The Block Island Times

Zoning upholds Cooneymus beach access decision

Disputes between neighbors color four separate applications at the monthly zoning meeting
By Judy Tierney | Dec 06, 2012

A two year controversy over the Cooneymus Road beach access has concluded, at least at the local level. On Monday evening, Nov. 26, the Zoning Board of Review gave unanimous approval for a dimensional variance to James and Elizabeth Lee on Plat 14, lot 39.

In June, the Lees’ neighbors Bruce and Peggy Montgomery won an appeal of the Planning Board’s decision to allow that subdivision. The Zoning Board of Appeals ruled that the Planning Board had made an error in granting approval for a subdivision of that property in which they created a substandard lot without gaining a dimensional variance to do so. It also granted conditional approval to the administrative subdivision with the provision that the town and the Lees return to obtain a variance.

Now that that condition has been met, lot 39 will be divided into three portions: a 33-foot beach access, a lot with the Lees’ house, and a small triangular non-conforming lot (39-1) that would be deeded as non-buildable.

Reading the board’s decision, Chair Elizabeth Connor noted that town ownership will clarify public access to the shore and the Lees are to donate the beach access to the town.

As to the decision in favor of the hardship for the variance, Connor specified that the hardship is a result of the features of the lot, the size and the shape, and not the motivation of the applicant. If a variance was not granted, the town would not be able to take ownership and both the town and the Lees would suffer a hardship.

The Lees, she said, will not profit from the administrative subdivision, and if anything, it will decrease the value of their property. There would be no physical change or effect on the neighborhood.

Connor also addressed the argument presented by attorney Evan Leviss, who represented a group of residents opposed to the change. Leviss had noted discrepancies in the application, but Connor dismissed that as a reason to deny the application, saying that her board always allows applicants to clarify and complete their applications during public hearings.

Opponents to the plan, who say it limits public beach access, have the right to appeal the decision in Rhode Island Superior Court.

More neighborly dissent

Three more public hearings drew fire from neighbors. An appeal of a notice of violation by Payne’s 1614 Realty, known as Payne’s Harborview Inn; applications for a shed by the John Cotter Trust on High Street; a lot line change by Edward Phillips; and the Estate of Dawn Phillips off Cat Rock Road all drew criticisms from neighboring homeowners.

The hearing on Payne’s, Plat 5, Lot 111, on Beach Avenue, was an appeal of a notice of violation served by Building Official Marc Tillson. Neither owner Carol Payne nor her attorney, William Landry, were there, but both had testified the previous month at the Zoning Board of Appeals. Their neighbor Joe Noel, who owns a property two doors away from the inn, did attend — and he had plenty to say. His comments echoed those already posed at last month’s meeting by Tillson. Both noted the number of seats at the restaurant, 61, far exceed the 40 which the zoning board had stipulated, as well as the lack of compliance with the parking plan laid out for the inn and the restaurant.

In addition, Noel complained about the number of cars parked on the street — 18 one night, he said. He testified he had seen occupants from all but one enter Payne’s building. Noel also told the board he had measured Payne’s property, and found it to be only 37 feet, not the 49 feet he says is on the plan she submitted. “We’ve got a real problem with this,” he said. “This is a bogus plan.” He asked to board to require her to show 16 parking spaces as the plan prescribed.

Payne and Landry had testified previously that they would correct the parking violations, but had argued that the 61 seats included places for guests at the inn as well as restaurant patrons, and a stool next to the bar was there for Carol Payne, not for others.

When the zoning board took up their discussion later in the evening, David Morrison noted that they had limited the number of seats precisely to avoid the need for the town to monitor the number of guests in chairs versus diners in chairs. They were more lenient with the finding that several outdoor seats were 34 instead of 30 feet from the building, with board member Kate Butcher noting that people move seats around. The vegetative screen that Tillson found to be beneath the height required will grow, Butcher, Judith Cyronak, and Bill Comings all agreed. The bar stool can stay, Butcher said, as it is Carol’s seat, though Morrison had wanted it to be counted toward the 40 allowed.

There was agreement that Payne is still in violation, as there need to be 16 usable parking spaces on the site plan. The board unanimously upheld the building official’s notice of violation.


A lot line change between two lots owned by Edward Phillips and the estate of Dawn Phillips, Plat 8, Lots 13-1 and 13-2 off Cat Rock Road to make a garage part of 13-1 instead of 13-2 drew opposition from neighbors Carroll and Jean Hughes, of Whale Swamp Road, who were represented by Attorney Mark Hagopian.

The property line adjustment would make 13-2, owned by Ned Phillips, Sr., bigger, and shrink Lot 13-1.

Hagopian asked whether Phillips intended to do additional construction on the larger lot, 13-2 to which Phillips replied, “No.” To Hagopian’s comment that Phillips could not speak for future owners, Phillips explained that would be hard to do given the topography of the lot. Hagopian then called certified land planner Greg Guglieomo of DiPrete Engineering to testify. Using GIS data collected from flyovers as an overlay on the site plan prepared by David Hilburn Land Surveyers for Phillips, Guglieomo came up with an alternate plan that would require a smaller amount of land to be transferred between the two lots. That plan would leave 20-foot setbacks rather than the 50 the Phillips plan utilized. Hagopian argued that the Phillips’ plan is not the least relief necessary and the alternate plan would not require a variance.

Chair Elizabeth Connor several times pointed out that in her calculations, using the percentages of allowable lot coverage, the plan Phillips presented would only allow 10 extra square feet of building on lot 13-2 over the plan Guglieomo presented. “What’s gained?” she asked Hagopian.

Taking the application up later in the evening, comments from the board favored Phillips’ plan. Connor said she liked the fact that Phillips “made everything conforming where they can.” Cyronak added to that, remarking that “it comes down to the different definitions of what is more conforming,” and the town’s land attorney Donald Packer commented that the small lot will not be as small as it is now and it is an improvement.

John Cotter Trust

Robert Rose presented an application by the John Cotter Trust, Plat 7, Lot 1-1 on High Street, asking for a variance from setbacks to build a new 14 foot by 16 foot shed with a 15 foot setback. He argued that the lot is long and narrows along its length. Connor noted that though the old and new shed look alike, they are not in the same place.

The Cotters’ neighbor, Scott Hennessy, while not objecting to construction of a new shed, did object to the size and the orientation of the proposed project. He called it three stories, but Rose told the board it was only two stories. The shed will be built into the grade so the first floor is a walkout and the second floor is storage. The disagreement centered on what Rose termed the roof line and Hennessy called the third floor. Connor, poring over the map, noticed there were windows on that level.

The short side of the existing shed, 4 feet, will become the longer side, 16 feet, of the new one, according to Hennessy. Cyronak noted the applicant was not asking for an enormous variance, but Hennessy pointed out that the houses are close together on High Street and it would have a negative impact on the feel of the neighborhood.

The proposed shed has to be used for storage only, Rose testified, and would not have electricity or plumbing.

Attorney Packer commented that with the new shed amendment, a 12 by 12 shed with a 10-foot setback at a height of 12 feet did not need a variance. Connor thought there were ways they could have “decent storage” without a variance. She suggested not taking action so that Rose and his clients could consider other options. She made a motion to continue the hearing and request elevations on the plan and anything else they wanted to change. The vote was unanimous and they set January 23 for the continuation.


Shea Butcher, of Block Island Housewright, represented David and Eleni Tucker, who asked for a rear setback variance for an addition to their house on Plat 15, Lot 30-1 on High Street in the Residential B zone. Kate Butcher and Claire McElderry recused themselves.

The house is currently 962 square feet and would be expanded to 1,339 square feet. Shea Butcher testified the purpose is to increase living space for their growing family. He called it a simple house with a staircase in the middle and the pipes all one side. In proposing an addition on the northeast side, the owners are trying to keep costs down by not having to move the kitchen and bathroom, Shea said. The addition will have a flat deck as a roof.

A motion to approve was made by Morrison and all were in favor.


The board approved of an application by Alexander and Karan Taylor, Plat 15, Lot 30-1 on West Side Road for an addition to a dwelling and to convert three accessory buildings into two accessory residential structures. In rendering the decision, the board is prohibiting any kitchen in the two proposed structures, which will be considered accessories to the main building and are not to be rented separately. Any future building hardship will be viewed as self imposed. There was unanimous approval.

Block Island Land Trust

An appeal by Ballard’s Inn Realty regarding the Building Official’s decision dated July 8, 2010, on the Block Island Land Trusts’s plan to build a public access on Plat 7, Lot 1-1, was withdrawn. The building official originally had allowed the Land Trust to apply to the Coastal Resource Management Commission to construct the access, but then learned a 12-foot retaining wall would be built at some spots, which would require a building permit. Also, the demolition of the old Ocean View Hotel stairway, originally not shown on the site plan, would require Historic District Commission approval. The approval by the building official was withdrawn and a building permit as well as HDC approval is needed for the access.


An attorney for Cingular Wireless/ATT Mobility presented an application which would upgrade the equipment on the BIPCo tower to allow 4G wireless transmission. The hearing date was set for January 23.

Comings resigning

Connor announced that First Alternate William Comings will be resigning from the board and a new alternate member is sought.


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