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A Hummel Report Investigation

Divided Interests

It is one of the most prime pieces of real estate in Rhode Island. But the condominiums on Goat Island South in Newport have also been embroiled in multiple property disputes and litigation for more than a decade. Now, one of the property owners is asking the General Assembly to change the law and allow him to preserve an expansion of his condominium that doubled the unit’s size - while the Supreme Court is deciding an appeal from some of his neighbors who say the expansion violated state law. Jim Hummel hears from both sides on the proposed legislation.

SCRIPT

Nearly everywhere you look, there is water.
With the Newport Bridget to the west, Fort Adams to the south and Newport Harbor to the East, the condominiums on Goat Island South have been a select slice of Rhode Island real estate since the late 1980s, after condos went up on land formerly owned by The U.S. Navy.
But Goat Island has also been embroiled in multiple property disputes resulting in litigation – lots of it, with three lawsuits so far going to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Right in the middle of the current-day legal wrangling: Bennie Sisto, an accountant and property investor from Lincoln, who owns four of the 19 standalone townhouse units on the east end of the island overlooking Newport Harbor.
The entire development consists of those townhouses, called the Harbor Houses, along with 46 units in the America building and 89 in another building, called Capella. Together they make up a total of 154 units on Goat Island South.
Sisto has been both a defendant and a plaintiff.
Diane Vanden Dorpel and her husband Ron bought a unit in The America building in 1992, primarily for this view of the harbor from their porch, later buying a second unit as an investment in 2005, about a year before she first met Sisto.
Vanden Dorpel: ``He was very nice. He had these plans to really expand the unit that’s directly in front of us. And it would have blocked our water view and we were trying to see if we could compromise.’’
Sisto’s attempts to expand this unit in 2006 and another he owns set in motion litigation that is still going today.
Vandel Dorpel: ``Our concern was, if he can do it down there, what’s going to stop him from doing it in front of us? Nothing.’’
Meanwhile Sisto has gone to the Rhode Island General Assembly to try and change the state’s three-decade-old Condominium Act.  At issue: this 3,800-square-foot townhouse that was half the size it is now when Sisto bought in 2011.  Within months of the purchase he began adding 1,200 square feet of living space and a third floor, even though some of his neighbors went to court to try and stop him – saying he didn’t have the permission of the other unit owners to expand onto what was shared condominium space – a basic tenant of state law.

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