Councilman Barred from Participating in Dispute Between Town and Sakonnet Vineyard

Thursday, January 10, 2019


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Sakonnet Vineyard

The ongoing battle between the town of Little Compton and Sakonnet Vineyard took a turn this week when the Rhode Island Ethics Commission issued a decision barring newly-elected Councilman Larry Anderson from taking any action as a member of the council due to his previous role in the controversy.

“It is part of a long story and prior action and unresolved litigation,” said Anderson in an interview on Wednesday night with GoLocal.

The battle has been raging for years. GoLocal first reported in 2012 that Carolyn Rafaelian, CEO of Alex and Ani, had purchased Sakonnet Vineyard. At the time of the sale of the vineyard, the late Melanie Delman, commenting upon the Sakonnet Vineyard sale, remarked, “This was an exciting project for us at Lila Delman because it allowed us to utilize so many areas of our expertise. Commercial, agricultural, residential development, conservation land – this extraordinarily complex property demanded highly specialized real estate knowledge on many fronts. We are gratified to have been able to deliver such a successful result. The Little Compton area is amongst my favorite places in Rhode Island, and it’s very satisfying to have taken a hand in shaping its future.”

In the summer of 2013 began having small outside concerts and expanded the programming. 

As the programming increased, neighbors in Little Compton pressed town officials to limit the activities and restrict the number and types of events. The legal conflicts began. Anderson was one of the town residents pressing to limit and, in some cases, bar the vineyard from holding certain events like weddings.

Ethics Commission's Ruling

The Ethics Commission ruled this week on Anderson.

"Here, the Petitioner represents that unless and until the litigation is resolved by a settlement and/or court order, he remains a potential counterclaim defendant, in which case the litigation could result in a direct financial impact upon him," wrote the Commission in its advisory opinion. 

The Commission went onto direct, “Accordingly, based on the Petitioner's representations, provisions of the Code of Ethics, and previous advisory opinions it is the opinion of the Ethics Commission that the Petitioner is prohibited under the Code of Ethics from participating in discussions and decision-making relative to matters concerning the pending litigation against the Vineyard, given that it is reasonably foreseeable that he would be financially impacted by the outcome of the litigation."

Prior Owners Struggled

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Rafaelian was featured in People magazine for Alex and Ani's $50M to charities

Rafaelian purchased the vineyard from Earl and Susan Samson who had bought the vineyard in 1987 and they expanded the vineyard's offering and had started experimenting with the more popular varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both of which tend to thrive in cool to moderate climates.

Then, under the Samsons, Sakonnet Vineyard began growing around a dozen different varietals on 37 acres including Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Chancellor and Lemberger. And, they adding tastings and other programs to make the vineyard financially viable, but for them, it was always a struggle. 

The award-winning winery, which consists of some 170 acres of vineyards, open space, and a state-of-the-art winery facility, was founded in 1975 and is today recognized as a crucial pioneer of the New England wine industry. Idyllically sited overlooking beautiful Patchet Brook Reservoir, the property comprises 102 conservancy-protected acres of vineyards, including a winery, hospitality center, and open space, with another 67 acres set aside for the development of 5 luxury residential estates. 

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Some of the Vineyard has been placed in trust

Anderson said he is worried that he could be pulled into the ongoing litigation that has been raging between neighbors, the town and the vineyard for years. “The fundamental problem is the counterclaim [by the Vineyard] — by naming unknown 'John Does' the lawyers for the vineyard has been successful in creating a chilling effect,” said Anderson.

On Thursday night, the newly constituted Little Compton Town Council has a meeting to discuss the ongoing litigation which is presently in mediation to resolve the dispute. Anderson said the Council will go into executive session to discuss the ongoing legal issues and he told GoLocal he will not participate in the closed session discussion. 

Editor's note: A previous version had first Anderson's name incorrect. 


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