2007-04-12 / Front Page

Oversized building on Clinton Avenue faces continued criticism by neighbors

By Michaela Kennedy

Downtown neighbors showed up at the April 4 Planning Commission meeting to discuss the new building for Jack's Electric on Clinton Avenue. The building, constructed by embattled owner John Brittain, has not been granted a certificate of occupancy due to discrepancies between the approved plan and the actual construction.

Brittain requested approval of his amended development plan for the site. He apologized to the board for any miscommunication, but defended the changes made. He claimed he spoke to Building Official Fred Brown before any changes were made. "I felt I went to the right source," Brittain said.

Planning Commission Chairman Gary Girard said the board and client would discuss the planner's memorandum from Feb 15 of this year. The five-page memo revealed a list of "items of signifi- cant non-compliance."

Girard called the issue "a comedy of errors." He recalled the original review two years ago, when the board members "all wrestled with the size." He also recalled the commission's consideration of the maximum use of the building. "The third floor was an attic and didn't even exist. We are also talking about parking. These changes are cumulative," Girard said, noting that another floor required six more parking spaces. "Most troublesome is that this went on for two years," Girard added.

Commissioner Richard Ventrone asked why Brittain did not respond to Town Planner Lisa Bryer's letter from July 2006. "I really didn't think it was a major problem," Brittain said.

Girard voiced concern with the electrical layout inside the building. "It looks like it's set up to be business condos," He commented. Girard also commented that no offices were approved, "but now offices are present, the mechanical area is not in the same place; it's moved to the third floor with additional stairs up to the third floor." The approved plan had only an attic crawl space with pull-down stair access, he added.

Brittain defended the layout, saying it was designed for energy efficiency.

Bryer said she had no recollection of speaking with the building inspector about the changes. She also noted no recollection of a request for a third floor.

Town Solicitor Christopher Orton voiced concern about whether the commission had maintained jurisdiction over the plan. "You have ability to consider if modifications are appropriate," Orton said.

Orton noted that the board heard testimony about what the building inspector approved. "But he is not here," Orton said, and advised the board not to accept the comments without confirmation.

The town building official later noted the third floor of the building, including stairs, was never discussed, among other changes made to the plan. "I disagree with his memory," Brown said.

The applicant said he would seek a special use permit to share parking with the property behind the lot, owned by abutter Edward Holland. Holland gave his consent in a letter to the planning office.

Commissioner Betty Hubbard suggested a site plan of both properties, and Girard called for an easement on Holland's property that would ensure continued use of the parking spaces.

Some neighbors stood up to show opposition to the new construction. Frank Andres of Clinton Avenue reminded the commission of the residentially-zoned area. He suggested the applicant would "beg for forgiveness rather than ask permission." Andres urged the board to "be courageous. Don't reward that behavior."

Jean Scott, an attorney reprethe senting Andres, noted the foot and elevation differences on the north facade of the building. "We think it may affect the turning radius of the trucks," Scott said.

Paul Levesque of Coronado Street urged the commission to follow the law. "If I did that on my home, I'd have to take it down," he said.

Two local merchants showed support for the building. William Munger of Conanicut Marine Services stood up to say the presentation of the building "far exceeds" other buildings in the area. Deborah Swistak of Jamestown Designs added that shared parking "is a very viable practice in Jamestown." The commission agreed to continue the hearing.

In other business, the Planning Commission unanimously approved recommendation of a development plan on Luther Street for a new mixed use building. Robert Cournoyer, the engineer representing applicant Frank Henderson, noted reductions in the building size, and answered questions concerning parking.

Paul Levesque of Coronado Street pointed out that the property was located on state-owned North Main Road, and the development may be subject to state approval. "Physical alteration permits apply to increased traffic flow," he said. Cournoyer agreed to ask the state department of transportation whether a permit was required.

Stephen Furtado of North Main Road voiced concern that a change to commercial use would be irreversible. "You're changing the whole character of the neighborhood," he said.

Bryer reminded those present that the position of the Planning Commission "is only advisory." Girard directed questions to zoning, because "they grant the variance."

In a continued review of a new adult day care construction at 49 North Main Rd., applicant Gail Sheahan reported the plan was revised because of wetlands found at the rear of the property. "We lost more than half of the recreational area," she said.

Kenneth Scott Brewer, a contractor for the applicant, noted changes made in the drainage design. He also noted a physical alteration approval was received from the state, and wetland approval was pending from the Department of Environmental Management. The commission voted for recommendation of the plan, subject to the state wetland approval.

Also in old business, the commission voted to release a performance bond of $26,000 to Norton Reamer for improvements made to Hull Cove Farm Road.

In an open forum, Cynthia Levesque from Coronado Street stood up to comment on the Randall land development project on Narragansett Avenue, which was presented at the previous meeting. Levesque reminded the board that the main street was state owned. "Any development on Narragansett Avenue that seeks a variance should seek a physical alteration permit from the state," she said.

Commissioner Barry Holland was absent.

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