2017-06-08 / Front Page

Planning Board Debates Ownership of Street

By Bob Rulli

When is a street legally considered a street? Sunnyside Place, located in the Old Beach neighborhood, is paved. The city of Newport plows it, it gets swept by the city, it has one fire hydrant, two telephone poles with street lights, a water and sewer main and a stop sign. And yet, it is unclear if it is actually a street owned by the city.

The owners of 25 Old Beach Road have filed an application with the city’s Planning Board for permission to subdivide their two-acre parcel into two separate parcels. The stately home, which was built in 1885, has 27 rooms and over 13,600 square feet of living space. Attorney James Hyman, who represents the owners, came before the Planning Board on Monday, June 5, to discuss the application. He told the board that “the application meets the requirements of the zoning ordinance, which requires that the property be accessed from a public street.”

Planning Board Chairwoman Kim Salerno said that the board “is waiting on an opinion from the City Solicitor’s office as to the legal status of the street.”

Sunnyside Place is a dead-end street with four houses on the east side, and the side and rear yards of 25 Old Beach Road abutting it on the west side. As part of a presentation that included exhibits, Hyman said that the street “has been part of litigation between property owners and the city in the past.” Despite having been involved in the litigation, the City Council never appeared to take any action to determine whether it was actually a city street.

The city’s zoning map clearly shows Sunnyside Place. The city’s ordinance in addressing the issuance of a building permit states, in part, that a “building lot abuts a street which has been placed on the official map giving access to the proposed structure” and goes on to require that the street “be accessible to fire and emergency vehicles.”

The owners are requesting approval to subdivide the lot to create an approximately 32,000-squarefoot rear lot in an area that is zoned for a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet. The main home is currently for sale. “The owners would build a smaller home on the new lot,” Hyman said.

If approved, the new lot would be accessed from Sunnyside Place. Any new construction would require the approval of the Historic District Commission, because the property is located within the Old Beach Historic District.

With the street issue in question, the board was unable to vote on the application. On behalf of his clients, Hyman agreed to have the matter continued to the board’s July meeting.

At Salerno’s request, the board unanimously approved two motions related to the application. The first was a requirement that the abutters to the property be notified and be given notice of the subdivision application. After notice, those abutters would have an opportunity to address the board at the July meeting, either with their approval or objection to the proposed subdivision. The second motion was to request the City Council to determine if Sunnyside Place is a city street

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