Silva Family to Donate Cumberland Property to Town; Texts Show Attempts by Family to Influence Deal
August 23, 2021
CUMBERLAND, R.I. — After public scrutiny over the pending development of a freshwater wetland property on Canning Street, the family of Gov. Dan McKee’s chief of staff has said it will donate the property to the town, but questions remain as to how far the Silva family’s involvement went.
The 5,600-square-foot parcel — comprised almost entirely of freshwater wetland and owned by Ross Silva, the son of top aide to the governor Anthony Silva — was cleared for the development of a single-family home by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) in early June. However, town officials and neighbors repeatedly voiced flooding and drainage concerns.
The lack of a public hearing by DEM and the property’s significant ties to the governor’s office raised red flags for many earlier this summer. In mid-July, the Town Council unanimously passed a motion to hire an attorney to protect the town’s interests relating to due process. In a letter to DEM dated July 21, Mayor Jeff Mutter also requested the permit be reconsidered.
“I would also appreciate an explanation as to why the permit was approved and why a hearing was never held,” Mutter wrote.
At an Aug. 17 press conference, McKee said the Silva family received no preferential treatment from DEM in the permitting of the property.
“Process was followed as far as I know,” he said.
But according to text messages released by town officials to WPRI under an Access to Public Records Act request, the elder Silva reached out for an unscheduled private meeting with Mutter on March 31. According to WPRI, Mutter was unaware the 45 Canning St. property would be discussed.
Following the meeting, text messages show Silva decided to remove his and his wife’s names from the property prior to the land sale. Instead, his son would be listed as purchaser and developer. On July 14, the younger Silva bought the property for $17,500.
No additional comment was offered by McKee’s office regarding Silva’s involvement with the property.
Last week, following reports of the Silvas involvement in the development and in an effort to distance the family from the controversial property, Ross Silva said he recognized the concerns brought forward by members of the town. The family, he said, would be donating the lot to the town “to be preserved in perpetuity, as open space.”
“Over the past four years, the application process to obtain a building permit has been in the capable hands of the Town and the DEM,” he continued. “Unfortunately, and much to our disappointment, this process has resulted in unintended consequences that have created a distraction for my family and everyone concerned. My family is happy to resolve this matter in a positive and amicable way.”
The Cumberland town solicitor, in an Aug. 24 email to ecoRI News, wrote, “The Town of Cumberland has no records indicating a donation of 45 Canning Street to the Town.”
Joe Pailthorpe, treasurer of the Cumberland Land Trust, said the land trust was contacted by Anthony Silva for advice regarding the donation of the property. According to Pailthorpe, the donation will be going directly to the town to be preserved — not through the Cumberland Land Trust — but it might be waiting on the deeds and not yet processed.