Gables project granted HDC approval

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 9:15am
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The Gables Inn project has finally passed muster with the Historic District Commission, which granted unanimous final approval (6-0) for the project at its meeting on Monday night. The project must now go before the New Shoreham Zoning Board of Review.

Rob Blood, Lark Hotels’ Chief Executive Officer, told The Times after the meeting that he hopes to “break ground” with construction beginning in September for completion by Memorial Day of 2020.

“It feels great,” said Blood, of being granted final approval. “One of the things we appreciate about working with a community like Block Island is that the community cares about the historic character of the town, which makes the place really special. And that means sometimes it takes a bit longer to get things done.”

Blood added that Lark Hotels, the company renovating the Gables property, “is invested emotionally and financially in so many historic communities, so we understand the process, and appreciate the people who take the time to make sure that things are done right.”

As for what the cost will be for the project, Blood said the company does not disclose that information. Rich Cooper, a developer for Lark Hotels, said, “It’s a significant investment,” and one of Lark Hotels’ “biggest projects.”

Lark Hotels has been involved in a lengthy approvals process over the past several months and been sent back to the drawing board by the commission on several occasions. On March 26, when the project was introduced, HDC Chair Bill Penn demanded that the company return with a three-dimensional model for a visual scope of impact to the landscape. At a meeting in June, Penn rejected the company’s application outright, calling it “incomplete.”

The application for “The Gables,” as it’s noted on the application, involves refurbishing the historic Gables Inn, installing a pool with decking, creating two rental units in an existing barn and employee housing in a relocated cottage at the rear of the property, and constructing four poolside cottages.

Lark Hotels brought its full complement of architects, designers and advisers to Monday’s meeting, including former HDC member, Doug Gilpin, who is serving as a consultant on the project. Gilpin told The Times that he attended the University of Illinois with Glenn Gardiner, an architect from Newport Collaborative Architects based in Newport who is working on the project with founding partner Michael Abbott.

Also in attendance, besides Blood and Rich Cooper, were David Cooper, Managing Director for Connecticut Valley Homes, and Mark Butler, a landscape architect.

“We brought our entire team here: the owners, the landscape architect and builder,” said Gardiner, while presenting the project to the commission. Gardiner circulated a handout detailing the project, which was accompanied by a thick application proposal, complete with design schematics and information.

The thoroughness of the application materials were not lost on Penn. “Well, I must say, Glenn, this is a much more complete package than the last time you came before us.”

“Thank you,” said Gardiner, who noted that his team has had more time to focus on the application since work on the Surf Hotel has been completed, and the hotel is now operational. Lark Hotels owns both properties.

Commission members had questions about the location and material being used for the fire escape on the Gables Inn building. Gardiner told the commission the fire escape would meet code, and be comprised of painted steel. Abbott said it was designed to “be less visible” on the property.

“Does it have to be made of metal?” asked board member Arlene Tunney.

“It’s a non-combustible material,” said Gardiner, noting that the structure would be custom-made.

Tunney didn’t like the fact that the fire escape would be “steel looking,” and suggested that it be made of aluminum.

“We would consider that,” said Gardiner.

“It has to be safe and strong,” said board member Mark Vaillancourt, who said the choice should be made at the discretion of the builder.

After Gardiner took the commission members through the proposal, Vice Chair Martha Ball said she felt that the details of the pool had “slipped through” the cracks.

Tunney asked if the pool would have a handicap accessible lift, as well as ADA compliant access for the buildings on the property.

Blood said the pool would be equipped with a removable chair that “lowers people into the water.” Rich Cooper said the property meets the handicap code, with an ADA accessible unit in one of the cottages.

“I think it all looks great,” said Dennis Riordan. “How much will it cost to stay there?”

“It will be just enough to cover our fees for going through this process,” quipped Rich Cooper.  

Vaillancourt asked the architects if the property would be winterized.

Abbott said it would not be winterized for inhabitants during the colder months, such as January and February. “That’s when you can stay there,” said Abbott in jest to Riordan, which drew laughter from those in attendance.

Penn made the motion for final approval that was seconded by Vaillancourt, and the commission granted unanimous final approval.

In other news, the HDC granted unanimous approval to the Block Island Maritime Institute for replacing the Calaveras sign on its building with a sign for kayaking and paddle boarding.

The HDC’s next meeting is Monday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.