Serenity at River Bend

Sun file photo

WESTERLY — River Bend Cemetery on Beach Street is planning a small addition to its chapel and office building and will make the building accessible for people with disabilities.

The plan calls for a 463-square-foot, single story addition. The chapel, constructed in 1923, is in the northeast corner of the cemetery's 54 acre site,  adjacent to Washington Avenue. The chapel building is used as a gathering place and for administrative functions. The addition will include an assembly room, kitchenette, coatroom, and bathroom for people with disabilities. A ramp for people with disabilities is also planned. The building will be connected to the municipal sewer system and its on-site septic system will no longer be used.

Paul Azzinaro, of Azzinaro Larson Architects, wrote in a narrative that the work would be done in accordance with the character and aesthetics of the existing building. He told the Planning Board, during its July 16 meeting, that the work would include re-exposing the building's high ceilings and its fireplace, which were covered during a remodeling project in the 1980s.

"The building has great character for the era. It's almost a sculpture-type building," Azzinaro said. "Materials will be similar to what is there. I think it fits in beautifully."

Azzinaro asked if the Planning Board's preliminary and final plan review could be combined and performed administratively, but Scott Levesque, the board's lawyer, said the cemetery's representatives would be required to return for another appearance before the board.

Planning Board member Jason Parker, a former town planner, asked the board to review its development plan review requirements, saying the regulations are overly demanding. "It's not really doing the applicant any good if we're putting them through the ringer," he said.

Todd J. Romano, the lawyer for the Zoning Board of Review, said he had spoken with Lisa Pellegrini, director of development services, about the point Parker made. Town Planner Nancy LeTendre agreed, saying the regulations are cumbersome and difficult to interpret.

The cemetery's representatives will return to the Planning Board after receiving a special use permit from the zoning board.  During an initial appearance before the zoning board on July 11, Azzinaro asked officials to consider changing the zoning designation of cemeteries from open space recreation to one that would not require obtaining a special use permit for new projects on cemetery grounds.

Azzinaro also asked the board to modify the requirement for notifying by mail neighboring property owners within a 250-foot radius of the property to notifying property owners within 250 feet of the chapel. Following the property radius requirement would require mailing out about 50 certified mail notices, which would cost about $800, Azzinaro said.

Zoning Officer Nathan Reichert recommended following the property radius requirement. "Unfortunately we would be better off to have  them follow the requirements. The notice really benefits the applicant in the end because if someone who would have standing to object is not given appropriate notice, it's grounds to have whatever the board does potentially impacted at the next level in the courts," Reichert said.

Romano said the board could not modify the requirement. "The notice area is set by state statute. We don't have the authority to change that whatsoever," he said.

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