2016-12-22 / Around Town

Two Ledge Road Homes Get Initial Nod

By Barry Bridges

Newport’s Historic District Commission has given a preliminary nod to two new single family residences at 51 and 55 Ledge Road.

The conceptual approvals came on Thursday, Dec. 15, after commissioners heard from representatives of the property owners, Maurice and Sarah Iudicone, and considered the viewpoints of those against the project. The three-hour meeting continued testimony that began at a previous session of the HDC in September.

Opponents included some condominium owners at The Waves at nearby 61 Ledge Road, which was designed in 1927 as a single-family home by prominent architect John Russell Pope.

The plans for the two dwellings are the latest iteration of an initial proposal put forth in August of 2015 to build a 12,505-squarefoot single family residence and detached pool house at the site. That original concept was met with resistance by the HDC and caused consternation among some nearby residents, who cited interference with ocean views and inappropriateness for the historic district. Further objections to an administrative merger of three lots to create a parcel large enough to accommodate the home scuttled the project for months and sent it back to the drawing board.

Revised plans for two separate residences emerged, and they proved to be more amenable to commissioners and neighbors.

Representing the Iudicones, attorney Turner Scott called witnesses at the meeting who spoke extensively on the architectural quality and appearance of the designs, as well as their compatibility with the surrounding area. Attorney Andrew Teitz argued on behalf of some opponents, who especially frowned upon a pool and the retaining wall for the sizable terrace envisioned for 51 Ledge Road.

“We have a substantial problem here with how the homes fit into a very historic site, which is valuable to my clients at The Waves and also important to the people of Newport,” said Teitz. “It’s important to retain that character, which is why we’re here. The large swimming pool is not at all appropriate. Swimming pools did not exist in the Gilded Age.”

Scott countered, “I’ve been appearing before the HDC for 38 years, and I’ve never argued about a pool and will not argue about it now.”

Newport Preservation Planner Helen Johnson advised commission members that they had no purview over the retaining wall and should focus on the limited considerations relevant to the conceptual approval.

Diana Lewinstein, a resident of The Waves, was the only neighbor to offer public remarks at the meeting. “The proposal threatens to jeopardize the elegance and beauty of my home…. It needs blending, camouflage, and strategic landscaping.”

Some earlier objectors were mollified by the latest renderings. Arnold Ludwig, who also lives at The Waves, questioned the project in a letter to the editor of Newport This Week last December. But he contacted the HDC to lend his support to the changes reflected in the current drawings. “I have had the opportunity to review the revised building plans…. After studying them in detail, I commend the owner and his wife for resolving all the major concerns I previously had raised…. The proposed new buildings, like many innovative constructions, will add to, rather than detract from, the architectural beauty of Newport.”

The two homes received the blessing of Johnson. “The shingle style vocabulary [of 51 Ledge Road] speaks to traditional Rhode Island vernacular,” she wrote in her report. As for 55 Ledge, she noted that “the design is compatible with several historic stucco-style Chateau-esque style buildings in the district … such as Seaview, Belcourt Castle, and Ochre Court.”

HDC members were similarly inclined. In their discussions, several commented favorably on the removal of pilasters that had appeared in renderings of 55 Ledge Road as recently as September.

“The architect has done a heroic job in coming to us and heeding our recommendations,” said Chair Diana Sylvaria. “While we have utmost respect for The Waves, the role of this commission is to follow the standards outlined in the ordinance. There is no problem with compatibility or appearance, and I don’t see anything there to preclude this.”

She joined with Commissioner Joseph Babcock in encouraging the parties to work toward a compromise with the pool.

HDC member Joanna Salvo was the lone holdout in the 4-1 vote that will move the application further along in the process. “I’m concerned about massing and size relative to the size of the lot,” she said.

Zoning Officer Guy Weston explained to Newport This Week that a conceptual approval speaks generally to the mass, scale and overall style of a building. The Iudicones will have to return to the HDC to get a final OK on design details before securing a building permit.

Scott said that the two homes meet all zoning requirements and will not require a separate hearing before the Zoning Board of Review.

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