Watch Hill project to get 2 reviews

Watch Hill project to get 2 reviews

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — Plans to renovate a historic Watch Hill building for a combination of retail stores and housing for hotel workers will be subject to two Planning Board hearings.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to conduct separate master plan and preliminary plan reviews of the Lanphear Livery Stable restoration project at 1 Bay St. The board’s vote came despite a request by William Nardone, the lawyer representing the applicant and property owner, Watch Hill Limited Partnership, to combine the two reviews, a move that would have required only a single public hearing.

Town Planner Marilyn Shellman said there were “too many outstanding issues” and that to combine the reviews would be “premature and moving too fast.”

The town’s solicitors, John “Jack” Payne Jr., and his son, John Stockwell Payne, recused themselves from the board’s discussion of the project because Jack Payne’s house on Sunset Drive is next door to the property, which is also known as Holdredge Garage. Payne said that while the applicant has been cooperative in trying to address his concerns, he continues to have questions regarding drainage and whether parts of the former livery will be torn down.

Additionally, Payne said, the project may require zoning variances or a special use permit. He also said the livery building straddles the zoning boundary separating the commercial area of Watch Hill from the residential area.

Nardone acknowledged Payne’s concerns and said the applicant is engaged in ongoing discussions to address them. Also, Nardone said the applicant was scheduled to meet today with representatives of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission to continue discussing Payne’s concerns. The commission announced in July that it had awarded a $49,999 grant for the restoration project. The funds came from a pool of money made available by the federal government for historic properties that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

The storm surge inundated the old building, causing a serious mold problem, buckling the floor and damaging the foundation and an interior staircase. According to town records, the building was most recently valued at $2.7 million. Watch Hill Limited Partnership has owned the building since 1993 when it paid $1.1 million for it.

The former livery dates to about 1885, when it provided horses and carriages for summer residents. In the 1920s, the building was converted to a service station, Holdredge Garage.

Jack Felber, Planning Board chairman, agreed with Shellman’s assessment. “Because there’s so many outstanding issues still pending it’s not fair. Because the project is large and conspicuous and impacts a very sensitive area, I don’t think it’s fair to the general public” to combine the hearings, he said.

The board rescheduled its review of the project’s master plan to Sept. 16. The board had been prepared to conduct the hearing Tuesday but Nardone said the applicant was not prepared to proceed. A date for the preliminary plan review, a phase involving a greater level of detail submitted by the applicants was not set.

According to a narrative submitted to the town zoning office and prepared by Richard Youngken, a professional community planner, the project calls for restoration and rehabilitation of the ground floor for three retail units and a central atrium. The second floor will restored and rehabilitated for three residential apartments. A small office space will also be located on the second floor. The apartments will be two one- bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit. The apartments are intended to be rented as middle level management staff housing for one or more of Watch Hill’s hotels.

The third floor space will be used as accessory seasonal staff housing for the first-floor retail workers or for other seasonal employees. The space will be restored with eight single bedrooms, shared baths, a central common room and a small kitchenette area.

According to the narrative, the exterior of the building will be restored to its early 20th century appearance with large barn door openings providing access on the ground level to retail spaces and a central circulation space connecting Bay Street with the large parking area to the rear.

Youngken wrote that the building was cited for not meeting the current fire code and had to be shut down in 2012. The Watch Hill Limited Partnership commissioned engineering and planning studies to determine the feasibility of restoring and rehabilitating the building to current codes, he wrote.

According to Youngken, because of its historical designation, the building need not meet the full requirements of the current flood codes, although it is within a flood hazard zone. Plans call for elevating the building by 2 feet above the current ground level on a new slab/pile foundation. Modern vents will be installed in the ground floor to equalize pressure. All utilities will be located above the base flood elevation. Finishes on the ground floor will be flood resistant.

In addition to the Superstorm Sandy federal funds, the project also qualifies for Rhode Island historic tax credits. Youngken said use of those two funding sources will require that the building be historically preserved in perpetuity.

The project is being undertaken by One Bay Street Center LLC, a local nonprofit established in April for the project. The corporation’s directors include Grant G. Simmons III, a Watch Hill Fire District official and a partner, along with Chuck Royce and Nicholas Moore, in the effort to revive the Ocean House. Moore is also a director in One Bay Street Center. Other directors are Frederick Whittemore, president and chairman of the board of directors of The Watch Hill Conservancy; H. Brian Thompson, a member of the conservancy’s board of directors; and Sharon Ahern, executive director of the conservancy.


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