Hull Cove proposal denied by CRMC
Four months after its initial public hearing on a proposed waterfront dwelling to be constructed on Hull Cove, the Coastal Resources Management Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to deny the buffer zone variance needed in order to build on the property.
“I disagree with Save the Bay,” said CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian, following testimony and public comments during the April 12 hearing. “This is not an easy decision.”
Tikoian said that he doesn’t like to tell a property owner that they are not allowed to build on their land, but that he trusted the research done by his staff and decided to vote against the variance.
CRMC members followed suit: After brief comments from three councilors who opposed the variance — and praised the studies of Coastal Geologist Janet Freedman and Civil Engineer Ken Anderson — a motion was passed and denial of the variance was approved unanimously.
Mark Bard, who owns the lot located on the north end of Clarke’s Village Lane, bought the property two years ago for $500,000. In August 2008, Bard brought his case in front of the Jamestown Zoning Board of Review asking for a variance because the 15-foot setback did not meet the required 30 feet. The motion to deny was unanimously approved because it did not provide sufficient evidence that the request was for the least amount of relief necessary.
On Dec. 14, 2010, Bard brought his case in front of the CRMC: four hearings totaling nearly seven hours of testimony from geologists, biologists, oceanographers and engineers followed.
On Tuesday, Bard — represented by attorney Beth Noonan — called his final witness, Dr. Peter Rosen, a coastal geologist from Northeastern University who had previously testifi ed in the case.
Rosen was brought in as a rebuttal witness to refute the testimony from Anderson and Dr. Frank Bohlen, a physical oceanography professor for the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut. Bohlen was a witness who testified on behalf of the objectors, a group of abutting neighbors to Bard’s property who hired attorney
Chris Little to represent them.
“My observation is that this scarfing is not related to wave action,” said Rosen. “The bluff seems to be totally secure and totally stable.”
The stability of the bluff on Bard’s lot was the main concern during the hearings: The proposed 24-by-62-foot three-bedroom dwelling would only leave a coastal buffer zone of eight feet, opposed to the 50 feet required by the CRMC. The objectors argued that the bluff was not stable enough and could not withstand future erosion, especially with a home so close to the edge.
Testimony at Tuesday’s meeting became heated at one point when Little, during cross-examination, pulled out a piece of “phyllite” from a plastic bag and asked Rosen to inspect it. Tikoian asked where Little acquired the rock and added that he objected to it; Noonan also objected to the questioning.
Hands were raised and objectors stood up in the crowd. “Let’s have order,” the chairman said. At one point, Bard walked out of the hearing obviously frustrated at the inclusion of the rock.
“Simply, is this the type of rock that is typical on this bluff?” Little asked. It was the only question that Noonan didn’t object to and the chairman agreed and asked Rosen to answer the question.
“No,” Rosen said, because it was a different color. According to the objectors prior to the meeting, the rock was taken from the Hull Cove shoreline.
During a recess, Little dropped the rock on the floor while half of the council members where still in the room. One councilor remarked, “You’re going to have to vacuum that up.”
“Well, I’ll pick some of it up,” Little said. “It’s very crumbly.”
Varoujan Karentz, an abutting neighbor who was not part of the objectors, spoke at length about his experiences with the bluff and the shoreline since he moved into his Clark’s Village Lane home in 1984.
“I just want to preface my remarks by saying that we are not for or against the Bard proposal,” he said. He used examples of how nature has affected his property over the years.
He said that he woke up one morning in 1986 and “8 to 10 to 12 feet of my property was just gone” due to surface water. He mentioned that Hurricane Bob in 1991 destroyed the community stairs to the shoreline and the Jamestown Police Department forced him to evacuate his home.
He also added that he spent the winter in Florida. Upon returning last week, he noticed an approximately 3-by-3-foot pear-shaped boulder on the shore — which has been standing there since 1984 when he moved in and also has the date “1957” etched into it — was tipped over after the harsh winter.
The final comments before closing arguments came from Jane Austin, a senior policy advisor for Save the Bay.
“Save the Bay calls on members of the council to uphold the buffer and deny the proposal,” she said. “In spite of the extraordinary amount of time devoted to this case, it is a straight-forward and common-sense case.”
“For the CRMC to weaken it’s standards because the town [of Jamestown] kept theirs turns logic on its head,” she added.
Noonan closed by saying that the only reason the objectors were interested in this case is because it impacts their views of the bay. There is no Rhode Island law that promises views, she said.
Before the vote was taken, Tikoian asked Anderson if a smaller dwelling could be build on the property that wouldn’t need such a small buffer zone. “I’m not sure anything smaller than 24-feet [wide] can be a house,” he said, and asked if it was 18-feet wide would it change his opinion.
“As we noted in our staff report,” Anderson said, “a structure can be put there. It might not be dwelling. It’s not for me to determine.”
“At the end of the day,” Tikoian said, “there really can’t be a house on here at all.”