Demolition day approaches for 1750 Arnold farmhouse

Demolition day approaches for 1750 Arnold farmhouse

The 1750 Arnold farmhouse on Whipple Road in Smithfield. (Valley Breeze & Observer Photo by Gerry Goldstein)
Owner says he'll sell off contents piecemeal, including beehive oven, mantels and beams

SMITHFIELD - The final day of this year could be one of the final days of existence for the circa 1750 Arnold farmhouse at 130 Whipple Road.

Paul Ronci, who bought the house and its 55 acres in August, said he will be at Town Hall Dec. 31 to pick up a demolition permit for the structure, which the town's Historic Preservation Commission has said is "rare and important and should not be destroyed but rather preserved for future generations to learn from and appreciate."

Ronci said he cannot guarantee that the gambrel-roofed farmhouse will still be standing Jan. 7, when the Town Council is expected to discuss what might be done to save it. The Whipple Road house is just a stone's throw from the Lincoln border.

Ronci maintains that while officials have expressed interest in preserving the house, they have made no offers to buy it, and "I'm not going to give it away."

Because of its historical components, Ronci said, the house is a valuable asset that he can sell off piecemeal if the town doesn't offer to buy at least the 21-acre chunk of land that surrounds it at the rear of his property.

He said he has also offered the town two other options: Buy the 21 acres, which abuts land already owned by the Municipal Land Trust, plus an adjoining 20 acres; or buy the entire 55 acres.

Ronci said he has set a price for the offers but is not ready to divulge it.

His Ronci Investments LLC bought the property from the estate of Eileen Sullivan for $501,000. The town has assessed the house for tax purposes at $92,000 and the land at $333,700.

Ronci said the price he is setting for the town includes land and the house, and that if no agreement is reached he is likely to dismantle it and sell its components.

He said he cannot forecast whether he'll take the structure down before Jan. 7 because he does not know what offers he might receive in the meantime. He said a number of people have expressed interest in its contents, including its historical beams, brick beehive oven, fireplaces and mantels, and a 260-year-old glass-door China cupboard.

He said there are also parties in Smithfield willing to take the house free and move it, but that he feels giving it away would be an unwise business move.

In an email to the Valley Breeze & Observer, he wrote, "If the town is not interested in any of my three proposals, the house will not stay in Smithfield or be saved. It will be parted out and sold!"

Ronci said his plan for the property, zoned R-80 for minimum lot sizes of nearly two acres, is to build four houses, on separate 4 1/2- to 5-acre lots, along the front of the property, but set back from Whipple Road between 250 and 500 feet to preserve the existing roadside vista. The property includes some 1,500 feet of frontage along Whipple Road.

Ronci said his four-house plan keeps his project from becoming a conservation development, under which - if a minimum of six houses were involved - he would be required to give the town 60 percent of his land.

He said that if the town declines his offers, he plans further development there in the future.

Ronci said he listed options at a Dec. 2 meeting with Town Manager Dennis Finlay, Town Planner Michael Phillips, and Building Official Peter Scorpio, "but since then I have not heard back from the town."

Town Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr. has said he hopes the house, once part of the former McQuade Dairy Farm, can be saved.

Robert Leach, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, has described it as "a little jewel box that has everything going for it."

But Ronci maintains that while sentiment is running high, "nobody stepped up to the plate" and that advocates for saving the house are asking him to bear all the financial implications.

He said it has always been his plan to develop the property, and not to re-sell it to the town.

According to a municipal ordinance, anyone applying for a demolition permit for a historical building must wait 60 days to receive it, while in the interim town officials try to negotiate alternatives to a razing.

If no agreement is reached, a permit must be issued. The 60-day interim period on the Ronci property expires a week from Tuesday, the last day of the year.