Providence County Superior Court.
For Plaintiff: Joelle C. Rocha, Esq.
For Defendant: Stephen H. Marsella, Esq., Christopher J. Zangari, Esq.
VAN COUYGHEN, J.
Karco Investors, Inc. (Appellant or Karco) brings this appeal from a decision of the City of Cranston Zoning Board of Review (Board), granting the application of Joseph J. Natale (Applicant or Natale) for dimensional relief. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 45-24-69. For the reasons set forth herein, this Court remands this matter to the Board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Facts and Travel
Natale owns property located at 487 Niantic Avenue in Cranston, Rhode Island, also known as Assessor's Plat 6, Lot 1283 (the Property). The Property is zoned M-2, and is an undersized lot that contains 9402 square feet. A three-family dwelling as well as a garage and shed currently exist on the Property. On or about July 29, 2014, Natale submitted an application to the Board requesting relief from the following Cranston Zoning Ordinances: § 17.92.010 (Variances), § 17.20.120 (Schedule of intensity regulations), and § 17.88.050 (Structural alterations). The Applicant requested relief from the restrictions contained in the zoning ordinance in order to allow Natale to construct a 30' x 40' two-story garage on the Property, with insufficient frontage, front, rear, and side yard setbacks. The construction of this garage would also coincide with the removal of an existing garage and shed currently on the Property.
In his application, Natale requested the relief of the zoning requirements, and noted that the new garage would be 1226.40 square feet, in contrast to the existing garage and shed, which are 600 and 128 square feet, respectively. The application also notes that Natale had submitted plans for this project to the building inspector, but was refused a permit. According to Natale, the granting of his application would cause no injury to public health, public safety, or welfare, and would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or substantially injure the appropriate use of neighboring properties.
A hearing was held before the Board on September 10, 2014 to determine if Natale should be granted the relief he requested. At that hearing, Natale's attorney stated that the existing structures on the lot do not conform with the intensity regulations of § 17.20.120. He argued, however, that the new garage would not increase that nonconformance, but would in fact reduce it, because the new garage would not be as close to the street as the existing garage. (Hr'g Tr. 6-7). Natale then testified that he intended to use the new, larger garage for storage purposes-specifically for the storage of his classic car collection-and had no intention of using it as an apartment or some similar use. Id. at 9. Two neighbors, George Gregorian and Frank Miranda, also testified in favor of the application. Both men cited the poor condition of the existing garage and the need for it to be repaired or replaced as their reasoning in support of Natale's application. Id. at 11-12.
Kenneth Rocha (Rocha), president of Karco, testified in opposition to Natale's application. Karco owns the property located at 11 East Josephine Street, Cranston, Rhode Island, otherwise known as Assessor's Plat 6, Lot 1279, which abuts the Property that is the subject of this appeal. Rocha objected to the size of the new garage, and opined that the new garage would alter the noncommercial appearance of the area. Id. at 14-15. Rocha also stressed his concerns that Mr. Natale may use the new structure in the future for some other purpose, rather than just for storage. Id. at 15.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board unanimously approved Natale's application by a vote of five to zero (5-0), on the condition that no commercial motor vehicle repair or autobody/paint work would be done on the Property. The Board issued a Notice of Decision that was recorded in the Land Evidence Records on September 16, 2014, at Book 4956, page 136. Attached and made part of that Decision were the Minutes of the September 10, 2014 hearing. In those attached minutes, the Board made the following eight (8) findings of fact:
"1. The 2010 Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map designates this area of Niantic Avenue as "Neighborhood Commercial." The existing 3 family on the lot, the result of a 1995 Zoning Variance, is consistent with the Neighborhood Commercial designation which allows multi-family dwellings.
"2. The existing 20' x 30' garage and an existing 8' x 16' shed will be removed.
"3. The proposed garage will have a 20' front yard setback, where 40' is required; a 6' and an 18' side yard setback, where 25' is required, and a 33' rear yard setback, where 30' is required in an M-2 zone.
"4. The 6' side yard setback (along the 40' side of the garage) abuts a single family use.
"5. The proposed garage is two stories.
"6. The existing driveway that abuts the house can accommodate ...