Owner of Hull Cove property appeals CRMC decision
Controversy over proposed construction of a two-story home on a seaside lot on Clarke’s Village Lane – which took four public hearings for the state’s coastal agency to ultimately decide against – will find its way back into the courts.
The Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) sent out its written decision on Feb. 14 following its April 2011 ruling denying the buffer-zone variance needed to build on the Hull Cove property. Mark Bard, who owns the contentious lot, had 30 days following the written ruling to appeal the decision.
According to the clerk’s office at Newport County Superior Court, an administrative appeal was filed by the plaintiff on March 14. No date has been set for further action and Bard’s attorney said the whole process could take up to six months.
“These appeals are all administrative,” said Beth Noonan, who is representing Bard. “It’s all generally based on the records below.”
Noonan said that rarely is there any new testimony at this point in the proceedings. Following a complaint to the Superior Court, each side writes a brief about the CRMC decision and a judge makes a ruling based on those briefs. Noonan said that if the Superior Court were to uphold the CRMC’s verdict, they would consider taking the matter to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The hullabaloo began when Bard, who bought the property for $500,000, began to plan construction of a three-bedroom, 24-by-62- foot dwelling with a 10-by-62-foot second floor cantilevered deck on the lot.
In May 2008, Bard filed an application to the Zoning Board of Review seeking a dimensional variance for relief from the front yard setback. He wanted a 15-foot variance to the required 30 feet. A public hearing was held three months later and the Zoning Board denied the request by unanimous vote.
Bard appealed the Zoning Board’s decision to Superior Court in October 2008, but it has yet to be heard. According to Pat Westall, zoning clerk, she was unsure of where the case currently stands relative to the town.
Following the denial for relief from zoning, Bard took his case to the CRMC. Bard filed for a 56-foot variance to the 75-foot setback requirement, and also a 42-foot variance to the 50-foot buffer-zone requirement. Four public hearings were held and nearly seven hours of testimony was heard from engineers, geologists, biologists and oceanographers on both sides. The hearings were held on Dec. 14, 2010, Jan. 25, 2011, Feb. 8, 2011, and April 12, 2011.
A group of abutting neighbors to Bard’s property hired Chris Little to represent them in front of the CRMC to object to the proposal. They argued that the 42-foot variance would leave just 8 feet between construction and the coastal bluff leading down to the cove. By having such a small buffer zone, said the objectors, it would expose the bluff to erosion.
Jane Austin of Save the Bay agreed with the objectors, saying, “Save the Bay calls on members of the council to uphold the buffer and deny the proposal. In spite of the extraordinary amount of time devoted to this case, it is a straightforward case.”
The CRMC concluded that the variances did not conform with the goals and policies of the Coastal Resource Management Program. They also decided that the variances “will result in significant adverse environmental imparts” and “due to the conditions of the site in question the standard will not cause the applicant an undue hardship.”
According to Bard’s appeal to the CRMC’s decision, its ruling was “in violation of constitutional, statutory and ordinance provisions.” The administrative appeal also said that the council’s verdict was “in excess of the authority granted to the board by statue and ordinance; affected by errors of law; clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence of the whole record; and arbitrary, capricious and characterized by an abuse of discretion and is clearly an unwarranted exercise of discretion.”
According to email to the Press on March 24 from Dr. Neil Blitz, on objector to the proposal, “This piece of coastal buffer zone is geologically unique and very subject to erosion. We have seen as much a 9-foot chunk fall off in one weather event. The abutting property lost 15 feet in a 1986 event. If allowed to build, the bluff would collapse further, and runoff would be channeled around both sides of the house causing more catastrophic erosion.”
Said Noonan, “We’ll let the record speak for itself.”