Allard, Brad

SMITHFIELD – Representatives for nonprofit Revive the Roots made their case this week for acquiring the Mary Mowry House and its adjoining 5 acres at 10 Old Forge Road from the town of Smithfield.

Board member Brad Allard, pictured, said during Tuesday’s session of the Town Council and Land Trust that the group needs a letter of intent from the town and a letter of good support from the Land Trust before moving forward with available funding opportunities.

Allard said the two main goals of Revive the Roots are to take ownership of the historic home and preserve the character and integrity of the property’s farmland to prevent subdivision and development on the land.

Preserving the farmland and home and putting a preservation easement on the property would be part of the agreement. Revive the Roots leases the 16-acre property next door to the Mowry House and 5 acres it’s looking to buy, teaching and practicing agriculture through farming and care of animals, and its members want to continue to do so even as they purchase the home and its 5 acres.

The farmland is key to the arrangement for the property, recently valued at $425,000, allowing the opportunity for more farming grants as well as allowing the group to use it as a source of income through plant and produce sales.

In addition to the approximate $40,000 to $50,000 in revenue brought in from plant and produce sales, Revive the Roots is hoping to use grants and commercial real estate loans to purchase the property.

Allard laid out a two-year plan, with a request to extend a curator lease from February 2022 for the duration of time needed to develop, approve and execute a purchase and sales agreement. He added that a rent-to-own style agreement would be agreeable.

Town Solicitor Anthony Gallone said that based on the will of Mary Mowry, who donated the land and home to the Land Trust as well as funding for maintenance, Mowry only specified that the farmland be kept as open space.

Member Hannah Purcell gave an overview of the group’s time 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 from the Land Trust. The group organized cleanup days, planted fruit and nut trees, and developed a community garden, Purcell said.

In 2013, Revive the Roots returned to the Town Council with the purpose of forming a live-in curatorship to revive the “rapidly deteriorating historic” Mary Mowry House property and town-owned property.

“Developing a plan in collaboration with Preserve RI and the Smithfield Land Trust, Revive the Roots brought the house back into use and developed Rhode Island’s first live-in curatorship program,” Purcell said.

Now 10 years into operation, Purcell said the group has transformed the house from an “unlivable structure to a base of operation for the nonprofit. During the partnership with the town, the group has put in more than $165,000 in “sweat equity” and material costs for the building and surrounding areas, as well as hosted garden programs, art and music festivals, and educational outreach, she said.

Purcell added that it is the group’s goal to both keep the house publicly accessible as part of Smithfield’s history and a functional home for the stewards of Mowry Commons.

“As for the wishes of the Smithfield Land Trust and the town of Smithfield, this curatorship program will transition out of their oversight as landlords and become Revive the Roots’ sole responsibility,” she said.

Some spoke in support of the purchase, but expressed concerns over the price of the property and whether the group could afford it. Resident and frequent town critic Al Costantino suggested the 5 acres be split into a pair of 2.5-acre parcels to make the property more affordable.

Allard said splitting the lot would make it less likely to acquire certain 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 need to realistically come up with the right price,” Harrison said.

Councilor Angelica Bovis said the home and 5 acres have been valued three times since 2020, and the values have varied significantly. The requested price tag was reduced due to a historic preservation easement on the property, she said.

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