December 21, 2014
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Most old Buttonwoods homeowners planning revisions must come before zoning
Warwick Beacon photos
MAKING HER CASE: Debra Vita, accompanied by attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi, appeared before the Zoning Board of Review Tuesday. The board denied her request for a variance of parking requirements that would have allowed her to provide live entertainment at Biki’s Gathering Spot on West Shore Road and Oakland Beach Avenue.

Jeanne Pass lives in Old Buttonwoods in a house built more than 100 years ago. She would like something about 1,000 square feet bigger, more modern and keeping with the style of the neighborhood. Given the size of her lot and its zoning at one time, what architect Harvey Wagner designed was no problem. After obtaining the appropriate demolition and building permits she could go ahead with the project.

Her neighbors, Mark and Patricia McKenney, are also planning to make alterations to their property. They are looking to add dormers, a second floor deck, covered entry and deck to the back of their home at 22 11th Avenue.

But, both property owners were before the Zoning Board of Review Tuesday night to seek dimensional variances of yard setbacks to proceed with their projects.

The reason, explained John C. Revens, attorney for Pass, is that much of the Buttonwoods coastal community is zoned for larger lots than most people own.

“It forces everyone to come back and ask for relief. Some former council rezoned, although they’re [the houses] on less than 15,000 square feet,” he told the board.

The zoning was changed from A-7 to A-15, virtually doubling the space needed for a buildable lot.

Revens presented a tight argument for razing and rebuilding on the same parcel. Not only would the house go, but, so too, a detached garage. The garage would be incorporated in the new structure.

Real estate expert Thomas Sweeney told the board the new house would not have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood. He said it would be an improvement and was consistent with other properties.

However, while removal of the garage would open the view of Greenwich Bay to some area homes, the larger house would reduce it for Pass’ immediate neighbor, Maria Blanchard.

She commented on the proximity of her home, called the request “unnecessary,” which, ironically, it would have been had zoning not changed and said the structure would affect her view. She said the new house would adversely impact the value of her property.

Revens agreed that houses in old Buttonwoods could be close to one another. He said Pass’ existing house is literally “on the street” and that walking out the front puts one on the road.

However, board chairman Donald Morash reminded Blanchard, “You don’t own the view.”

He opined that that is taken in consideration when properties are assessed and he didn’t believe the value would be impacted.

The board had a few questions for the McKenneys, who represented themselves. No one spoke in opposition of their petition.

The board approved both requests.

It also approved the petition of Philip Bourgoin to remove the foundation of a house that burned at 155 Arnolds Neck Drive and build a new house on the property. Bourgoin agreed to some minor revisions to take into consideration concerns raised by neighbors. Other petitions approved include that of Randi Volpe DeFusco to build a house at 10 Grand View Drive and that of James and Lisa Dias to legalize an existing shed at 147 Northup Street.

Following the recommendation of the planning department, the board denied the request for a nightclub of David Marfeo of Palmetto, Fla., and Debra Vita, who runs Biki’s Gathering Spot.

Under the city’s zoning, when a restaurant or tavern includes live entertainment, it is classified as a nightclub. Parking requirements for nightclubs are twice those for restaurants. The planning department also had problems with an access road to a rear parking area being too narrow for two-way traffic and that it didn’t have a current survey of the property on the northeasterly corner of West Shore Road and Oakland Beach Avenue.

K. Joseph Shekarchi who represented Vita told the board that he had attempted on numerous occasions to contact Marfeo, who owns the property, to no avail. Vita said she was looking to have karaoke on Thursdays and live entertainment on Friday and Saturday. She said there has never been a problem with parking at the building that is occupied by other tenants as they come and go during the day and her business is in the evenings and nights.

“There’s an informal agreement to use everybody’s property,” said Shekarchi.


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