By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The Bellone family is planning a combined hotel, bar and restaurant to replace Maria’s Seaside Cafe on Atlantic Avenue. The restaurant incurred severe damage from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and never reopened.
According to plans on file in the town planning office, the building at 134 Atlantic Ave. and an adjacent building, used for the restaurant and five hotel suites, at 132 Atlantic Ave., will be torn down and replaced by The Cabanas, a 34,483-square-foot hotel that will include covered parking on the ground level, an additional three floors with a total of 21 hotel rooms, 4 two-bedroom residences, a 40-seat restaurant (to retain the Maria’s name), and an 18-seat bar and lounge.
The project requires approval by the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Review and an advisory opinion from the Architectural Review Board. The Planning Board is scheduled to begin its review of the plans during a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday at Town Hall at 7:15 p.m. The board had been scheduled to begin its deliberations on Jan. 21 but that meeting was canceled because of a snowstorm.
John Bellone, who along with his parents, Nicolo and Maria, owns the property, said his family has considered opening an Atlantic Avenue hotel with a restaurant since they purchased the former Dino’s Seafood House in 1994 and converted it into Maria’s. The family has always been concerned about the project site’s precarious proximity to the ocean, particularly given its current low-lying construction, he said.
“We always thought, since we bought it, that something might happen. We were waiting for some type of wave event to happen and it never really showed up until the hurricane,” Bellone said.
After Superstorm Sandy, Bellone said his family’s “first thought was to get out of the way” of the next damaging storm by building a new structure on pilings.
The hotel project follows new Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for construction within flood zones and also takes advantage of a town ordinance approved after the storm. The ordinance allows property owners to put the lowest structural component of a building 3 feet above the FEMA base flood elevation. In this case, FEMA requires new construction to start at an elevation no lower than 12 feet above mean sea level; the town ordinance allows an additional 3 feet.
According to a rendering by LDL Studio, an architectural firm based in Providence, the top of the roof of the proposed building will be about 39 feet 8 inches tall when measured from the ground. The building’s elevator shaft will extend higher, to 43½ feet. The project area will be served with a denitrification septic system.
The drawings and other material submitted to the town are the result of months of planning that started last summer, Bellone said. The family and its representatives have met several times with town staff members and lawyers to develop, review, and fine tune the plans, he said.
While the planning phase has taken longer than he anticipated, Bellone said he and his family took their time in the weeks and months after Sandy. In the meantime, the family has continued to operate its Breezeway Resort hotel on Winnapaug Road.
“We weren’t in a position where we had to reopen quickly. There wasn’t that urgency,” Bellone said, noting that most Misquamicut businesses hurried, after the storm, to be open in time for the summer season of 2013.
“It took a lot of time to get the balance of something that is architecturally pleasing and fits into the neighborhood,” Bellone said.
The family used proceeds it received from a flood insurance payout after Sandy to develop the plans and to pay for other costs associated with permitting and gaining approval. The project, once built, was also approved to receive $25,905 from the Greater Westerly-Pawactuck Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Bring Back the Beach effort. Bellone said he hopes to learn whether the project meets the town’s approval by summer and said he would then seek financing. If all goes well, work to prepare the site for construction could begin in the fall, he said.
Bellone said getting the project to a point where the plans are ready to be unveiled to the public and town officials for review and possible approval is exciting.
“I love our plan and think this will be an asset to Misquamicut and the whole town, really. I’m excited for people to see our plans. I think this is a quality project,” Bellone said.