By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – Saying that they've run out of patience, City Council members voted unanimously on Wednesday to begin action against a Providence developer whose historic homes have fallen badly into disrepair.
The homes, located at 62 Mill St. and 166 Spring St., occupy a prominent corner at Spring and Mill streets, and are both owned by Providence-based DSM Realty Corporation.
The company's principal, David Malkin, purchased the properties, along with two others at 219 Spring St. and 23 Sherman St., from the estate of Ann Twomey following a series of municipal hearings on the condition of the portfolio of historic homes.
While DSM Reallty has successfully restored 23 Sherman St. and is currently in the process of rehabbing 219 Spring St., little has been done to either of the Mill and Spring street properties.
Over recent years, they've become the source of increasing concern for both neighbors and the city's Historic District Commission.
In January, the HDC asked the City Council to take "immediate and effective action" in dealing with the pair of derelict houses, which they considered to have entered into a state of demolition by owner neglect.
On Wednesday, the council formally agreed.
"We need to do whatever is necessary; whatever is necessary to bring these properties up to the minimum standard," said Councilor Henry F. Winthrop. "If we don't do something quick…we might lose these structures forever."
What steps the city will pursue, however, remains to be seen.
Under city ordinances, if a property does in fact enter into a state of demolition by owner neglect, staff may pursue a number of options, from issuing simple written correspondence to stabilizing the property themselves.
At this point, councilors made it clear that all options would be on the table.
City Solicitor Joseph Nicholson suggested that he work with staff in the zoning department to formulate a strategy to perhaps bring the homeowner, DSM Realty, into court.
That proposal seemed to be the preferred course of action by a majority of councilors, including Mayor Stephen C. Waluk, who said that he hoped to avoid reaching a point where the city would actually bear the costs of repairing the homes.
"We need to recognize that we don't have the money to stabilize anything," Waluk said, noting that the first priority for the city is to ensure that the properties are stabilized and made safe.
Going a bit further, Second Ward Councilor Justin S. McLaughlin noted that the city should seek to do more than just see to it that the buildings are secured to a minimum standard.
'I'm not interested in getting to the end game," he said. "We need to save the buildings… I don't have any more patience for this."
The last time demolition by owner neglect was pursued was three years ago at 119 Spring St.
At that time, the matter was brought immediately to council, without notice being given to the homeowner, who upon learning of the concerns, made improvements working hand in hand with city staff.
DSM Realty has not been as responsive.
According to city staff, since 2006, more than 60 inspections of the properties have shown "no progress made" in regards to their condition, and weekly inspection photos shows a "degrading condition and neglect" since 2008.
In addition to the current proceedings, actions taken in the past include a previous Demolition Through Owner Neglect request from 2007, and a resulting Municipal Court consent order; several dismissed HDC applications for failure to comply; the formation of a Special Oversight Committee concerning repairs; and complaint letters from abutters and concerned neighbors.
In addition, inspection reports dating from 2000 state that it is "imperative that action be taken" to save the buildings, while orders from Building Inspector, dated 2007 and 2008, requested immediate action regarding "Unsafe Structures."
However, the issue appears to have now finally come to a head after Malkin failed to provide documentation requested regarding planned improvements to the buildings be sent to the office of the Preservation Planner. When no documentation was received, and no further contact between Malkin and the city, staff requested that council action be "proceeded as voted."
Winthrop, who said that he had visited the buildings twice over the last few days, described them as "Two of the worst parcels in the entire city, Historic District or not" and labeled the homeowner as "arrogant" for ignoring the HDC.
With that, the council voted to accept the HDC's findings; asked the administration direct the owner of record to commence improvements on the properties no later than 30 days after receipt of notice; determine and outline the proper repairs; and if necessary, pursue legal action in municipal court.
A progress update is expected after July 1.