2013-03-28 / Front Page

Modified plans for Simpatico gets approval

Board wants to make sure restaurant fits with village
By Nick Pereira

Owners of Simpatico Jamestown presented a motion on March 20 to the Planning Commission to modify a previous application to alter the restaurant. New fire-code regulations enacted since the original consent now prohibit some of the restaurant’s planned renovations.

Simpatico Jamestown is the restaurant that will open at 13 Narragansett Ave., the property previously occupied by Trattoria Simpatico. Phyllis Bedard sold the property to Newport resident Ben Brayton on Nov. 1 after more than 20 years of ownership.

Last week, attorney John Murphy representing Simpatico said the restaurant needed the approval quickly “so the business can open and maintain the garden appearance approved as before.”

According to Murphy, the restaurant hopes to complete work by April.

Originally, remodeling included several canvas tents that would shade an expanded outdoor seating area. Now, Simpatico is asking to replace the tents with a waterproof pergola to shade the outdoor dining area.

According to architect Bill Burgin, plantings would be woven though the pergola creating a “garden structure.” Burgin then passed around photos from the Jamestown Historical Society that showed pergolas in Jamestown’s past in order to demonstrate that the new design would fit the village concept.

“You do see pergolas everywhere in Jamestown in a garden setting,” said Commissioner Mick Cochran.

The Planning Commission approved the tents in early December. The hearing was lengthy and covered a wide variety of issues, including, signage, parking, color and the railings along Narragansett Avenue.

At the time, the railings were the most contentious issue because they would be made from pipes and wires. State law requires railings at the location for safety reasons. Several commission members were concerned that the proposed railings would fail to jell with the rest of the village, where wood shingles dominate the streetscape.

The railings would be “unfitting” in the village, said Commission Rosemary Enright at the December meeting.

Concerns over the railings surfaced again last week. Several times the hearing had to be refocused.

“All we’re looking at today is the replacement of the tents along Narragansett Avenue,” said Vice Chairman Duncan Pendlebury.

Murphy and Town Planner Lisa Bryer both agreed that the pergola was the only issue on the table.

However, the commission continued to return to the issue of the railings. At one point, “modesty panels” were suggested, although nobody defined exactly what that would entail. Suggestions included actual panels, latticework and plantings.

“There are sidewalk cafes all over Europe without modesty panels,” argued Murphy.

The commission ultimately compromised and unanimously approved Simpatico’s request, with one caveat: railings at the top of the stone wall and restaurant deck should be screened with vegetation from sidewalk view.

Chairman Mike Swistak recused himself from the discussion because of a conflict of interest involving family members.

Swistak resumed his duties and the commission heard a request from John Somyk. The applicant was seeking a variance in order to build a home on an L-shaped lot on Beacon Avenue that is surrounded by wetlands.

Somyk had appeared before the commission several times, but each time the matter was continued in order to obtain more information.

Somyk retained the services of George Gifford, a wetlands biologist, who prepared an impact report for the lot. He said that Gifford’s report “added a couple of rows of plantings such as spruce.” According to Gifford, there are certain types of plants that can protect wetlands from impact.

“When finished, there would be more plantings than there are now,” said Somyk. Currently, the lot is mostly grass. Gifford’s report predicted zero impact on the neighboring wetlands once construction and plantings were complete. Members of the Conservation Committee spoke in opposition to Somyk’s application.

“We have extensive concerns on a big picture,” said interim Conservation Commission Chairwoman Maureen Coleman. “The dwelling didn’t move, that is the big issue.”

While Rhode Island only requires a 75-foot setback from wetlands, the town ordinance calls for a 150-foot setback. The lot’s shape makes it impossible to meet the town-mandated setback of 150 feet, said Somyk.

“Is the state recognizing some new technology?” asked Swistak.

A primary concern of the setback is placement of septic systems and Swistak wanted to know if the state was more up to date on current systems.

“Not at all,” said Coleman.

“If I could move the house, I would move the house,” said Somyk. He went on to say he would work with the commission and meet any requirements it chose to place on the land.

“The stuff I’m proposing is better than it is now,” he said.

Currently, there is a home on the lot, but there are no fertilizer restrictions, septic improvements or water-control methods. Somyk said his application addresses all those problems.

“The comprehensive plan tells me I have to strictly enforce a 150- foot setback,” said Swistak. Commissioner Mike Jacquard echoed Swistak’s statement.

But Mike Smith disagreed. “He has been paying property taxes and kept the property in good condition,” said Smith. “I think you got no chance in hell of getting this passed and that is an injustice.”

The commission again tabled a final vote on Somyk’s application so staff could continue to study the situation. But commission members indicted that despite personal feelings, they would enforce the setback and vote to deny the application.

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