2018-02-08 / Around Town

Council Keeps Campground, Ditches Zoning Proposal

By Jocelyn O’Neil

The Middletown Town Council spent a majority of its Monday, Feb. 5 meeting focused on getting to a vote on two issues: the Town Council Beach Subcommittee’s recommendations for improving Second Beach’s overcrowded parking lots, shores and insufficient facilities for the amount of people who use it yearly, and a proposal to amend a zoning ordinance that would affect a quarter of all residents.

In July 2017, an overnight breakin at two of the beach offices resulted in the theft of $6,300 in cash, and about 1,000 seasonal beach parking passes. The perpetrator was never caught but the incident did force the Town of Middletown to take a hard look at its facility, staff, procedures and protocols.

In October 2017, the Town Council Beach subcommittee, consisting of Richard Lombardi, council Vice President Paul Rodrigues and Councilwoman M. Theresa Santos, was tasked with coming up with recommendations to deal with common complaints from residents and tourists to improve the overall operations, appeal and access to Second Beach.

Over four months, the committee gathered input from residents, police and various public officials including the harbormaster and town administrator, for recommendations of improvements that could be made. Parking, or the lack thereof, is a major issue that seems to only be getting worse.

Other problems the group says have been voiced include confusing traffic management, a lack of clear signage and the poor condition of the concession stand

A solution the committee proposed was creating a 200-space resident-only parking lot by closing the Second Beach Family Campground.

Lisa Cooney, an out-of-town campground resident who spoke on behalf of some of the campground residents at the council meeting, said closing the campground is an “extreme solution.”

“We are being penalized because of ‘day-trippers’ who spend $20 to $25 to park, who bring alcohol onto the beach and who do not contribute the thousands of dollars to the local economy like we campground residents do,” Cooney said.

Middletown resident Gary Palvik said he is glad the council is reviewing the beach’s operations, especially because of the connection he sees with the campground’s long waiting list to be a resident.

“When I look into the paper and see that there is a 10-plus year waiting list, well, that kind of means to me that we’re not charging enough!”

Pavlik’s issue with keeping the campground was less about being an in-state resident, and more about what he thinks is fair. “If the campground stays, fine. But you need to increase the rate.” he said.

The council did just that, in a unanimous vote to raise the seasonal fee from $4,800 to $6,800 this summer. In the summer of 2019, the fee rises to $8,800.

Council members said the projected loss of more than $97,000 in annual revenue from the campground factored into their decision.

“For those of you who want to be at the campground, this is a fair price to pay,” said Council President Robert Sylvia.

Another major issue on the agenda had drawn residents to Town Hall, and more than 20 people stepped up to the podium to voice either their support or opposition to amending a zoning ordinance that would limit permissible ceiling heights from 35 feet to 25 feet on homes that sit on residential lots 10,000 square feet or less.

There are 6,375 recorded parcels of land in Middletown. Of those lots, 1,625 are under 10,000 square feet. That means roughly a quarter of Middletown residents would be directly affected if such a proposal were passed.

Other amendments to the ordinance would also prevent houses from taking up more than 50 percent of the lot they occupy. Attic and basement space with 7-footsix inch-tall ceilings and mostly enclosed garages, porches, and sheds were part of the calculation, among other considerations that put a constraint on what a homeowner could potentially do with their home in the future.

John K. Grosvenor, an architect for Northeast Collaborative Architects, who was in favor of the proposal, presented sketches of various sized lots and corresponding houses to help the council visualize the proportions the ordinance was proposing.

“These proportions work,” said Grosvenor. “Even with the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) at 0.5, the pitch of the roof and ‘colonial-style’ homes common in New England, renovation options are completely doable.”

Easton’s Point resident, John Bagwill, brought a PowerPoint presentation of “three offenders” who he says started the fear of “Mc- Mansions,” by building three-story houses that take up too much of the lot they are on.

“Ah! This is the house that started it all.” said Bagwill, as he showed a slide of 111 Wolcott Avenue. “66 Esplanade built in 2004, and 43 Hoover Ave., built in 2013, all occupy more than 50 percent of the lot they are on.”

A majority of the attendee comments came from those living in the upscale neighborhood, Easton’s Point. Some were not in favor of the proposal.

“My family has been in this neighborhood since 1937, way before houses were built like how they are on Tuckerman Ave.,” said Nicholas Caldarone, who lives on a small lot surrounded by large homes on Easton’s Point.

The size of Caldarone’s lot would affect what he would be able to renovate or build on his property because of the house-to-lot size ratio.

“I’m in a constant state of construction in my neighborhood, but because my lot is a certain size, like it has [been] since 1937, I am barred from doing what I want to my house?”

After listening to both sides, the council voted 6-1 to ditch the proposal. The meeting ended at 11.30 p.m.

In Other Matters:

A special-event permit was denied to Rhody Surf for the 2018 summer season. Surf lessons and board rentals will no longer be available at Surfer’s End on Second beach.

The Charter Commission’s report was accepted and placed on the March 5 town council meeting docket.

Councilor Turano updated the council on issues residents have voiced about the Newport Beach House (NBC). The issue of NBC’s property line and the location of the high-water mark has been addressed. The high-water mark has been resolved but NBC has yet to submit where exactly alcohol will be consumed on the beach to fulfill the required second step to determine property line vs public domain.

Representative Deborah Ruggiero District 74 and Barbara Fields, Executive Director of RI Housing, gave a presentation on affordable senior housing options in the state.

Tax Assessor George M. Durgin urges residents to carefully review the newest assessment values on their property, as many may not realize they qualify for various exemptions, including the Senior Tax Exemption or the Veterans Exemption.

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