Zoning Board considers new addition
During a lengthy discussion at the Zoning Board’s recent meeting, witnesses testified before the board at a public hearing on an application submitted by BI Harborview Partners II, LLC to put an addition onto an existing building on Corn Neck Road that will require relief from the town’s setback zoning requirements. The board held the public hearing via telecommunications on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
The application from B.I. Harborview Partners II, LLC is asking for a variance to demolish an existing kitchen, and to construct an addition of 32- by 40-feet on the east side of the original structure on Corn Neck Road (Plat 4, Lot 29), with three sheds as accessory structures. Attorney Nick Gorham represented the applicant, and introduced three witnesses to speak on behalf of the application: owner Richard Hayes, appraiser Ned Caswell, and licensed land surveyor John Comeau.
Caswell noted the following in a letter addressed to the Town of New Shoreham Zoning Board:
“I have reviewed the application that is before you tonight to allow a [variance] to construct an addition to an existing non-conforming residential use containing a 1,280 square foot footprint of which a section of 665.57 square feet is within the town’s 50 foot set back regulation, therefore being the subject of this variance request. The only relief requested is 21.47 feet. The remaining proposed new construction to the existing structure meets all town standards for this non-conforming use. I have personally visited the neighborhood and the site in order to determine if this new proposed addition to the existing structure will have any adverse effects to the neighborhood.”
Attorney Andrew Teitz was representing abutter Jane Emsbo.
As a quick synopsis, the supporting witnesses felt an addition would be most appropriate for the original structure, rather than to tear down the original structure; they stated the house had sentimental value and history attached. The opposing attorney Teitz stated the new addition to the original structure would be encroaching close to the Emsbo’s property line, and that the applicant had “no consideration for other options or tearing the house down.”
The public hearing started with attorney Gorham calling the witnesses to testify for the application.
Gorham asked Comeau if the proposal for the original structure and the new addition would “meet the four percent” total maximum lot building coverage that is required.
“Yes, it does… the total building lot coverage is 3.71 percent including the [accessory] sheds,” said Comeau.
“Can you think of any way to do this that would not require a relief from the Zoning Board to build the addition?” asked Gorham.
Comeau stated “no, no other way.”
Gorham introduced Caswell as the second witness, who has been a certified real estate appraiser for 35 years. Caswell had previously sent to the Zoning Board his background qualifications in detailed documents and supporting materials.
“I did a visit to the island and did an inspection of the property, [and] looked at the zoning application for the addition,” said Caswell, adding he did a neighborhood scan and took photographs of the residence “to get a good idea of the application.”
Caswell added the application “appears to be conforming to the neighborhood. An addition would be more acceptable to the marketplace.”
Gorham posed a similar question to Caswell if there were other options available than to build an addition to the original structure.
“Can you think of any way possible to configure this place that would require less relief than what Mr. Hayes is asking for?” asked Gorham.
“No… I can’t think of any way doing that,” said Caswell.
“Would it be fair to say it is indeed the least relief necessary?” asked Gorham.
“Yes,” said Caswell.
Caswell stressed it would be “a major construction project… to start over from scratch” for the lot, including the possibility of changing and moving a septic system on the lot.
The final witness to speak on behalf of the application was Richard Hayes, whose family has owned the property “for over 45 years.”
“We have been coming to Block Island for 55 years. We have a couple properties in this neighborhood,” said Hayes.
Gorham asked Hayes to explain his interests in building an addition to the structure compared to other options to consider.
“The fact of the matter is — in order to knock down the house, I’m going to have to reposition the septic tank and I can’t tell you if it is going to work,” said Hayes.
“History is important on Block Island,” added Hayes. “This property was built in 1890. I have some reasons for wanting to keep the property… this property was built by one of the Mitchells, it has sentimental value to me. I don’t want to tear it down – I just want to add an addition.”
Attorney Teitz stated “Our concern here and objection is that this does not meet the standard for hardship.”
“[Caswell] should have had the septic system shown on the plans if it was going to be an issue in the buildable area. All we got is that it’s cheaper to build onto the existing house than to build a new house. A financial hardship doesn’t apply. This isn’t an addition, it’s twice the size of what is existing. The existing house is close to the lot line and so are some of the other structures,” said Teitz.
Public input on the application
Attorney Teitz did not have a witness to call on to provide testimony, but Lisa EmsboMattingly spoke on the behalf of Teitz’s client.
“Thank you for your effort and time. My name is Lisa Emsbo-Mattingly, daughter of Jane Emsbo. As a longtime resident and neighbor, I am expressing our strong opposition to the variance on Lot 29,” said Emsbo-Mattingly.
Emsbo-Mattingly stated the proposed structure “is infringing onto our property, and [Hayes] has done this on other properties. We do not understand why the Zoning Board would grant a variance,” said EmsboMattingly.
Island resident Bob McDevitt shared similar thoughts of opposition to the application during the public comment period.
“I am a person that has no problem with people doing with what they should on their own property. But that house is within six to eight feet [to the property line]… and adding another large structure towards a property line - I’m opposed to it,” said McDevitt.
Katy Michaud Dirks also joined the session and noted the original structure on the lot was a recent purchase by Hayes.
“I know that Mr. Hayes bought the house only a few years ago… However, if you purchase a house, you have an opportunity to look at the zoning laws and determine if this is the house you wanted. If you didn’t want to own an antique small house… it just seems like the wrong house was purchased. It shows an intention to put a large addition on,” said Dirks.
Final remarks from the attorneys
Attorneys Gorham and Teitz provided final remarks for the public hearing.
“I think the board should approve it. It should be 5-0. There’s nothing bad about this and I would ask for a vote… we have done everything we can to make it the least relief necessary,” said Gorham.
“First of all, I want to say density does matter. What we are having here is an issue of do they meet the standards or dimensional variance for the yard setbacks… it’s certainly not the least relief necessary. He could build a new house, or come back with a smaller house, or architectural design to provide more distance. But he isn’t – he’s shoving a McMansion on the property line. He shouldn’t be building it on the lot line. I request that you deny his application at this time,” said Teitz.
Zoning Board Chair Elizabeth Connor made a motion “to close the hearing and to take the matter under advisement.” The decision for the application will be rendered at the next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 23.