Surfside hits some snags

Sun, 11/06/2022 - 1:30pm

After getting approval from the Historic District Commission for its proposed renovations to “Surfside,” the owners smoothly sailed through the Conservation Commission but ran into some problems during their public hearing before the Planning Board last month.
32 Dodge Street Op.Co. LLC. (Plat 6 Lot 138 and Lot 141. Fire # 439 Dodge Street) needed advisories from the two committees before getting final approval, or rejection by Zoning. On October 11 the Conservation Commission’s only issues were with the use of privet for a privacy screen between the building and Persephone’s Café next door and the use of an
ornamental grass that Chairman Ned Phillips, Jr. deemed “invasive.” The commission called for the use of some type of native shrub instead of the privet, such as a Viburnum.
“That’s not a hill any of us are going to die on,” said the landscape architect representing Surfside, agreeing to make the changes.
But an application for Development Plan Review of an Application for a Special Use Permit met with quite a few questions at the Planning Board’s public hearing the next day, with member William Rose recused.
The project is to “re-do an existing, old, rundown hotel,” said Attorney Joe Priestley when introducing the project. Under the proposal, the main building will have 12 guest rooms, the existing barn/garage will have two, and a new accessory building in between will have one, for a total of 15 rooms.
The applicants have scaled back the project dramatically from what was first presented to the HDC and the revised plans are such that they won’t need CRMC approvals. Thus there are no changes to the parking lot proposed, although the Planning Board did have questions about it and did ultimately ask for a parking plan.
At one point the owners wanted to have a 120-seat restaurant on the property but that was abandoned when the Block Island Water Company flatly denied their request for 4,500 gallons of water per day. Still the increase in the number of hotel rooms means that more water is needed than the amount currently allocated to that parcel.
“You know there’s been an issue with water allocation for the coming year,” said Town Engineer Jim Geremia who was attending the meeting remotely. Additionally, he said “They’ve exceeded their allocation year after year after year – for at least five years.”
Although the current allocation is 658 gallons per day, they need 1,500, or 100 gallons per room per day for a hotel. At the time of the Planning Board’s meeting, it was anticipated that the Water Company would be meeting a couple of weeks later, but that meeting was postponed.
“It’s been used for 27 beds for employees,” said Priestley. “We’re going to…we anticipate a reduction in actual usage.”
What followed was a lengthy conversation as to whether the owner could or could not get approval, much less a building permit, without a sufficient water allocation. Priestley anticipated it would take two to three years to build the project. “I don’t see why they can’t begin construction.”
Bill Landry, attorney for the Planning Board said “That’s a building issue. I don’t think it constrains the Planning Board doing a development plan review or advisory.”
Next the Planning Board went through a series of questions and answers about such things as parking, lighting, and drainage for outdoor showers. Then they got to what would seemingly be a little question: “Are you going to have AC?”
The answer was yes, but then Planning Board Chair Margie Comings asked where the AC units or compressors would be located.
Architect Glenn Gardiner said they were planned for under the deck, and they would be screened from neighbors, but then he said: “We have to get approval from the Historic District Commission on those.”
Jenn Brady, who has advised the Planning Board and Zoning for years in her role as Land Use Administrator asked about the planned hotel rooms in the main building being less than the 240 square feet minimum stipulated by Zoning Ordinance Section 407.
Section 407 states that “Individual accommodations shall not be less than 240 square feet, including closets, but not bathrooms.” The rooms in the renovated building will only be 130 square feet, although the ones in the accessory buildings will meet the requirement.
For the past several years, the main building has been used for employee housing. Gardiner said: “I believe we have 13 rooms at the moment and the presumption was those existing rooms satisfied the requirement.”
“Our position is we do have an existing hotel,” added Priestley, “based on the minimum housing and the historical usage. To make these rooms 240 square feet would make the building considerably larger.”
“The Zoning Board will have a chance to discuss that with you all,” said Margie Comings after more debate. “That probably is more their purview and they’ll make a final decision on that.”
In response to a question from member Gail Hall regarding just what was being asked of the Planning Board, the answer was “It’s all advisory.”
“But we can flag [things],” said Comings, “if there’s anything we feel needs to be looked at further.”
When Rich Cooper, one of the managing members of the LLC that owns the Surfside was sworn in, he said “We fell in love with the building,” although he admitted that currently it’s “a bit of an eyesore on Dodge Street.”
After there seemed to be no more questions for the witnesses, Comings said she “thought we’d leave the public hearing until we hear back on the water,” and other issues. “I feel really uncomfortable giving an advisory if we know you’re not going to get the water allocation.”
“And I’d like to make sure you know where you’re going to put the water compressors….because I’m worried about the noise, for your guests as well as for the neighbors.”
The Public Hearing was continued until November 9, in the hopes that the Water Commission would be holding its meeting discussing water allocations for next summer in the meantime.