2014-04-03 / Front Page

Zoning board OKs boat storage at Taylor Point

Conanicut Marine plans to build two new sheds on lot
By Margo Sullivan

Conanicut Marine Services can build two new boat sheds at its Taylor Point storage site behind the police station, the Zoning Board of Review decided at its March 25 meeting.

The board also approved a special use permit for Lionel Sousa, trustee for the estate of Maria Sousa, to build a three-bedroom Colonial home on a vacant lot on Sloop Street, described as assessor’s plat 3, lot 472.

Both votes were unanimous, with Chairman Richard Boren, Joseph Logan, Dean Wagner, Richard Cribb and Judith Bell voting. Terrence Livingston was also present. David Nardolillo and Richard Allphin were absent.

During the Conanicut Marine hearing, attorney John Murphy said the lot, which measures 10.2 acres and has been used for boat storage for more than 25 years, is located in an R-20 residential zone. He said it’s part of the village’s special overlay district.

Murphy said the lot has been used for boat storage, which was allowed with permits that prior zoning boards granted. Currently, four sheds are on the property, and Conanicut Marine wants to add two sheds. The application required zoning approval to modify an existing special-use permit.

Since 1984, the boatyard has applied for zoning relief nine times and was approved seven of those times.

“It has not always been smooth sailing for CMS operations,” building official Fred Brown wrote in a Jan. 31 memo about the Taylor Point facility.

According to Brown, a neighbor in 1988 brought suit to Newport Superior Court against Conanicut Marine over the abrogation of a buffer zone. It was ultimately resolved with an easement agreement. Then in 2000, in response to an abutter’s complaints, the town’s zoning office issued a notice of violation. The matter was also subsequently resolved.

“While many of CMS’s earlier petitions were heard before packed halls and met by organized resistance and numerous objecting neighbors,” Brown wrote, “the most recent approval, in 2007, was met with no objectors.”

Brown concluded by saying his office has not received a complaint about the site in the past 10 years.

Murphy said the lot is “uniquely suited” for boat storage because of the Taylor Point location. Though near the water, the property is not an oceanfront lot, so crafts are not being lifted in and out of the bay. Moreover, the sheds are “well screened from neighboring residential properties,” Murphy said.

The plan does call for reducing the buffer zone between properties from 125 to 35 feet. CMS owner Bill Munger, however, owns the lot that would be impacted. Some of the buffer had been lost previously due to an administrative subdivision involving adjoining lots. Also, Murphy says, the new sheds will not change the character of the area, which is dominated by its proximity to the Newport Pell Bridge.

Ever since the bridge was built in 1969, Murphy said, the noise from passing cars has impacted the residential property values.

For an expert witness, Murphy called Bob Bailey, a real estate broker with Lila Delman. Bailey confirmed potential homebuyers have complained about the noise near the bridge. “The resonating sound is too much for them,” he said.

Bailey said the land in the residential zone around Taylor Point has been developed for mixed uses, including the police station. Other commercial uses are the golf course and its restaurant, the Bay Voyage, and the Conanicut Yacht Club.

“The sewer plant is only a few doors away,” Murphy said, adding that the new highway barn is in the area. Murphy noted there is also a public zone under the bridge.

Bailey testified that the assessor has not received appeals based on the boatyard. Valuation appeals have cited the bridge and proximity to the water towers.

Because of Jamestown’s “unique character,” Bailey said, all the island boatyards, except Dutch Harbor, are located in residential zones. Conanicut Marine is partly in a waterfront commercial zone and partly in the downtown commercial zone. Given the premium on commercial space in the village, Murphy argued, it would not be desirable to use more village property for a boatyard.

“All we’re asking is to change the configuration by permitting indoor storage, as well as outdoor,” he said.

Murphy estimated 12 to 14 boats would be stored inside each new shed and would allow the boatyard to move some of the outdoor boats inside. Murphy said the change would benefit the neighborhood by decreasing “visibility” of the boats, and also would not increase the number of boats on the property.

How many boats are there now, Boren asked.

Munger said there were 60 boats stored indoors and about 150 outdoors.

Board member Dean Wagner asked how many people work at the boatyard.

About 20, Munger replied.

Boren said passive boat storage was one of the conditions the prior zoning boards had imposed on the earlier permits.

“In my opinion, that’s what we’re doing,” Munger said. People are not coming and working on their boats, he noted.

Murphy maintained the workers do not use power tools outdoors on the property.

The sheds are going to use fire alarms, Murphy said, and each will be built with a flat roof.

The change will not affect a permit that CMS has been granted to store up to 50 cars during the summer and special events, like the music festivals in Newport.

Munger said most of the restrictions the prior boards had placed on permits dated from the 1980s when the area was more residential.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” he said.

Conanicut Marine also requested permission to connect to the municipal sewer system.

“What jurisdiction do we have to rule on the connection to sewer?” asked Boren. Murphy replied that the zoning board could grant the special-use permit but make it subject to conditions about the sewer connection. While the zoning board could include a stipulation on the permit about a sewer connection, the Town Council will ultimately decide about the sewer tie-in.

The zoning board received four letters opposing the expansion, but no one at the meeting spoke against the project. Three people spoke in favor.

Councilor Blake Dickinson, who lives near the site, said he favors the application.

Dickinson said he was attending the meeting as an abutter, and not in his capacity as a councilor. He would also like to see Conanicut Marine obtain sewer service.

“I welcome any and all paying customers,” he said.

After a discussion, the zoning board agreed to modify the permit and imposed restrictions, stating the sheds must be constructed in “strict compliance with the site and building plans.” Also, a 35-foot buffer zone must be maintained on the eastern side.

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