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Clancy v. Zoning Board of Review of Town of Jamestown

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Newport

April 8, 2019


          For Plaintiff: Mark E. Liberati, Esq.

          For Defendant: Wyatt A. Brochu, Esq.


          NUGENT, J.

         Before the Court is the appeal of David and Jennifer Clancy (Clancys) from the May 22, 2018 decision (Decision) of the Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Jamestown (Zoning Board) denying them dimensional relief to add an addition to their home. The Jamestown Historical Society opposed the Clancys' application. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 45-24-69.



         The Clancys own the subject property described on Assessor's Plat 7, Lot 22 located at 382 North Road, Jamestown, Rhode Island (Property). Located in a Rural Residential 200 Zone (RR-200), the Property is a substandard lot, consisting of approximately 65, 340 square feet. Decision, May 22, 2018 ¶ 1. The Property is located in the "Windmill Hill Historic District," which includes six historic farmsteads, an 18th century burying ground, the meeting house, as well as a windmill. Id. ¶ 2. Adjacent to the Property's east side sits the "Jamestown Windmill" (Windmill), which is owned by the Jamestown Historical Society. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. The Windmill is open to the public. Id. ¶ 7.

         The Property holds a small two-floor, single-family house, a free-standing garage, a glass-blowing studio, and another building the Clancys had rented out as a guest cabin in the past.[1] Dating back to 1787, the house is historically referred to as "Miller's Cottage." Id. ¶ 3. The house has a footprint of 878 square feet and is approximately 31 feet by 22 feet with a smaller attachment of 14 feet by 14 feet. Id. ¶ 11. The second floor is 22 feet by 31 feet, but this space is not entirely usable because it is immediately under the gabled roof. Id. ¶ 13. The second floor is comprised of only a single bedroom and a separate area for a washer and dryer. Id. The Clancys share this bedroom with their daughter and separate their respective areas with a screen partition. Id. ¶ 14. The garage is 19 feet deep and 21.5 feet wide, which is less than the standard 23-foot depth of a garage. Id. ¶ 17.

         The Clancys seek a dimensional variance requesting setback relief from the requirements under Jamestown Zoning Code § 82-302 in order to build an addition and an improved garage 33 feet from the westerly property line and 6 feet from the southerly property line.[2] The Clancys request said relief to provide their daughter and themselves with separate bedrooms, provide for more living space and storage space, and to make a longer garage. Id. ¶ 20. As the footprint of the existing house is 878 square feet, the addition would add about another 720 square feet. (Tr. at 45-46, Jan. 23, 2018.)

         At the first hearing on the Clancys' application on January 23, 2018, David Clancy testified as to the layout of the existing house and their reasons for the requested relief. (Tr. at 5-8.) Given the house's lack of a basement or attic and the garage being "undersized and unusable," David Clancy explained there was barely any room for storage generally and the storage of equipment to maintain the Property. (Tr. at 7.) Moreover, he explained building the addition to the north of the house and away from the property line would require moving the septic system, cutting down a two-hundred-year-old tree, and a much larger driveway. (Tr. at 7-8.)[3]

         The Zoning Board next heard from the Clancys' expert architect, Shahin Barzin (Mr. Barzin), who testified that the proposed renovations would satisfy the Clancys' needs for living space and storage space while maintaining the integrity of the existing cottage. (Tr. at 17-22.) Mr. Barzin explained the garage would be connected to the existing cottage by a sunroom, leading to an area for storing utility equipment as well as a general storage area. (Tr. at 22.) This area would also include a stairway to the Clancys' new bedroom above this storage area. Id. The proposed garage would be narrower but longer than the existing garage and would be one foot farther away from the southern property line. Id. Mr. Barzin testified that the addition would not further obstruct the view of the Windmill when driving south on North Road because that view is already obstructed by a large tree. (Tr. at 24-26.)[4] Mr. Barzin explained he planned to use wood planks for the addition instead of using shingles like the existing cottage to preserve the integrity of the existing cottage. (Tr. at 26-27.) The addition, Mr. Barzin noted, could not be moved farther north without also moving the septic system and making a much larger driveway. (Tr. at 31-33.) Mr. Barzin believed this proposal met all of the requirements for a dimensional variance. (Tr. at 33-35.)

         Next, the Zoning Board heard from the Clancys' other expert, Jason Iacobucci, an architect providing design and consulting services in historic districts. (Tr. at 47-52.) Mr. Iacobucci believed that the requested relief does not conflict with the Jamestown Comprehensive Plan because the expansion for living space does not alter the single-family residence. (Tr. at 51-52.)

         In opposition, the Jamestown Historical Society's expert architect, Ross Cann, discussed the historical significance of Miller's Cottage and the proposed renovations. He presented conceptual drawings for alternative renovation plans which would provide for two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor by moving the existing stairs and adding two dormers to the north side. (Tr. at 55-68.)[5] Mr. Cann claims this alternative proposal meets the Clancys' needs by adding more "usable square footage" without making extensive renovations to the cottage. (Tr. at 65-68.) Additionally, Mr. Cann submitted his written opinion on behalf of the Society regarding the historical significance of Miller's Cottage in relation to the Windmill and how alterations to the cottage would detrimentally impact the view of the Windmill. (Tr. at 70-72.) Mr. Cann further opined that his alternative proposal would provide the Clancys their requested relief and constitute the least relief necessary. (Tr. at 73.) Mr. Cann acknowledged that the Clancys' prior zoning variance required additions to be made east of the existing structure to preserve the view corridor to the Windmill. (Tr. at 73-74.)[6] However, Mr. Cann believed the Zoning Board's Decision did not apply to the garage as it was a separate structure and would be in compliance if relocated north and outside the setback. (Tr. at 73-74.)

         The Zoning Board then heard from the public. (Tr. at 90.) The Zoning Board had received eighteen letters in support and one letter opposing the Clancys' application. (Tr. at 90; 93.) Nine people spoke in opposition to the application. (Tr. at 91-107.) At the end of the hearing, the Zoning Board continued the matter to the February meeting for the parties to present further evidence. (Tr. at 109.)

         A second hearing was held on February 27, 2018. Mr. Barzin then submitted a video of the view of the Windmill when driving south on North Road to show that the Clancys' proposed renovations would have practically no effect on the view corridor of the Windmill because the view was already obstructed by the large tree. (Tr. at 6-8, Feb. 27, 2018.) Mr. Barzin further testified about the issues he found in the alternative plan that Mr. Cann originally provided at the hearing in January. (Tr. at 35-37.) Mr. Barzin testified that Mr. Cann's proposed layout to add usable square footage for the second floor was not functional because of the gabled roof. (Tr. at 36.)

         At this second hearing, the Jamestown Historical Society's attorney, Matthew Callaghan, submitted the Jamestown Tax Assessor's records to show that the home was previously a two-bedroom house which the Clancys had subsequently converted into a one-bedroom house. (Tr. at 13-14.) Additionally, Mr. Cann provided a PowerPoint presentation detailing his alternative renovation plans for the cottage and showing how the Clancys' proposed renovations would impact the view of the Windmill in comparison with the existing cottage. (Tr. at 14-30.) Mr. Cann testified that the proposed renovations would result in a structure nearly doubled in size. (Tr. at 16-17.) Mr. Cann explained that the ...

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