Council updated on Surf plans

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 6:45pm
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A team representing the new owners of the Surf Hotel and the Gables Inn provided the Town Council with an overview of their plans for the two properties, including internal and external restorations, making some of the structures compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the construction of new cottages, and their plans for extensive additions to the Gables. The members of the council were particularly pleased to hear that the new owners were incorporating employee housing into their plans.

The Lark Hotels group was represented by one of its owners, Rich Cooper; two architects, Glenn Gardiner and Michael Abbott of Northeast Collaborative Architecture, and attorney Joe Priestly, who has been helping the team navigate local planning and zoning issues.

Abbott addressed the plans for the Gables, which included moving an existing, original Cutting cottage to make room for the construction of 10 new two-story cottages, which they will call The Grove. Abbott described the designs as making the property “into a little village.” Priestly added that these “accessory residential structures” are allowed in the historic district. Abbott said the new cottages were quite small: 13-feet by 20-feet. Councilor Sven Risom described them as “cabanas.”

Gardiner guessed that the councilors were already aware of the extensive interior renovations that were already occurring at the Surf, and when asked by the council how many rooms in total would both properties accommodate, owner Cooper said there would be 77 in all. Councilor Martha Ball asked if the Surf would be losing any rooms, and Gardiner said there would be a net loss of three rooms at the hotel. 

Lacoste said that one of the most common concerns heard on the island was what, if anything, would happen to the exterior of the Surf. Abbott said their group was engaged in “historic preservation” of the building, and noted that their plans and designs would be monitored by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. “They’ll be overseeing what we’re doing to the outside of the building,” said Abbott. It was noted at a previous meeting that the iconic sign on the Dodge Street side of the building would remain. Abbott said they were thinking of adding a porch to the second floor of the building, which it once had. Abbott said they were researching historic photos of the building for ideas and inspiration. Priestly added that the parking lot behind the hotel will remain a parking lot.

Risom brought up the fact that one of the rumors about the new owners was that they had plans to add condos into the mix, but Cooper quickly shot that down, and Priestly said that condos weren’t allowed in the historic district anyway.

Cooper also added that they originally had plans for the beach behind the building, but their initial plans, particularly for the small knoll located up against the breakwater, were “shot down by the CRMC unceremoniously.” The CRMC is the Coastal Management Resources Council.

Town Building Official Marc Tillson also suggested that the council start to consider drafting an ordinance that would specifically address the construction of dormitory-type housing, because there was not one on the books. “This is something the community needs,” said Tillson. Planning Board Chair Margie Comings was in the audience, and she said she heard the message “loud and clear.”

Abbott also made it clear these extensive renovations and additions were for 2020. He described getting the buildings ready for the upcoming season as simply a “mad dash.”

Education campaign

A small group of volunteers has been working on creating a campaign that would educate island guests, in a gentle way, about some of the more important rules of engagement while visiting the island. The group of six people, which included councilor Risom, identified four points of conduct they felt island visitors should be made aware of before they arrive: Dune protection, keeping the island clean, safety of bikers and walkers, and the fact the speed limit all over the island is 25 mph.

With that in mind, the group enlisted the help of island artist Dave Chatowsky to come up with a poster, a draft of which Chatowsky presented to the council at its April 3 work session. Using colorful, anthropomorphic creatures, Chatowsky designed a poster with four panels, each illustrating one of the points of conduct. The members of the group did not want an image of the poster published until it had been finalized.

“We’re really excited about the work that Dave has done,” said Risom, who said that Interstate Navigation has agreed to donate space for the posters on two of the traditional ferries throughout the summer. “The idea was to be fun, capture attention and reinforce and educate in a non-threeatening way.”

Chatowsky said he meant for the poster to be a learning tool for parents to help teach their children about conservation and safety on the island.

“I think it’s good stuff. It’s a good step forward,” said Councilor Chris Willi.

“Very imaginative and fun to look at,” said Lacoste.