American Legion exploring building expansion
Block Island’s American Legion members, part of Post number 36, are exploring expansion of their single-story wood frame building to include a second-story caretaker apartment. The group is also seeking to construct a restaurant, and bar within the building’s first floor footprint to serve food and alcohol at the site.
War veterans Charlie Weber and Bob Fallon conveyed the Legion’s intent to the New Shoreham Town Council at its Sept. 18 meeting. The American Legion has been leasing the 20,908 square foot lot, which abuts Center Road and West Side Road, from the Town of New Shoreham since 1927 for a dollar per year.
“This came about because our 99 year lease is up for renewal in seven years,” said Weber, noting that the renewal date is July 5, 2026. “So we’re trying to get ahead of that, and get the lease redrawn. In doing so, we would like to have some language put in the lease that would allow us to expand the building.”
“Unfortunately, we bury more members than we gain, so we need to come up with some sort of solution to keep the Legion going,” Weber said. “That’s kind of our game plan long-term.”
“Were you looking for the town to give you permission to do something different ahead of that lease renewal?” asked First Warden Ken Lacoste, referring to 2026.
“No. I don’t think it will happen that fast,” said Weber.
“One of the reasons why were doing this now is because we’ve got some guys that can help push it through,” said Fallon. “We don’t know where we will be in 2026.” Fallon noted that the Legion’s membership has decreased from 120 to 87.
Weber said, “Congress just passed a new law that states that anybody honorably discharged since World War II is now eligible to join the American Legion. You don’t have to be a combat veteran. It’s now open to anybody who has served or been honorably discharged since World War II. So, hopefully that will increase our membership.”
“That includes members of the National Guard,” said Fallon, who noted that the Legion was aware of the availability “of another (town) liquor license. Obviously we’re not applying for that now, but after we have everything in order it is something we would like to consider.”
Town Manager Ed Roberge said he met with Weber and Fallon to discuss their interest in expanding the building, which is a prefabricated Berger cottage that was built in 1980. “We talked about amending the existing lease,” said Roberge. “We’re poised to work with them to find a solution to make this sustainable.”
“There is some capability,” and “some options,” with regard to the building, said Roberge. “There are also some limitations with it, so I think we would need to look” at the land use and zoning aspect of the property.
“I think we can work with them,” said Roberge, noting that a zoning variance might be required to expand the building. “Housing is permitted,” per the lease agreement, “so (building an apartment) could happen now.” Roberge said the town would have to review the use of a restaurant and bar at the location.
“None of these places have liquor?” asked Councilor Martha Ball, referring to American Legions posts around the country.
“We’re probably the only American Legion in the country that doesn’t have a liquor license,” said Weber, who noted that people have shown up and asked where the bar is located. “We don’t have one,” is what Weber said is the typical response.
Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said she contacted other towns regarding their American Legion and VFW organizations for information. She said some towns issue class B liquor licenses, which are limited regarding the number of people permitted in an establishment. “It’s lower cost and lower volume,” she said.
“I’m glad you’re giving yourself some time to work on this,” said Lacoste. “The town is happy to work with you on it.”
During public comment, resident oyster farmer, Chris Warfel, said there were three items that he would like to bring to the Town Council’s attention. Warfel read from a memorandum that he drafted for the meeting,
The first, he said, was that the town was not following through on its commitment to incorporate renewable energy into all new construction. He cited “the Employee Housing project on the Thomas property” as an example. That $1.5 million project involves building a single-family dwelling for the Town Manager and a four unit apartment building within the existing Thomas Property footprint.
Second, Warfel said he was unsuccessful in obtaining transcripts at Town Hall from two Shellfish Committee meetings. “I am asking that the town have a policy where meetings are recorded using town recording devices and stored in an orderly manner.”
And, third, Warfel said his attendance at a Shellfish Committee meeting to discuss an advisory regarding his oyster farm “did not go well.” Warfel said the Harbormaster threw his errant oyster farm “gear in a dumpster,” and “dragged (his) gear from (his) sublease in Cormorant Cove all the way to the Coast Guard Station.” Warfel asked for a letter of apology from the Harbormaster and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, “saying that they basically don’t listen to him.”
The next Town Council meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m.