WESTERLY — Town staff and experts hired by the owner of the Sandy Shore Motel disagreed Tuesday as the Planning Board renewed aspects of its review of plans for a proposed third floor restaurant at the Atlantic Avenue facility.
At issue is whether Gene Arganese, the owner of the motel, can make use of a zoning regulation that allows shoreline property owners to elevate their buildings three feet above base flood elevation. For buildings that qualify, the town’s 35 foot height restriction is calculated starting at a point three feet above base flood elevation. According to the local regulation, the lowest floor for buildings that qualify for the height benefit must be three feet above base flood elevation. The space above the base flood elevation is called free board, a term used by the National Flood Insurance Program.
“In this case there is no freeboard,” said Town Planner Jason Parker.
Planning and Zoning Solicitor Nancy LeTendre agreed with Parker.
Parker also questioned Arganese’s plan to keep the motel’s laundry facilities and check-in office on the ground floor saying current flood plain regulations prohibit habitable space on the ground floor. The only allowable uses at that level are 300 square feet of enclosed space, storage, access to the floors above, or parking, Parker said.
Christopher Duhamel, an engineer hired by Arganese to serve as an expert, offered a different view saying the office and laundry area “are not habitable” space. He also said that the municipal building official would play an instrumental role in determining what is allowed on the ground level.
“We’re trying to make the building as compliant as possible given its grandfathered status and its current use,” said Duhamel, a former Westerly Town Council president and longtime councilor.
Arganse said construction on the ground floor utilizes break-away walls, a modern approach to building in flood plains. The walls break away at the force of flood waters or can be removed prior to a storm.
In September, the Planning Board unanimously rendered a favorable advisory opinion to the Zoning Board of Review on Arganese’s application for a variance to the town’s parking regulations. The Planning Board also granted approval of Arganese’s master plan submission.
The Planning Board’s review of Arganese’s plans on Tuesday was prompted by a request from the zoning board for additional input from the Planning Board on the effects of Arganese’s plan to seek a Class C liquor license, which would allow for the service of alcohol to restaurant and motel patrons year round. His current license limits service to motel guests and the facility is open only on a seasonal basis. The zoning board also asked whether the Planning Board would prefer requiring Arganese to use part of the ground floor area for parking to reduce the size of the variance he is seeking.
William Nardone, Arganese’s lawyer, said Arganese considered establishing parking on the ground floor but determined it was not feasible. Nardone also said that there are 317 parking spaces available for rent within a 500-foot radius of the motel and hundreds more nearby.
The board was continuing its review and discussion at deadline.