Calico Hill proposal rebuffed by HDC
The focus of the Jan. 28 Historic District Commission (HDC) meeting was on a proposed two-story home to be built on the existing foundation behind the Old Albion Building off Ocean Avenue. Jeff Sweenor of Sweenor Builders, along with homeowner Scot Hallberg and real estate representative Sarah Isabella, presented revised plans for the new construction. The initial plans were turned down by the HDC in December.
Cindy Lasser and Norris Pike were present at the meeting, representing residents of the Calico Hill neighborhood, which is located in the historic district on Block Island. Residents there believe Calico Hill would be most impacted by the construction of a new building on the lot off of Ocean Avenue, and some residents have expressed concern that the proposed building is simply too large. “Personally, I find it offensive,” Pike said to the committee after reviewing the plans. “I think the existing foundation is too big.” HDC Chair Bill Penn echoed that by saying, “In my opinion it overshadows the community on Calico Hill.”
There has been correspondence between Hallberg, his architects, and the residents of Calico Hill concerning this issue. A letter had been sent to Hallberg, collectively signed by the neighborhood, expressing their concerns with the design of the building and citing HDC guidelines. Hallberg and his associates sent a response, for which Lasser was grateful, saying, “it was a classy thing to do.” The response, written by Frank Karpowicz Architects Inc., listed 10 details of the building that were modified according to the Calico Hill neighbors’ requests.
The general consensus among the committee was that the proposed building was too tall, even though Sweenor’s measurements showed it fit the zoning restrictions of New Shoreham. After a long discussion about the siting and massing of the structure, the meeting came to a head. Hallberg said to the committee, “This is a challenge site, we all know that, but what is the formula? At what point is [our construction] not, for lack of a better word, over-massing?”
“We need a direction. We need to know where to go,” Isabella said.
Barry Cole of Calico Hill defended the plans in part by saying, “This attempt here seems to beat the first two attempts,” but added, “we’re looking for something that blends with the historic details of surrounding Calico Hill. This does not attempt to do that.”
Committee member Mark Vaillancourt said, “I feel for these guys. They’ve done what we’ve asked and have tried to comply so far.”
In the end, the committee agreed that the proposed building was too large, prompting Sweenor and Hallberg to withdraw their application to arrange a special meeting in the future to present further modified plans to the Historic District Committee. “Your challenge is to come back to the committee with a few different ideas and comparisons with the houses in the surrounding area. We hope we can come up with a plan that meets your needs and meets the needs of the Historic District,” Bill Penn said to Hallberg and his associates.
The second issue on the agenda was an application by Christopher Simmons of Black Lab Builders to construct new additions, alterations, and to add shed dormers to Heidi and Michael Cowell’s residence on Lois Lane, off High Street, across from the pharmacy. Simmons summarized the plans as an attempt to “build upwards.” The committee requested Simmons adjust new window and door designs and remove a proposed outdoor shower on the second floor deck from the plans. The HDC approved the application, with its modifications, with a 7-0 vote. *
Next, Bill Penn announced the Town Council’s decision to appoint Town Manager Nancy Dodge, Building Official Marc Tillson and town attorney Katherine Merolla to the task of moving forward and implementing the new Sign Enforcement Plan. Committee member Claire McQueeny said to fellow members Penn and Mike Ballard of the Sign Enforcement Plan, “I appreciate you sticking with it.” The HDC also submitted and accepted the new Comprehensive Plan as revised by committee members Doug Gilpin, Martha Ball, Dennis Riordan and Bill Penn.
*Due to a reporter’s error, there was incorrect information contained in the story about the Historic District Commission in the Feb. 2 editon of The Block Island Times. Correctly stated, the Cowells’ residence is on Lois Lane, off High Street, and the vote to approve their application was 7-0, not 6-0.