Board rejects variance for home on tiny lot, but it might still go up

Board rejects variance for home on tiny lot, but it might still go up

NORTH PROVIDENCE – The Zoning Board last week denied a request for a 1-foot variance allowing a 25-foot-wide home to be built on an undersized lot on High Service Avenue.

But the owner of the lot at Zero High Service Ave., Bukky Olukoga, could still choose to build a 24-foot-wide home without a variance, a move her attorney, John Garrahy, told The North Providence Breeze on Monday that he plans to recommend to her.

“I have to have that conversation with her. It’s probably what she should do,” he said, adding that he was surprised by the Zoning Board’s decision after the Planning Board voted 5-0 after a “very vigorous hearing” to recommend granting the relief needed.

As he told the Zoning Board last week, said Garrahy, the applicant started out thinking she would need a greater level of relief from the town to allow the home, but he researched North Providence’s zoning code and found conflicting information, leading to the request for lesser relief of just 1 foot.

The proposal from Olukoga was met with consternation from neighbors on High Service Avenue, including Town Council President Dino Autiello, who spoke against the proposal at last Thursday’s hearing as an abutting resident to the proposed project.

While planning might make recommendations, said Autiello, zoning must take public sentiment into account. He compared this project to a previous controversial proposal for a home on an undersized lot on North Elmore Avenue, though town officials have said that matter was different because the lots were never properly merged to make one non-conforming lot.


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As Autiello stated to the Zoning Board last week, North Providence’s zoning ordinance is confusing, and “I don’t think decisions should be made off confusing ordinances.” He cited advising attorney Kelley Morris Salvatore’s statements that there are conflicting provisions in the ordinance. If there is a constant need for variances to place homes on tiny lots, he said, “why have a zoning board or zoning laws? Nobody wants this built there.”

Morris Salvatore explained the contradiction in zoning, saying anytime there’s a contradiction, it must be interpreted in favor of the property owner and the applicant must be given the benefit of the doubt. In this case, she said, one section of the zoning ordinance speaks of a reduction of 10 feet to 6 feet for one side yard on a home, conflicting with newer language requiring 15 feet on either side. Board members noted that enforcing the 15-foot requirement would result in a house on this lot that is only 10 feet wide.

The Zoning Board ended up voting 4-1 against allowing the variance, though a formal written decision hadn’t been issued as of press time.

The Planning Board last month unanimously recommended that the Zoning Board approve a left side variance of 10 feet and right side variance of 5 feet for the home on 3,800 square feet of land at 0 High Service Ave. The town’s restrictions require 8,000 square feet of land to build a home, unless the property is a nonconforming lot of record, as this one is.

Zoning Board member Joseph Scorpio noted that a home next door is built on 4,000 square feet of land, and homes behind it are built on lots ranging from 3,400 to 4,000 square feet.

But Autiello dismissed the idea of analyzing the size of house lots behind High Service Avenue, saying the vast majority of homes on the main road are on lots measuring 8,000 square feet.

Olukoga rejected assertions by Autiello and member Edward Catone that this represents a “flip” of the property, with someone already lined up to buy it within months of it being built, saying she had intended to build an in-law apartment for her mother but the town didn’t want that. Officials asked her to reduce the size of the house, she said, so that’s what she’s doing.

Olukoga also expressed offense at suggestions from resident Donna Rizzo that a home would impact the value of surrounding properties. Rizzo, who lives diagonally across the street, said the home would also damage curb appeal in the Fruit Hill neighborhood, saying making exceptions and approving variances sets a precedent that no one wants.

“I’m not looking forward to having another house there,” she said.

Catone made the motion to reject the application, and Morris Salvatore said the board would need to issue some findings of fact to make it a “good, enforceable and defensible decision.” She then walked Catone through various findings, such as whether the home fits the general characteristics of the surrounding area, rejecting it on nearly every item.

Member Anthony Costello said he gave the matter a lot of thought, but he just couldn’t vote to deny the proposal, saying he did so with mixed feelings.

Other items on the agenda last week were tabled to a later meeting.

Comments

The home next door and additional properties behind this lot where built 40 and 50 yrs ago on 40 x80 lots and some 40x100. That was the norm then. It’s not now. And where will the driveway be. On the front lawn.