Zoning Board approves two applications for walkovers on Spring Street

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 6:15pm
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Applications for two individual walkover stairs for beach access located on Spring Street were approved by the Zoning Board at a virtual meeting on Dec. 1. Applicants Douglas and Barbara Faron (Plat 8, Lot 79), and John Gardner and Rachel Horan (Plat 8, Lot 78) had submitted the applications, and had testified in public hearings on Nov. 19.

During the Dec. 1 meeting, member Steve Filippi read two written motions to approve the two applications for the walkover stairs, with Chair Kate Butcher seconding the motions. Both motions passed 5-0, with member Judy Cyronak recused.

The applications had previously been given approval by the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council, which concluded:

“The proposed bluff walkover structure is considered consistent with CRMC practice for providing pedestrian access over a coastal bluff on residential lots. Specifically, the facility is limited to 4-feet wide, there are no concrete footings (although sona tubes are acceptable), the design is properly fit to the slope to be established through non-structural shoreline protection and the base of the facility is located above the [mean high water] mark.”

The area on the bluffs where the stairs will be constructed “is also suitable for a walkover structure, whereas some bluffs on Block Island are not suitable due to greater elevation and steep grades. In addition, the proposed removable section at the base of the facility is also considered appropriate for the site conditions. On that basis, there are no CRMC objections; the facility would likely be authorized administratively once an application with local approval is submitted,” according to the CRMC.

Chair Kate Butcher noted that the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission felt that the “stair structures may lead to degradation” on the bluffs. The Planning Board recommended that a shared walkover structure would be preferred rather than two individual walkover structures; the Conservation Commission submitted an unfavorable advisory on the applications, recommending that a shared walkover structure is desired rather than two individual structures.

The Planning Board and Conservation Commission based their advisories on the recommendations stated in the 2016 New Shoreham Comprehensive Plan pertaining to the construction of individual beach access structures, which states:

“There is a concern that incremental approval of individual beach access structures, particularly stair structures, may lead to a cumulative degradation of the island’s scenic resources. Local regulations should be crafted and adopted to protect the aesthetic qualities of Block Island’s natural coastline and applications for beach access structures should be evaluated on the basis of multiple considerations including visual impacts.

“The coastline should be inventoried and areas where beach access structures may not be appropriate due to safety concerns, sensitive ecological conditions, or visual impacts on significant scenic resources should be identified for further protection within the local regulations. In crafting regulations, consideration and preference should be given to public beach access structures that serve greater numbers of people.”

Attorney Joe Priestley, representing the applicants, opened up the Nov. 19 public hearing on the Farons’ application. President and CEO of Natural Resource Services Scott Rabideau was also present for the applicants.

Rabideau, a coastal and freshwater biologist for the company, noted both applicants wanted to create “some type of a bluff restoration plan along the waterfront” — a combined non-structural protection plan for the shoreline below the two properties’ bluffs.

“One continuous bluff restoration project,” he said.

“These non-structural shoreline methods are accepted,” said Rabideau, adding the plan (designed and permitted by CRMC) would be an environmental advantage for the bluffs because it would help minimize shoreline erosion and protect the natural resources in the area.

Priestley asked applicant Doug Faron to explain his “thought process behind engaging Rabideau, and the need for the stairway and the location?”

“We engaged Scott to begin the planning and interaction with CRMC to create a lasting but environmentally-friendly protection of the bluff. The idea being is if you are spending this time, effort and expense to protect the bluff, we want to create access that creates minimal destruction,” said Faron.

Member Susan Bush asked Faron why he and his neighbor John Gardner Horan did not consider sharing one staircase. “Is there a good reason why you don’t want to go in on your neighbors on this?” asked Bush.

Faron shared a couple reasons as to why he and Horan wanted separate staircases, including: the location of the staircases on the lots; the characteristics of the lots; uncertainty in the future ownership of the lots; and having two staircases available if a storm were to damage one.

“We have been talking and evaluating,” said Faron.

Applicant John Gardner Horan also pointed out that the staircases would be designed and modeled for accessibility in removal, in the event of a storm and changing seasons.

“The point is that it is going to be removed and will maintain the bluff, otherwise these bluffs could be destroyed. [The staircase] could be a lightweight material,” said Horan.

Priestley provided a final statement for the applications, feeling that the staircases “will satisfy the requirements and control erosion.”

“I think that they will be designed to conform to siting and engineering standards,” said Priestley.

Grove Project approved

Plat 6, Lot 123

Bush read a motion to approve the ongoing Grove project at the Nov. 19 meeting, with the applicants seeking to construct an inn for employee housing and to relocate an original Cutting Cottage to this lot. Lark Hotels owns this lot, as well as The Gables and the Block Island Beach House.

The motion was seconded by Butcher, and the application passed 4-1, with members Steve Filippi and Judy Cyronak recused from the decision.