SMITHFIELD – Representatives of the non-profit Revive the Roots this week advocated for the acquisition of the Mary Mowry House and its 5 adjoining acres at 10 Old Forge Road in the town of Smithfield.
Board member Brad Allard, pictured, told Tuesday’s City Council and Land Trust session that the group needed a letter of intent from the city and a letter of support from the Land Trust before going ahead with the funding opportunities available.
Allard said the two main goals of Revive the Roots are to appropriate the historic home and to preserve the character and integrity of the property’s farmland to prevent subdivision and development on the land.
Preserving farmland and the house and putting in place a preservation easement on the property would be part of the deal. Revive the Roots is leasing the 16-acre property next to the Mowry House and 5 acres that it seeks to buy, teach, and practice farming through farming and animal care, and its members want to continue to do so. do even if they buy the house and its 5 hectares.
Farmland is the key to the arrangement for the property, recently valued at $ 425,000, offering the possibility of obtaining more farm subsidies and allowing the group to use it as a source of income through the sale of plants and of products.
In addition to the income of approximately $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 from plant and product sales, Revive the Roots hopes to use grants and commercial real estate loans to purchase the property.
Allard presented a two-year plan, with a request to extend a curator’s lease from February 2022 for the length of time needed to develop, approve and execute a purchase contract. and sales. He added that a lease-type arrangement with an option to buy would be acceptable.
Town attorney Anthony Gallone said that based on the will of Mary Mowry, who donated the land and house to the Land Trust as well as the maintenance funding, Mowry only specified that farmland was to remain an open space.
Member Hannah Purcell gave an overview of the time the group spent at the property. In 2011, recent SHS graduates formed the nonprofit Revive the Roots with the intention of creating permaculture and ecological regeneration of the 16-acre Mowry Commons property, leasing the land to the Land Trust. The group organized clean-up days, planted fruit and nut trees and developed a community garden, Purcell said.
In 2013, Revive the Roots returned to City Council with the goal of forming a Home Trusteeship to revive the historic Mary Mowry House property and the rapidly deteriorating town property.
“By developing a plan in conjunction with Preserve RI and the Smithfield Land Trust, Revive the Roots brought the house back into service and developed Rhode Island’s first home curatorship program,” said Purcell.
After 10 years in business, Purcell said the group had transformed the house from an “unlivable structure into a not-for-profit base of operations.” During the partnership with the city, the group invested more than $ 165,000 in “sweat equity” and material costs for the building and surrounding area, as well as gardening programs, art festivals and music and awareness raising activities, she said.
Purcell added that the group’s goal is both to keep the house accessible to the public as part of the Smithfield story and a functional house for the stewards of Mowry Commons.
“As far as the wishes of the Smithfield Land Trust and the Town of Smithfield are concerned, this trusteeship program will come out of their oversight as owners and become the sole responsibility of Revive the Roots,” she said.
Some spoke out in favor of the purchase, but expressed concerns about the price of the property and whether the group could afford it. City resident and frequent critic Al Costantino has suggested that the 5 acres be split into two 2.5-acre plots to make ownership more affordable.
Allard said splitting the lot would make it less likely to acquire some farmland grant funds.
Resident Paul Harrison said the cost of $ 425,000 is “very low” for the property, and said a specific value needs to be set.
“You have to realistically find the right price,” Harrison said.
Councilor Angelica Bovis said the house and 5 acres have been appraised three times since 2020 and the values have varied considerably. The asking price has been reduced due to a historic preservation easement on the property, she said.