GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 13, 2013

Tool Co. developer challenges Roma house plans

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ROCKPORT — The developer seeking to revitalize the former Cape Ann Tool Company site has filed a formal appeal aimed at scaling back another high-profile project — Ron Roma’s bid to build a 10,820-square foot single-family home at 129 Granite St.

Michael Rauseo, owner of the Yankee Clipper Inn, and Michael Barnhard, the inn’s manager, say that the Planning Board erred by not following specifics and enforcing the town’s site plan review process, specifically the section that states the board must “minimize departure from the character and scale of buildings in the vicinity as viewed from public and price ways and place, and abutting property,” according to the appeal.

Rauseo is also the developer of the former Cape Ann Tool Co. property, and has had issues of his own dealing with town officials over dockage on the water side of the property and opponents who wanted the town to acquire the site.

In April, multiple residents and abutters on Granite and Pigeon Hill Streets signed a petition asking the Planning Board to use a material other than brick and otherwise modify the Roma house “so that the structure appears to be connected multiple residences with separate roof lines.” Roma has appealed that finding as well.

But Rauseo and Barnhard, whose Yankee Clipper Inn at 127 Granite St. sits next door to the Roma property, are challenging the board’s handling of the Roma project but not objecting to the house itself. “I do object, however, if this structure dwarfs all other structures in this neighborhood and uses exterior finishes that do not fit in with its surroundings,” Rauseo’s letter reads.

In the appeal, Rauseo and Barnhard refer to the Planning Board findings that indicate how the proposed house is a “significant departure” from the character of the neighborhood, with uncharacteristic siding and other out-of-sync architectural elements.

Barnhard wrote to the town in April, saying he also has concerns that the proposed house by Roma III Ltd. on 129 Granite St. will cause him to lose money due to blasting and construction. The inn has four rooms that overlook the Roma property.

“This huge eyesore that Mr. Roma would like to build would be acceptable in most parts of the country, but not here in Rockport,” Barnhard wrote.

In his April letter, Barnhard said any blasting could affect future business as customers book dates a year in advance; he said he anticipates the inn losing between $75,000 and $100,000 including refunds, guests checking out early and other items associated with the project.

The Planning Board issued its findings from the site plan review process in July; four out of five board members backed the document, which states problems with the way the building’s height was measured. In addition, the Planning Board document states the plan is “inconsistent with the architecture and character of the vicinity in several important ways,” which include height, materials and design.

The board said that extensive landscaping will minimize the view of the house and recommended less use of brick and more granite.

Roma has changed some aspects of the house throughout the process, the total square footage has been reduced; it was once 12,000 square feet.

Roma, through his attorneys, then filed to essentially bypass the site plan review process, claiming the town took more than the 60 days allowed for site plan review. No building permit can be issued by the Building Inspector without written approval of the site plan review by the Planning Board — but that mandate lapses if 60 days have passed where the board has not taken an action, according to the bylaws.

In August, however, the proposed house was twice denied a building permit by Building Inspector Paul Orlando. Both of the letters cite a town counsel opinion that the Planning Board did act within 60 days, by issuing their decision on July 11. As a result, contractor Alan Battistelli — who also sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals — must comply with the Planning Board’s findings, town officials say.

Orlando also cited a lack of construction documents and a lack of permit fees for denying the building permit on Aug. 13; a second letter dated Aug. 22 does not mention the permit fees or documents.

“Your project must comply with the decision and conditions imposed by the Planning Board in the approved site plan review,” Orlando’s letter states.

While those at the Yankee Clipper Inn are appealing the Planning Board, Roma III Ltd. is taking its case to the appellate board as well.

Roma and his associates are claiming the Planning Board voted on their findings on July 18 and formally signed the document on Aug. 1 — well after the 60-day deadline of July 11.

The site plan review findings are dated as being agreed to and signed on July 18. A single page in the 14-page findings is dated July 11, and carries the board members’ signatures, but Roma and his attorneys have said they believe the page is wrongfully back-dated.

Roma is also seeking zoning relief as the building measures more than 30 feet high. The height section of the zoning bylaw has a lack of preferred methodology for measuring height, which results in “a confusing systems, where multiple techniques are suggested and accepted by the Building Inspector and various town boards,” according to Roma’s appeal.

Although character and size are mentioned in the Planning Board’s findings and Yankee Clipper Inn appeal, Massachusetts law states that no ordinance or bylaw can regulate or restrict building materials or methods of construction.

Last week, Battistelli filed plans to reduce the height of the house by eight inches, making the house 30 feet, but Roma still plans to go for a special permit on height, as well as the Planning Board’s site plan review process.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is set to hear both issues on Sept. 24.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.