunate it took this long.”
Rocha said she is trying to schedule a conference next week with Superior Court Judge Richard Licht, who heard the original case, to talk about damages. She said on Thursday that they have not come up with a specific figure but it will include the value of not having access to the easement the past five years. Rocha added that the Reads had to continue to operate out of their home and pay storage for material; the cost of construction has also escalated dramatically.
John Read said he is still a year away from constructing the building he envisioned in 2016.
“If I wanted to build a house five years ago and somebody stopped me, and I want to build it today, that cost factor is huge,” he said. “How much did I lose from not being able to operate my business from an organized facility?”
Beyond the monetary cost, Derek Read said this case has taken a toll on his father’s health. “He’s endured quite a deal of stress, but he’s still here to talk about it,” he said.
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