Historic District Commission approves new projects
The Historic District Commission approved applications for new buildings, new fences, a new pergola and other projects at its regular meeting on Monday, April 23 and at a special meeting on May 2.
Harbor Church Trustee Tony Pappas presented an artist’s rendering of the church’s proposal to build a pergola and new stairs on its front lawn facing Water Street (First Baptist Church, Plat 7 Lot 17). The application sought preliminary approval, but received final approval and praise from the commissioners.
The church plans to level parts of the sloping lawn and erect a 16- by 32-foot pergola near the bottom of the hill, with stairs leading to a level space about 20 feet wide in front of the basement entrance to the church. The structure will be used to shelter events, providing “a little protection from the sun,” Pappas said. It will replace the larger canvas circus tent that has sheltered the Harbor Church’s annual Fair and Auction for many years.
Chairman Bill Penn said the pergola “will be a wonderful addition to the reflection garden” built on the west side of the sanctuary last year as André Miller’s Eagle Scout project.
Pappas noted that the stairs will use the same materials as in the garden. While the rendering also shows a renovated façade for the north wall that would extend the basement entrance about ten feet, that is not part of the present application, he added.
“It seems we could make it final,” Penn said, and the Commission voted unanimously to give final approval to the application to construct the pergola and stairs. Vice Chair Martha Ball recused herself, as she is an officer of the church.
Penn, who is also a Harbor Church member, told Pappas: “For those of us who have struggled for years to put up the tent for the church fair, thank you.” From the audience, Doug Michel, leader of the tent-erecting crew, replied, “No, thank you!”
Scott Comings, Associate State Director of The Nature Conservancy, explained the organization’s application to make their Block Island program headquarters on High Street (Plat 7 Lot 39) compliant with current building codes and a better fit for island architecture, while also saving the façade of the existing house on the property. The result of removing a dilapidated cottage, constructing an addition to the main dwelling and constructing a new two-story storage building will be a more functional, welcoming, and better laid-out facility, he told the commission.
The members were pleased with the overall design. Claire McQueeny said the TNC had done “an excellent job” with the siting, calling the result “a sweet little building.”
Could the cottage be saved, rather than removed or demolished? “The cottage is on its last legs,” Comings replied; “it’s rotting as we speak.” He said he wasn’t sure it would survive being moved to a new site. Even so, the TNC needs the cottage to house staff for one more season.
“We’ve done the barn, we’ve done the house,” he added; his concern is, “How do I ensure the facility really works for the future?”
Member Arlene Tunney commented on the lack of an access ramp on plans for the addition, and also wondered if its roofline could be changed to allow installation of solar electric panels.
“There will be a ramp,” Comings replied. As for the solar panels, “we would put them on the shed and garage,” not on the addition. Setback requirements leave no room for them elsewhere, he added.
Penn commented, “Preliminary approval deals with siting and massing” of structures, “but Arlene raises an important point” about accessibility. The Commission gave the TNC’s application preliminary approval, specifically mentioning the need for accessibility. Plans to be submitted for final approval will include ramps as well as other design details.
The Poor People’s Pub wants to replace the current split-rail fencing around the Ocean Avenue restaurant (Plat 6 Lot 3-2). Restaurant owners Michael and Michele Barile proposed a “shadow-box” fence for the west side of the patio to separate it from the Gateway Building. A horizontal board fence would define the roadside.
After back-and-forth comments on the patio fence’s design — it looks the same on both sides; it has vertical boards offset to allow ventilation; it resembles pallets stood on end; the HDC had approved the same design elsewhere — the Commission approved both fences, stipulating that both the five-foot-tall patio fence and the 3.5 foot-tall front fence have horizontal caps on top.
HDC Chair Penn left the dais to speak to an application to replace one wooden window on his home off Beacon Hill Road with a new vinyl window (William Penn Living Trust, Plat 18 Lot 66). The Commission approved the request, with the chairman recusing himself from the vote.
The latest iteration of a signage plan for the Block Island Maritime Institute’s building on Ocean Avenue in New Harbor (Plat 5, Lot 64-1) seeks to install new roof-mounted signs advertising four businesses renting space in the building – The Block Island Cookie Company, Island Fitness, Smitty’s Ice Cream, and Calaveras restaurant’s second location.
The plan anticipated adoption of proposed amendments to the sign ordinance that would allow roof signs and make other changes.
Ball, who is also a member of the Town Council, announced she would not vote on BIMI’s signage plan. The other Commissioners approved the plan subject to the Town Council’s approval of the proposed amendments to Section 504 of the Zoning Ordinance.
Martha Andrew’s application to install signage for MarMar Boutique and Blockstar at its new Water Street location (Plat 6 Lot 157) was granted in part at the April 23 meeting. The boutique’s wall sign, the same size and location as used by the previous tenant, was approved. Blockstar’s proposed sign, intended to hang over the sidewalk, was continued to the May 2 special meeting. Commissioner Mark Vaillancourt offered to help Andrew determine what size and shape would fit the location.
At the May 2 meeting, Dominic Nardini, Blockstar’s owner, submitted a design drawing for a teardrop-shaped Blockstar sign to be attached to a porch post. Nardini confirmed that this aluminum sign would be taken down when the shop closes for the season; otherwise, he said, the sign would attract people “like moths to a flame when there is no fire.” The Commission approved the amended application.
Also on May 2, Fred Sullivan brought samples of the new siding material he proposed to use on the building housing the Old Harbor Take Out restaurant on Water Street (436 Water Street Bike Shop, LLC, Plat 6 Lot 152).
Sullivan planned to replace the current clapboard siding with cedar shakes factory-dipped in paint, the same material being used to re-side the Seaside Market building. He had asked for the special meeting hoping for immediate approval because of recent price increases due to new tariffs on the Canadian-made material, although he conceded the work could not be done until the fall.
The commissioners, however, had other ideas. They recommended that Sullivan consider a masonry product by James Hardie Building Materials — available as planks, shingles and vertical siding — as an alternative to cedar shingles. “Since you have the time” before the work can be done, Penn said, “research the clapboard. It would be our preference if you would choose the clapboard instead of the cedar shingles.” The application was deferred to an unspecified date.
Immediately after that vote, Penn said, “Now we can talk about signs.” He told Sullivan that Mark Jones, owner of Old Harbor Take Out, “has a history of not complying with the Town’s sign ordinance. You, as the property owner, are the one who’s responsible to comply” with Section 504 of the Zoning Ordinance concerning signs. The Town Council had adopted amendments to that section the night before.
Commissioner Dennis Riordan said, “Those people are out of control.”
Penn went on to explain the consequences of non-compliance: a notice of violation issued by the Building Official, an appeal provision, and the possibility of accumulating daily fines “that can be pretty significant.”
A contrite Sullivan replied, “I appreciate your time,” and promised to discuss the signage issues with Jones.
Under the amended ordinance, Chairman Penn continued, “symbols are not allowed.”
Commissioner Ball, citing one unapproved decoration at Jones’s business, added, “Like a huge ice cream cone, beyond a Jolly Green Giant size ice cream cone.”
The next regular meeting of the Historic District Commission will be at the Town Hall on Monday, May 21 at 7 p.m.