The Block Island Times
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Surf handicap ramp approved by HDC and council

By Judy Tierney | Apr 23, 2013

Design plans for a handicap ramp at the Surf Hotel were approved by the Historic District Commission this week. The project also received Town Council approval Wednesday night. Council permission was needed because some of the ramp will be located on the state property adjacent to the hotel, said architect Arlene Tunney. (State approval is still needed for the project.)

Tunney and hotel owner Lorraine Cyr, who presented the application, said that a ramp is not legally necessary at the Surf (because its zoning has been grandfathered), but, Tunney said, “the owners want to do the right thing.” Without a ramp, wheelchairs and their occupants would have to be lifted up the steps to enter the building.

The location on the eastern side of the building was described as “the least visible place” by Tunney. It will skirt the back of the garden on the curve of Water and Dodge Streets. Very little of the ramp will be on the hotel’s property, the remainder would be built on state property. Tunney said most of it would not be seen from the street.

The plan’s location and design were scrutinized by several of the commission members. Mike Ballard and Dennis Riordan wanted to know why the ramp could not be placed at the western end of the building. Tunney said it would cut into the historic porch more extensively at that location and Cyr told them there is a fire exit at that end as well.

Commissioner Claire McQueeny spoke in support of the plan. “I like the location where it is,” she said. “The view is mitigated by the garden in front of it and it is already landscaped,” she said. Mark Vaillancourt also supported it.

“We have to accept the location at the East end behind the garden for lack of another,” Chair Bill Penn said to the commission,

The design of the ramp was debated as heavily as the location. Tunney plans an 18-foot wooden ramp with a five- by five-foot wooden platform as a turnaround and a thin white pipe rail. Penn asked whether Tunney could design a railing that was more in keeping with the historic district. But Tunney defended the metal railing, explaining she had designed it to be inconspicuous, and only the first couple of feet would be seen. She purposely did not choose a wooden railing so as not to compete with the hotel’s porch rail.

Commissioner Mark Vaillancourt supported her choice, saying, “it would disappear as you are coming down Water Street. I think you did a great job.” Commissoner Claire McQueeny also spoke in favor of the design.

The vote was four in favor, with Mike Ballard and Dennis Riordan against.

The Surf Hotel also applied to place an awning over the back porch. The hotel manager, Kelsey McRae, presented the details. The awning would be hunter green vinyl, and the hip roof shape will match other roofs on the building. The vote to approve the awning was unanimous.

Also requesting an awning, as well as other improvements, was for BIEP, Inc., owned by Lew Gaffett. The flat awning supported by permanent metal pipes would spread over the concrete patio in front of the Old Island Pub on Corn Neck Road. Gaffett said last year he used umbrellas on the patio, but they blew away in the wind. Penn preferred a folding awning. Gaffett defended the permanent awning, telling the commission that retractable awnings give sun protection but do not shelter from the rain.

Commissioner Martha Ball said she was “troubled” by the awning because it would be over the patio as an extension of the porch. “It would look like a tongue sticking out,” she said.

Claire McQueeny also liked the retractable idea and Penn sent the applicant back to the drawing board, asking for more detail on a retractable awning and deferred any decision. He offered to hold a special meeting to review it if necessary.

Design application for a new restaurant on Corn Neck Road

Gaffett also brought plans for an arbor and fence to be built on the north side of the Old Island Pub building to shelter a take-out window for a new restaurant at the location. The take-out would include picnic benches, and would serve food only, no alcohol. There was a motion to approve with the stipulation that Gaffett obtain the signature of the building’s owner on the application. The vote in favor of the design was unanimous.

Signs for the Darius Inn and the Seaside Market were approved, the first unanimously and the Seaside’s with a 3 -2 vote, with Ball and McQueeny opposed.

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