Planning Board closes hearing on Gelsomini project

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 5:30pm

Nick and Pam Gelsomini went before the Planning Board for a third time on Feb. 10 with their plans to demolish an existing house off Corn Neck Road (Plat 4, Lot 63) and replace it with a new home and add other structures. The board closed the public hearing on the application after pointed comments by the members, but without making a decision.

Last September, the Gelsominis proposed to demolish the existing single-family dwelling on the property and construct a single-family dwelling, accessory residential structure, spa and in-ground pool. The new single-family dwelling would exceed the square footage and cubic feet limits in the town’s Zoning Ordinance.

The original proposal raised concerns from members of the Planning Board and the Committee for the Great Salt Pond raised concerns about the wetlands on the property, the buildings’ proximity to the Great Salt Pond, and concerns that the development appeared too large for the lot.

On Jan. 11, the Gelsominis’ architect, Greg Yalanis of Spring Street Studio, presented a revised plan with reduced dimensions for both the main house and the accessory dwelling. The main house would have a 4,143 square foot footprint (17 percent smaller than the original). The accessory building’s footprint would be 1,792 square feet (21 percent smaller).

For the Feb. 10 hearing, the amended application included new lighting, planting and landscaping plans.

Project Manager Ken Cole of Green Hill Environmental stated the application now listed five total bedrooms, down from six - four bedrooms in the main house, and one in the residential accessory structure. The stormwater and the septic system would be unchanged, however, sized to accommodate the original six bedrooms. Cole added that the driveways on the property would remain in the same position, with the possibility of filling in depressions where needed.

“There was a substantial reduction in the house at the last meeting from the first time,” said the Gelsominis’ attorney Joe Priestley.

The Planning Board members focused their comments on the scale of the project.

“I like to distill these things down to their essence,” member Sam Bird said, “and I think the essence of this project is that we still have a residence that is in a prominent and visible place on the island, and also in an environmentally sensitive place on the island. In essence when we look at the reduction that is going to be sought for the wetland buffers and the permission that is being sought beyond reasonable limits for the house size, the beyond line is the applicant is looking to waive environmental protections in order to build a house that is bigger than we feel should be built in the first place,” said Bird.

“This is a house that is bigger than the Atlantic Inn and the Harborside Inn,” said member Christine Grele. “We need to think about that. I don’t know if it’s fair to the applicant to keep coming back if we haven’t really addressed that.”

Member Socha Cohen pointed out that the applicants need approval from the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council to proceed.

“CRMC requires a 200-foot buffer zone, which this plan does not meet,” Cohen said. “If approved by the Planning Board, the application before us would not only show support for a sizable CRMC variance, it would also support the construction of a home whose footprint is 2.1 times larger than that of a standard house, with a living area 1.5 times larger, a total gross area 1.6 times larger, as well as a total building volume 1.6 times larger.”

The Committee for the Great Salt Pond expressed several concerns in its Jan. 31 letter to the Planning Board: the access way to the property, which “goes through fresh and salt water marshes”; a “buffer reduction from 200 feet to 150 feet”; and a conflict with the 2016 New Shoreham Comprehensive Plan. The letter said, “the size of the house, expanse of impervious surfaces and proximity to the pond (reduced buffer) is in conflict with multiple sections of the Comprehensive Plan including chapters regarding land use, development, the Great Salt Pond and Environmental Stewardship.”

When Chair Margie Comings polled the members for their thoughts, the trend was to not accept the revised plan.

“As I said, I think the bottom line is they are looking to build a house that is larger than our zoning ordinances will allow without further review,” said Bird. “In order to build that house they have to go back to CRMC and ask for reductions in buffer zones. This is like murdering your parents and asking for forgiveness because you’re an orphan. From what we heard at the last meeting this was their best and final offer in terms of reduction. I don’t think they are interested in doing anything substantially less than what they have shown.”

“I want to give the applicant every chance [to] revise plans. Right now if the plans won’t change I won’t need more information,” said Grele.

Cohen and member Bill Rose agreed with Grele.

“This is a very sensitive site. I feel for them as human beings, but from a planning perspective I don’t need any more information. It might be a great house in the wrong site,” added member Mary Anderson.

Comings’s motion to close the public hearing passed unanimously.

“We will pick this up next month [at the next Planning Board meeting on March 10] and make a final decision on a recommendation of the Zoning Board,” said Comings.

Beach access stair waivers

The Board also considered Michelle Marino’s request for Development Plan Review, needed for a Special Use Permit and requests for waivers for her application to construct stairs over the bluff at her Southeast Road property (Plat 8, Lot 42). The beach access stairs would be built as part of a shoreline stabilization project.

“The reason we are in front of you today [is we are] proposing some stairs in the coastal zone,” said Matt Lundsted, Principal Engineer of consulting firm Comprehensive Environmental. “But the real project Mrs. Marino is doing [is addressing] substantial erosion that is taking place along part of the bluff in front of their property. We are proposing non-structural vegetation solutions by cutting back the cliff slope a little and creating a stabilized slope with vegetation and core logs.”

“The whole point of the project is to get the vegetation to grow and to prevent the groundwater and storm water from causing erosion,” added Lundsted.

Comings made a motion to accept the waivers for the application, which was approved 6-1. A public hearing on the application was set for March 10.