WESTERLY — The Building Code Board of Appeals has given the owners of the historic Lanphear Livery building in Watch Hill permission to undertake renovation of the building without meeting current standards for construction in a flood-prone area.
The board voted unanimously Thursday to grant a variance to Watch Hill Limited Partnership, the owner of the livery building, also known as Holdredge Garage. The variance will allow the partnership to avoid elevating the building at 1 Bay St., 12 feet above the flood plain as required by both the state building code and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program. Instead, the owners plan to temporarily lift the building, pour a two-foot high concrete foundation, and then place the building back down on the new foundation. The building will sit 6.4 feet above sea level on the new foundation.
Elevating the building to meet the flood plain regulations would cause it to lose its designation on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Watch Hill Historic District and jeopardize the more than $1 million in state tax credits that have been approved for the project, according to Richard Youngken, a professional community planner working on the project.
The project requires a careful balance of maintaining the building’s historic qualities with making it resilient to the forces of nature through the use of modern construction methods. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission is working closely with the owners and will monitor planning and construction to make sure the historic elements are maintained, Youngken said.
“It is the basis for all that we are going to be doing to restore the building. Everything they’re asking us to do retains the historical integrity of the building,” Youngken said.
The owners had to pledge commitment to retaining the historic elements of the building for at least five years following the final renovation to satisfy both the state Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is providing a $49,999 grant from funds made available for historic buildings damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The pledge is recorded as an easement in the town’s land evidence records.
Jack Evans, project architect, said the building’s infrastructure, including critical components for power, heating and cooling will be placed above base flood elevation to protect against severe damage in the event of flooding conditions.
The possible use of flood vents, devices that protect houses and buildings in floodplains by preventing water pressure buildup that can destroy walls and foundations, is being explored with the state Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, according to Evans.
Superstorm Sandy rendered the building uninhabitable, sending water from the bay inside, causing a mold problem, buckling the floor, and damaging the foundation and an interior staircase.
Current plans call for retail space on the first floor. In the recent past the building was home to an art gallery as well as a satellite clinic connected with The Westerly Hospital.
Aspects of the building’s use as a livery stable, including ornate wood work in the former living quarters of the stable staff, remain apparent. Some of the garage components, including a vehicle elevator used to move vehicles from the first floor to the second, also remain, Evans said.
The project is being undertaken by One Bay Street Center LLC., a nonprofit established in April for the project. The corporation’s directors include Nicholas Moore, a Watch Hill resident and a partner, along with Chuck Royce, in the effort to revive the Ocean House. Other directors are officials of The Watch Hill Conservancy.
Moore said the cost of the project is not yet clear and will be dependent on its final design. The Alfred M. Roberts Jr. Charitable Foundation is a key financial participant in the project, he said.
Most of the parking lot behind the building will remain in use for the public but a portion will be dedicated for use by tenants, Moore said.
William Nardone, the lawyer representing Watch Hill Limited Partnership, said he hopes to soon present the project to the Planning Board’s Technical Review Committee for a preliminary review. The plans would then move to the full Planning Board for consideration, he said.
Building permits for exploratory demolition and the new foundation have already been issued by the town. Evans estimated the renovations, once started, would take about nine months to complete.
A previous application to the Planning Board was withdrawn in September. Those plans called for retail stores on the first floor and a mix of apartments, and housing for the staff of local hotels on the second and third floors.