2014-02-06 / News

Walcott Avenue tower will rise above limit

By Margo Sullivan

The first three homes on the west side of Walcott Avenue all have a turret rising above their roofs. The Zoning Board of Review approved a variance for 2 Walcott Avenue (right) to build a new steeple. 
Photo by Tim Riel The first three homes on the west side of Walcott Avenue all have a turret rising above their roofs. The Zoning Board of Review approved a variance for 2 Walcott Avenue (right) to build a new steeple. Photo by Tim Riel A new spire soaring 42 feet, 4 inches over the property at 2 Walcott Ave. will be allowed, the Zoning Board of Review decided on Jan. 29. The board had to approve a variance because the height exceeds the 35-foot limit.

The decision to grant a variance for height, though not unprecedented, was rare, according to member Richard Allphin.

David and Mary Dacquino applied for dimensional variances to replace their home on Walcott Avenue with an entirely new structure designed by the Newport architectural firm Burgin Lambert. The existing building has a turret, as do two neighboring homes, and the couple, their architect and their attorney successfully argued the proposal was in keeping with the historic character of the surrounding area.

A turret is a tower that projects vertically from the wall of a building.

Several neighbors attended the meeting, and all supported the project. No one spoke against it.

The original house was built in 1890 on Lincoln Street and was moved around 1906 to its present location at the corner of Walcott and South Walcott avenues, attorney Mark Liberati explained.

Mr. Dacquino said the hope had been to restore the existing house that had been designed by architect

Charles Bevin. The house does have some features that can be saved and incorporated into the new building, he said, specifically stained-glass windows and front-door bannisters. Most of the home’s historical integrity, however, has been lost over the years.

The windows, for example, are not particularly worth saving, according to Liberati.

“The house is built on a feeble foundation, and the mortars are wasting away,” he said.

It would not be worth the effort to “lift up the building and pour a new foundation,” Liberati explained, given the amount of work that would have to be done to rehabilitate the old frame.

As an alternative, the Dacquinos hired Burgin Lambert Architects to design the replacement.

“The house will be brought up to current standards,” Liberati said. The plan calls for reducing the number of bedrooms from six to four, he said.

The replacement house on a corner is actually bounded by three streets, allowing for a 50-foot buffer on three sides, he said. The front setback, however, of about 14 feet, will need variances. Specifically, the house encroaches about 4.3 feet into the required setback on Brook Street, and the front porch and steps are also encroaching by about 1 1/2 feet.

Dacquino said he already has improved the landscaping and built a carriage house that is “fully compliant” with the zoning ordinance. But after problems surfaced with the main house over the foundation and the structure, ultimately, the decision was made to replace it with a similar home on approximately the same footprint.

“My original intention was to restore the house,” Dacquino said, since he and his wife have undertaken similar efforts in the past. “We’ve done three of those projects, but historically, there’s just not enough to save on this house. The interior is butchered up pretty well. Even the heating and electric are in pretty bad shape.”

Addressing the turret, Dacquino said they call the feature “the witch’s hat,” because it’s really not consistent with the rest of the house’s design and has structural problems, as does the rest of the building. He cited issues with some of the main beams, as well as with the foundation. Dacquino has owned the house four years.

The windows are drafty, he added. Worse, the foundation is crumbling due to damage from water, termites and rot. Moreover, there are issues with insulation.

“The chimney is literally holding up most of the house,” he said. “Honestly, we want to match the investment our neighbors have done in rest of the area.”

Tearing down the existing house and rebuilding would also cause less disruption to the neighborhood, he said.

Dacquino said he was also requesting a demolition permit.

Zoning Chairman Richard Boren asked about the turret. He wanted to know if the feature belonged to Bevins’ original design.

The turret probably was not original to the house, the couple indicated.

“As far as I know,” Mrs. Dacquino replied, “the house was originally a cottage.”

She described the structure as a single-family gambrel that was moved in 1906 to its present site.

According to the Dacquinos, the turret was constructed because two neighboring homes that were constructed around 1900 also had turrets.

The idea was “to make it look Three Sisters-ish,” she said, referring to the three Victorian cottages overlooking the harbor near the site of the former Thorndyke Hotel.

Allphin had a concern about the turret. Maybe once, he said, has the Zoning Board granted a height variance.

However, Allphin, who is an alternate and did not vote, and the other board members were satisfied the variance should be allowed. The new turret will be bigger than the old one, primarily because the base will be wider, but will be lower than the two neighboring turrets. The height of the roof, however, will conform to the regulations. Mr. Dacquino said the couple had wanted to build a third floor for the water views but decided to forego the option.

In other business, the Zoning Board of Review continued Conanicut Marine’s request to modify a special-use permit to allow the construction of two new boat storage sheds on leased land at 260 Conanicut Ave.

Finally, the board reorganized and elected new officers. Boren was elected the new chairman, replacing Thomas Ginnerty who had reached his term limit and stepped down. The new vice chairman is Joseph Logan.

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