Board approves variances for proposal similar to Osprey House
The Osprey House on East Shore Road may soon gain a neighbor with a similar architectural pedigree, the Zoning Board of Review decided Tuesday night.
The home on East Shore Road has remained a feather in the Zoning Board’s cap, as member Richard Boren put it, of a “showplace on a very irregular lot.” The board put Estes Twombly Architects through several meetings before approval. About four other narrow lots in the same neighborhood also hug the land between the road and Narragansett Bay. They have been home mainly to fishing shacks until the Osprey House, designed by Estes Twombly, arrived and captured the top prize in 2006 from the Rhode Island chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Mark and Maureen Rotondo came forward Oct. 23 with drawings for a new structure at 472 East Shore Road designed by Paul Attemann, an architect with Union Studio in Providence. Attemann is a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, and his plan for a threebedroom single-family home won favor with the Zoning Board. Chairman Thomas Ginnerty and several other panel members said they liked the design.
The Rotondos petitioned the board for relief, allowing them to build a 2,000-square-foot singlefamily home on the lot. They requested three-dimensional variances, partly to accommodate neighbors’ concerns and partly to avoid building the house on stilts on dangerous coastal area called a Coastal A Zone.
Ginnerty said the proposed plan has a front-yard setback of 16 feet, 4 inches from the road. The zoning ordinance requires a 40-foot setback. The plan also calls for both side setbacks of 16 feet, where the ordinance requires 30 feet.
Nonetheless, the panel voted 4-1, with David Nardolillo opposed, to grant the variances.
Nardolillo said the ordinance stipulates the “least amount of relief” should be granted, and he maintained the Rotondos didn’t need any relief at all. Their lot was large enough to build the house within the normal setbacks, he said, if the plan were changed to place the house on stilts inside the so-called Coastal A Zone.
The Coastal A Zone refers to an area that can flood during a storm surge and experience “residual wave action,” attorney Mark Liberati explained. Building may be allowed in the Coastal A Zone if the house is up on stilts with breakaway walls.
Ginnerty said Nardolillo was correct “technically,” but then argued the “least relief” rule was “a little abstract.” He didn’t see the value, he said, of pushing the house back on the lot just to meet the setbacks. Moreover, Ginnerty said, he typically objects to the variances because the applicants are trying to “build a bigger house” than the lot affords. This isn’t the case here, he said, and added the size of this house is reasonable and the proposed setbacks don’t harm the neighbors. The front setback is from the road, he said.
Boren said the design is “great,” which calls for 1,020 square feet on the first floor and 933 on the second. “I just can’t see it being any smaller than that,” he said. He pointed out that the new home would be centered on the lot.
James Houle, a certified realestate appraiser, testified on the applicants’ behalf. He said the lot posed problems due to its irregular size, but advocated for the variances, saying it was better for the neighborhood and for the “general welfare” to build normal-sized houses in the neighborhood, rather than small houses that would fit the ordinance.
“It’s a unique property,” Ginnerty said, and added he would rather see an architect-designed house than “something just thrown together.”
During the discussion, Nardolillo asked why the architect placed the house outside the Coastal A Zone.
Attemann said the couple wanted a concrete foundation and a garage under the first floor. If the house had been located in the Coastal A Zone, there would not have been sufficient space to build the garage under the first floor. Liberati also said the couple made the decision to center the house on the lot to avoid impinging on the neighbors’ views.
The new house is 35 feet high and is replacing a house on the lot. The new house will be more conforming with the zoning ordinance, Liberati indicated.
The couple will still need approval from the Coastal Resources Management Council before breaking ground.
In other business, the Zoning Board also granted Knollwood Builders relief to build a twobedroom single-family house on North Road. The lot, which is at the corner of a paper road named Valley Avenue, is currently vacant. Robert Marcello requested a dimensional variance, allowing him to build 20 feet away from the north setback instead of the 40 feet required. He also requested another variance to accommodate a septic system 117 feet away from the fresh water wetlands, where 150 feet is usually required. The plans had already gone before the Conservation and Planning commissions, and the state Department of Environmental Management approved the design of the septic system.