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A $1.8-million oops: Rhode Island court tells developer to move house

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A $1.8-million mistake: Court orders removal of Rhode Island waterfront home

A Rhode Island developer has been ordered by the state's Supreme Court to remove a $1.8-million house he mistakenly built in 2009. 

The three-story waterfront house in Narragansett -- complete with a rooftop cabana with spa tub and wet bar -- was built on land that belonged to the Rose Nulman Park Foundation, not Four Twenty Corp., the developer that built the house.

When Four Twenty tried to sell the house in 2011, the prospective buyers ordered their own survey, by a different company than the one that surveyed the land before the construction. It turned out the house had been built on land the foundation owned and intended to preserve as parkland, instead of on the lot next door, which the developer owned.

"Obviously we’re disappointed," Four Twenty lawyer James Kelleher told the Los Angeles Times. "It’s a difficult case because our position all along is that our client has been innocent. He didn’t knowingly encroach on anyone's land. He was as stunned and mortified when he discovered the issue as anyone else."

The Rose Nulman Park Foundation had signed an agreement in 2008 stating that if the trustees allowed the land to be used as anything other than a public park, they would have to pay $1.5 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, according to court documents.

"This clear commitment of the land’s use as community space satisfies us that any attempt to build on even a portion of the property would constitute an irreparable injury not only to the plaintiff but to the public," the judge wrote in the court's decision.

According to court records, Four Twenty owner Robert Lamoureux contacted one of the foundation's trustees, Carol Nulman, immediately after the buyer survey to see if they could reach an agreement, but she told him the land was not for sale.

In March 2011, the foundation filed a lawsuit accusing the developer of trespassing.

It argued it was being prevented from exercising full use of the property, according to court records. It asked that the house be removed and that the park be returned to its original condition.

Mark Freel, the foundation's lawyer, said in an interview that because of the size, slopes and vegetation of the land, his clients couldn't tell until they were notified that the house was on their property and not on the property Lamoureux owned. They also don’t live on the property.

"I think it was the right decision," Freel said. "My clients will be following the removal of the house closely."

Lamoureux has approval from the town, the state Department of Environmental Management and the Coastal Resources Management Council to undergo the process of moving the house in its entirety to the neighboring lot, Kelleher said. He put the cost of moving it at about $300,000.

However, a Rhode Island environmental advocacy group Save the Bay has filed a lawsuit, to be heard in a lower state court, seeking to block the move, saying it would have a negative impact on the sensitive coastal area.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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