2018-01-04 / Around Town

Zoning Rejects New Building on Former Asterisk Site

By James Merolla

The Newport Zoning Board of Review has rejected a proposal to build a two-family, three-story house on the site of the former Asterisk Restaurant on Thames Street. In a 4-1 vote at its Jan. 2 meeting, the board cited issues over lot coverage.

“I have a lot of concerns with this project,” board member Christopher Kirwin said in his dissenting vote. “Eight bedrooms, 10 bathrooms. [The plan] is injurious to the neighborhood, just in sheer size of the building.”

Property owner Patrick O’Leary was looking to demolish the existing restaurant to build a two-family dwelling with third- and fourth-floor decks that would exceed the allowed lot coverage. In his application, he said he would live in one-half of the house and rent the other half. The plan would increase the existing footprint on the 3,360-square foot lot by nearly 62 percent, according to O’Leary’s representatives. The city’s Comprehensive Plan allows only a 40 percent increase in lot coverage.

Board member Charles Allott called the plan, “Too much on a very small lot.”

He said the home, proposed to be constructed just three feet from an existing building to the south, would deprive “that building of any light or air.” Allott also said the four required parking spaces were not representative of the number of people who might stay there.

“The size of this house is huge,” board member Heidi Blank said. “On a very, very small lot. It really is too much.”

Zoning Chair Rebecca McSweeney was not convinced that the structure would not be turned into another use. “It looks to me like it is going to be a guest house,” she said.

Bart Grimes was the only member who approved the plan. “I feel I have to approve the petition but I do it with great reservation,” he said. “Residential use is less intense than restaurant use. [But it is] so close to another building, and the question about [it possibly becoming] a guest house really was unanswered.”

O’Leary purchased the property on the corner of Sharon Court in June. It had once been an automobile shop before becoming two different restaurants.

When asked if the property could eventually be turned into a guest house, O’Leary said, “I prefer to leave it flexible.”

The nearby Firehouse Inn previously sought a special use permit for a two-family residential unit, then changed the building into a five-room guest house after meeting parking and fire code regulations.

In opposing the plan, John Ward, who lives behind the property, cited the city’s Comprehensive Plan that allows only a 40 percent variance of the lot. “It’s a little much for me, the height,” Ward said. “We’re behind that building to the west. It will loom. It is going to block our sunrise. A small house there might be a better choice.”

In Other Matters

A plan by the owners of the Fifth Element Restaurant on Broadway to build a 40-room hotel was delayed to Thursday, March 22. The plans call for parking for 21 cars at the adjacent parcel at 105 Broadway, which the owners purchased for $885,000 last October.

Zoning relief is required for the parking lot, but all other aspects of the proposed development are “by right.” An application for a demolition permit has been filed, and plans to move forward with development of the site have begun.

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