Public hearing continued for staircase application

Thu, 03/18/2021 - 6:00pm
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Two items on the Planning Board’s March 10 agenda were deferred until the board’s next meeting in April, but not before strong statements were put on the record in each case.

The public hearing on Michelle Marino’s plan to construct a staircase over the bluff at her Southeast Road property (Plat 8, Lot 42), as part of a shoreline stabilization project, was continued for further review after testimony by the applicant’s engineer and a written objection by two neighbors. And Nick and Pamela Gelsomini’s quest to build a new, larger house and other structures on their Corn Neck property was delayed after the board’s chair responded to the applicants’ recent letter published in The Block Island Times.

Abutters protest stairway

Matt Lundsted, principal engineer of the consulting fi rm Comprehensive Environmental, said: “We are here for a Special Use Permit for some stairs. The applicant and their neighbor want to do some nonstructural re-vegetation of a failed slope, which is impacting their neighborhood,” said Lundsted. “The plan has gone to [the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council] and we have preliminary determination. We would like to have these stairs for maintenance access to maintain the vegetation and core log installing. These stairs are back about 150 feet from the slope at the beach. [The stairs] don’t get them to the beach – it’s for access to perform maintenance on the plantings,” said Lundsted, adding “we don’t believe the stairs will be visible from the beach.”

Town Planner Alison Ring read a letter from abutters Margaret Homans and Katy Homans into the record:

“Our section of the bluff is just as fragile and subject to erosion as Michelle Marino’s, and we have watched it move back at the same rate of about a foot and a half per year, so we truly sympathize with her wish to the erosion.”

“In our understanding, the erosion is largely the result of below-surface water seeping out of the bluff, in addition to sea encroachment at beach level. This terminal moraine bluff consists of clay and sand, and the fl ow of subsurface water dissolves it at a relentless pace. Block Islanders know that the erosion may be delayed, but it can’t be stopped. Moreover, efforts to stop erosion in one place can result in deeper erosion elsewhere.”

“We are deeply concerned that the proposed work, intended to stabilize Michelle’s section of bluff, will not only fail to do so in the long run, but may hasten the erosion of the bluff below and on either side of it, as the subsurface water seeps out around the plantings and stairs and as other unintended consequences of the construction occur.”

The abutters requested the board consider having a geologist review the proposed site. In light of the comments, Chair Margie Comings made a motion to continue the hearing to April to “hear a report from a geologist” under Town Engineer Jim Geremia’s office. The motion passed unanimously.

Chair defends process on Gelsomini application

Before announcing the board’s decision on whether to grant an advisory to the Zoning Board for Nick and Pam Gelsomini’s application off Corn Neck Road (Plat 4, Lot 63), Comings read a statement on behalf of the board responding to Pam Gelsomini’s letter to the editor in The Block Island Times. Gelsomini’s letter described their application’s proposed plans for a Special Use Permit to demolish the existing single-family dwelling on the property and construct a single-family dwelling, accessory residential structure, spa and in-ground pool. 

“Because of the letter to the editor in The Block Island Times, I want to take a minute and assure everyone that the Planning Board has followed the ordinances for a Special Use Permit and treated the applicant the same way we have treated all other applicants who have come before us. These ordinances (Section 306 E and 406) were drafted by the Planning Board and approved by the Town Council and have been in effect for a few years.”

“The Gelsomini home has four threshold triggers for a SUP: building footprint of 4,143 square feet (trigger is 2,000); living area of 4,808 square feet (trigger is 3,300) gross area is 7,904 square feet (trigger is 5,000) and building volume is 69,915 cubic feet (trigger is 45,000). By any standard, this is a very large house for Block Island.”

“Besides the size of the project, the Planning Board over the last six months has also looked at how the structures fi t into the landscape around the Great Salt Pond, coastal wetlands, stormwater runoff and management, site disturbance, landscaping, hardscaping, and lighting,” read Comings.

Comings originally made a motion for the Planning Board to send an unfavorable advisory to the Zoning Board, but after receiving comments from fellow board members, Comings withdrew her motion and tabled the matter to the April meeting so those comments could be considered.