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Little Compton Landscapes

Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust explains a recent “fraught” land transaction

 

[CORRECTION, December 28, 2023: Throughout my original December 4, 2023 post, I incorrectly spelled the name of the person who recently sold property to the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust (LCACT) and Dennis Talbot. Her name is Beverly Anarumo (not “Annarumo”). I apologize to Ms. Anarumo, and to other readers, for my error, which I have corrected as of this date. I have also amended the December 4 post by updating links to the LCACT’s website for documents relating to the property transactions described.]

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“The Ag Trust purchase of 26 acres from Beverly Anarumo has been fraught with difficulties, errors, and public confusion,” begins a recent (though undated) memorandum, “Annarumo [name misspelled in original] Property Acquisition Process Description” (referred to hereafter as “Anarumo memo”), available at the website of the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust (LCACT).

To its credit, the LCACT has listed that memorandum and other related documents under Item 9 (“New Business”) on the agenda for its December 6 monthly meeting and on its website. (The documents are included in three separate pdf files at that site. The Anarumo memo appears on pages 1-3 of this pdf file.

The LCACT’s three-page Anarumo memo, a copy of which is provided further below, explains the “fraught” process by which the Trust this year developed and executed a plan to acquire Assessors Plat 45, Lot 1-2, from its owner Beverly Anarumo, a Florida resident. The 31-acre undeveloped parcel purchased from Ms. Anarumo in late August encompasses woodlands and wetlands between John Dyer Road in Little Compton and Old Harbor Road in Westport, MA, as indicated on the Assessor’s plat map below:

The “purchase history and process” described in the memorandum is intended to address questions that have been raised by various abutters, citizens, and town officials about the transaction’s process, as well as its legality, fairness, and the possible impact of the plans for the property’s future use.

Of the several notable and unusual aspects of these transactions, as described in the Trust’s Anarumo memo, two stand out—at least for me. First, an initial attempt by the Trust to acquire the parcel early in 2023 unraveled when the Trust learned that a seller purporting to be Ms. Anarumo, using a South African address, was in fact engaged in a scam involving theft of her identity. (The identity theft scam, it turns out, is not an uncommon one. See the U.S. Secret Service memo below.) The Trust closed on the transaction on March 7, 2023, according to its memorandum, when it initiated the wire transfer of about $500,000. The Trust reports that it ultimately recovered the full amount it had disbursed for the purchase, partly from a title insurance company.

Second, as the Trust documents in its memorandum, when the Trust later agreed to a purchase the property from the genuine Beverly Anarumo for $750,000, it did so through the unprecedented means—at least for the Trust—of purchasing the undivided property jointly, as tenants in common, with a private buyer, local builder Dennis Talbot. The joint-tenants arrangement was based on an August 4, 2023 “Memorandum of Agreement” between the Trust and Talbot, in which the Trust, by subsequent exchange of deeds, would retain about 26 acres for conservation purposes and Talbot would own about 5 acres, for the development of “affordable” housing units on the property.

“The purchase [of Lot 1-2] occurred on August 25, 2023,” according to the Anarumo memo, “with the Ag Trust and Mr. Talbot purchasing the property in common with the Trust receiving a a 73.34% interest and Mr. Talbot a 26.66% interest.”

[Disclosure: In 2021, my wife and I entered into an agreement with Talbot’s construction company to build a house on our own Little Compton property. Part way through construction, by prior mutual agreement, that job was completed by a new company created by his associate, architect/contractor Ashley Sparks, when Dennis closed his company.

According to the minutes of its October 3, 2023 meeting, the Planning Board approved an Administrative Subdivision of the original 31-acre Lot 1-2 into the two planned lots: 

New Business:

2.) Dennis Talbot and Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust: Administrative Subdivision, 164 John Dyer Road, Little Compton, RI Tax Assessor’s Plat 45, Lot 1-2.
Chairperson Steers recused himself from this item on the Agenda as he is a co-applicant as a representative of the LCACT. Vice Chairperson, Richard Ross assumed the Chairperson’s duties.
Don Medeiros of Able Engineering presented the Board with the plan for the subdivision having been done to a Class 4 standard. Mr. Medeiros explained that a Class 1 survey is currently underway for the 4.9 acres being purchased by Mr. Talbot, including the right of way for access to the LCACT property that will be designated “not to be developed”. The applicants answered several questions regarding the Right of Way, the intent of the LCACT and the proportion of the land being purchased by Mr. Talbot.

Mr. Bowen desired to have the record reflect that the amount that Mr. Talbot is paying does not proportionally figure to the total acreage and the understanding of the Board is that the Right of Way will be a public access and that Mr. Talbot’s interest in the current parcel of land will be fully discharged when the Administrative Subdivision takes place.

A Motion was made by Bob Murphy, seconded by Sal Marinosci that the Administrative Subdivision be approved on the following conditions: The twenty foot right of way be noted as public and present in the final survey, and the 4.9 acres being purchased by Mr. Talbot be surveyed to a Class 1 standard with monuments bound and set. Voting in favor: Richard Ross, David Beauchemin, Ed Bowen, Ginny Greenwood, Sal Marinosci, Bob Murphy, Mary Suttell and Bob Torchia. Opposed: None.

The Anarumo memo states that the subdivision approved by the Planning Board was “recorded on XX/XX/XXX [sic] with the Ag Trust and Mr. Talbot exchanging deeds relinquishing any claim to the other’s parcel.” According to Little Compton Town Clerk Carol Wordell, the subdivision plan and the deeds were in fact recorded on November 7, 2023.

“The final result,” the memo reports,” is that the Ag Trust owns 26 acres of open space with valuable conservation attributes and high potential for passive recreation, specifically a trail, and Mr. Talbot owns 4.9 acres to be developed with affordable housing. Mr. Talbot is working with the Little Compton Housing Trust on his project.”

In fact, as I learned at meetings of the Little Compton Housing Trust, Mr. Talbot and the Housing Trust have been discussing and drafting an agreement in which he would convey ownership of his lot to the Housing Trust for the amount he paid for his interest—$200,000—plus some costs he has incurred during its acquisition.


 

Included below is the memorandum titled “Annarumo [name misspelled in original] Property Acquisition Process Description,” as available at the website of the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust:

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I did not attend a November 1 meeting of the LCACT where this matter, according to its draft minutes, was publicly discussed. I have attended some recent meetings of the Little Compton Housing Trust and Little Compton Town Council, where certain aspects of these transactions were considered. Otherwise, my own knowledge of the matter is based on the documents provided by the LCACT, as well as second- and third-hand conversations, which I know may not be complete, entirely accurate, or unbiased. I offer no opinions here on the specific details or substance of the transactions involving this property.

However, the LCACT’s November 1 draft minutes include a summary of some of the concerns and questions raised by members of the public in attendance: 

The LCACT document page also includes LCACT Chair Bill Richmond’s November 3, 2023 email response to some of the concerns raised by Sid Wordell at the Trust’s November 1 meeting:

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I concluded a previous, deep-in-the-weeds November 22, 2022 post, subtitled “Counting the ways the LCACT is a legal and political component of the Town of Little Compton,” with the following comment regarding the operational and political accountability of the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust, which was established by 1985 enabling legislation enacted by the Rhode Island General Assembly and by vote of the 1986 Little Compton Financial Town Meeting:

After more than 35 years of its operation, I believe that town officials and voters have good reason to review whether the Trust’s legal and political structure provides sufficient accountability concerning LCACT’s substantial and consequential activities on behalf of the Town of Little Compton.

Such a review of the powers and authority of the LCACT will, however, require an open, public, and, one hopes, civil discussion and debate. No such public discussion of the LCACT’s activity and mission has really taken place since sometimes highly charged debates and events during the 1990s.

The recent confusion and controversy about the Anarumo transactions may reinforce some of the concerns I expressed a year ago.

I urge those interested to review all the documents LCACT has provided about the Anarumo transaction, as listed on its agenda and available at its website. As noted on the agenda of its December 6 meeting, the LCACT will be meeting that day at 7:00 p.m. at the Wilbur/McMahon School. Interested citizens may find that meeting to be informative and lively. ♦