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Rhode Island Nurseries reaches settlement with town

The Newport Daily News

By Derek Gomes | Staff writer Oct 15, 2016

Rhode Island Nurseries reached an $800,000 settlement with the town of Portsmouth to resolve the company’s lawsuit over the abandonment of a planned extension of Heidi Drive that would have accessed a proposed residential development.

The settlement was announced in a prepared statement from Marc DeSisto, the lawyer who represented the town in the case filed in October 2011.

Middletown-based Rhode Island Nurseries will receive the payment, and in exchange, will release the town of liability and dismiss all the claims against it and the members of the 2011 Town Council, which abandoned the extension of Heidi Drive.

Retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, who served as the mediator, and DeSisto recommended the terms of the settlement, according to the statement. It “represents an eminently fair, reasonable and equitable resolution of a long and arduous dispute between these parties, and litigation which has already been pending for more than five years,” Williams said in the statement.

Michael A. Kelly, of Kelly & Mancini in Providence, represented Rhode Island Nurseries and said, “Obviously, both parties are not happy with (the resolution), but that’s the nature of mediation.”

The case had been scheduled for a trial calendar call hearing Thursday in Newport Superior Court, but was pushed back to next week. On Thursday night, the Town Council convened in executive session before unanimously approving the settlement.

Rhode Island Nurseries plans a residential development with 14 homes on a portion of a 76.5-acre tract it owns off Glen Road.

The company had not been able to secure one of the two necessary access points to the planned subdivision. Its proposed use of a planned extension of Heidi Drive to the site was met with opposition by Kevin Tarsagian, who owns Glen Ridge Farm and whose land the extension would bisect. Tarsagian argued that cutting through his land would disrupt the operation of his alpaca farm.

In February 2011, the Town Council voted 3-2 to abandon the extension and to not award monetary damages to Rhode Island Nurseries. Using one available alternative for a second access point would reduce its farmland by 6 or 7 acres, according to its complaint.

An appraiser retained by the company testified at a town hearing that using an alternative second access point would cost an additional $1 million. The company set its damages at $1.2 million, according to previous articles in The Daily News.

The company plans to move forward with the residential development and use Frank Coelho Drive as the second access point, Kelly said Friday. That road runs parallel to Heidi Drive.

“They are definitely going to build,” he said.

By resolving the litigation now, “the Town eliminates a significant risk of higher potential liability to the plaintiff for damages, R.I. Nurseries recovers fair compensation for its loss of access to the Heidi Drive Extension, and both sides avoid the certainty of further acrimony, inconvenience and litigation expense,” Williams said in the statement. “This is what mediation is all about.”

By Derek Gomes | Staff writer Oct 15, 2016

Gomes@NewportRI.com