Visitors to Oakland Beach may soon have a choice, besides Iggy’s, for where to get a fried doughboy after a ruling to uphold a 2015 Zoning Board of Review (ZBR) decision was made in Kent County Superior Court on Monday.
These aren’t just any doughboys, mind you. According to James Rengigas, the proprietor of what will become the resurrection of Mrs. Gus’s Restaurant at 875 Oakland Beach Ave., these will be the original doughboys – a relic of the past forged from a recipe his grandmother crafted in 1904 that first took Oakland Beach by storm in the summer of 1940.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Rengigas said of the Superior Court decision, adding that he hopes to break ground on the new restaurant in October. “Everybody is saying a doughboy is just a piece of fried dough, but everybody's forgotten their roots...Once they taste the old school formula, you have them locked and loaded to come back.”
Rengigas didn’t get to this point without a fight.
His first attempt to gain city approval to build a 32x42 foot fast food restaurant was denied by a 3-2 vote of the ZBR, which expressed concern over the size of the proposed building and the number of requested zoning variances that would be necessary – which included a reduction in the number of required parking spaces relative to the square footage of the building.
Less than a month later, Rengigas filed a second application, this time for a take-out restaurant that was reduced to 32x28 feet and, though it required variances for setbacks and landscaping, no longer requested a variance for parking spaces (it would have 18 spaces). The ZBR agreed to allow the application proceed to a public hearing, which was held on July 21, 2015.
“Oakland Beach Avenue has developed into a successful area for restaurants, beach front and open space,” said Richard Crenca (then a member of the Planning Department, now the Director of DPW) at the 2015 hearing in support of the application. “The use of this property as another restaurant would be consistent with the surrounding uses as well as with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.”
Robert DeGregorio – identified in court documents as an expert in real estate brokerage – testified at the hearing that the proposed restaurant was “extremely consistent” with other uses in the area and that its use as a restaurant was more appropriate for the area’s zoning, which is zoned for general business, than the building that was located on the property at the time – a single-family home once occupied by Rengigas’s family.
Paul Bannon, described as a traffic expert, then testified that the restaurant would have no adverse effect on public safety in the Oakland Beach area. Rengigas’s attorney, Robert Flaherty, argued that a restaurant was the only practical use of the property. DeGregorio agreed with this opinion and further stated that the current residential property on the lot was an “unattractive nuisance” in the area.
In opposition to the application included an expert in land use, Edward Pimental, who argued that the proposed restaurant would overburden the area and greatly reduce the space available for parking, potentially forcing away visitors. Julie Finn, a frequent visitor to Oakland Beach, said she was concerned about more trash being littered should another restaurant come into the area.
William Coyle, another expert in real estate, expressed concern that Rengigas left out sufficient information in his application about amenities that could wind up in the building, such as an oil boiler or a walk-in refrigerator, which if added would require additional parking spaces to satisfy zoning ordinances.
Ultimately the board ruled in Rengigas’s favor by a 4-1 vote, satisfied that Rengigas had legitimate reason to seek a change of use on his property to better fit the area’s zoning, that the variances he requested were reasonable and that the new restaurant would not have a negative impact on the area. They wrote their official written decision on Aug 20, 2015.
The win for Rengigas was short-lived. David Gravino, owner of Iggy’s Doughboys and Chowder House, filed an appeal – via Iggy’s corporate entity, S.G. Associates Inc. – of the ZBR decision on Sep 3, 2015 on the grounds that the board had violated their rules of procedure by allowing Rengigas to submit a second application within one year of being denied, and that their approval of that application was not justified by evidence.
However the decision handed down by Justice Jeffrey Lanphear at Kent County Superior Court on Monday concluded definitively that, in his judgment, this was not the case.
“After a review of the entire record, this Court finds that the Board’s decision was supported by the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the record, was not arbitrary or capricious, and was not in violation of any statutory, ordinance, or planning board provisions,” the decision reads. “Additionally, this Court finds that the Board’s decision was not affected by error of law or characterized as an abuse of discretion.”
Should Gravino wish to appeal the Superior Court decision, he would have to do so within 20 days of Monday’s decision. The issue would then go to Rhode Island Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee that the court would choose to hear the case. Gravino declined to comment on this story.
Rengigas said that he hopes the matter is closed and he can get to work restoring the legacy started by his family so many years ago, and that healthy competition in the Oakland Beach area would be a good thing.
“It’s my turn now,” he said.