Out Of Scale: Proposed Little Beach Rebuilds Sent Packing Over Concerns They're Too Large

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Development , Zoning/land use

These three houses on Little Beach Road are proposed to be demolished and rebuilt. The zoning board last week approved one but sent the other two back for redesign. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – The rebuilding of two cottages on Little Beach is heading back to the drawing board after neighbors and zoning board members said the new homes were too large for the neighborhood.

While the zoning board last week approved the demolition and rebuilding of a cottage at 46 Little Beach Rd., similar proposals for homes at 47 and 53 Little Beach Rd. met with concerns over expanded footprints and infringement on sideline setbacks. At a hearing last Thursday, the board agreed to continue the hearings until October to give the owners time to redesign the structures.

While the cottages are located on three separate lots, all are owned by Morris Island Nominee Trust. Attorney William Riley said the owners have previously rented the homes but now want spend the summer at them and wish to upgrade the 1940s-era summer cottages. While the trust has been represented for years by developer Ronald Rudnick, Riley said the properties are owned by Miami developer and investor Mark Paresky and his sisters, who have no intention of selling them.

“This is not a developer,” he said of the owners. “This is a family that wants to start making use of a property.”

All of the buildings are nonconforming in multiple ways, which is what brought them to the zoning board; all infringe on the district's required 40-foot setbacks and are located within the flood plain and therefore have no buildable upland. All require upgraded nitrogen-reducing septic systems. In all three cases, the replacement buildings need to be elevated to confirm with flood zone regulations and expanded significantly. The home at 46 Little Beach Rd. will increase its lot coverage from 527 to 832 square feet; at 47 Little Beach Rd., the new home would be increased from 695 square feet to 1,152 square feet; and the 53 Little Beach Rd. home will go from 1,412 square feet of coverage to 1,802 square feet. All of the buildings will be two stories, substantially increasing livable square footage; the 53 Little Beach Rd. home, the largest of the three sitting on the largest lot (28,000 square feet), will increase from about 1,300 square feet of living space to 3,600 square feet.

Riley said it did not make financial sense to raise the buildings and not upgrade them. Built about 75 years ago as part of the Horne Cottages, the buildings have been determined not to be historically significant by the historical commission and are “not worth elevating,” he said. Expanding living space when raising the buildings is not prohibited by the zoning bylaw, he said.

“It's Little Beach,” he said of the tight confines of the area. “Nothing fits.” The neighborhood south of Lighthouse Beach is low-lying and often floods during storm events. The new homes will be built so that floodwaters flow underneath them during storms, Riley said.

While zoning board members thought the new building proposed for 46 Little Beach Rd. would be an improvement to the neighborhood, they did not share the same view regarding the other two proposals. Several neighbors also did not like the new buildings.

Joanne Lonergan of 30 Little Beach Rd. noted that the new structure would be one inch from Little Beach Road and 1.7 inches from the lot line. “That seems pretty excessive to me,” she said. Attorney William Litchfield, representing other abutters, said given the 4,970-square-foot size of the lot, the expansion was a “stretch.”

“To increase this dramatically, really it should be reconsidered,” he said.

Stairs to a deck created the one-inch setback distance and they will be moved to the other side of the house, Riley said. Efforts were made to reduce the nonconformity of the building, he added; it currently crosses the lot line with 53 Little Beach Rd., but the proposed home would be entirely on the 46 Little Beach Rd. lot. The section of Little Beach Road that passes the house is basically a path to the beach used by the neighborhood, and he offered to provide plantings to screen the deck from pedestrians.

ZBA member James “Buck” Upson said the proposal was “like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.” Member Happy Van Sickle noted the area was “fragile” and would never be built on today.

Although on a larger lot, there was similar sentiment about the house proposed for 53 Little Beach Rd. Litchfield called the proposal a “very significant change,” and resident Elaine Gibbs said taken together, the three new houses will “totally change the neighborhood.”

“This complex is going to be huge,” she said.

Abutter Kermit Eaton added that the designs of all three houses are very similar and not in character with the neighborhood. “I would hope to see some creativity in design that made them a little different so they don't look like a condo complex,” he said.

Since it was clear that the four positive votes necessary for approval were not forthcoming, the board agreed to Riley's requested that the hearings for 47 and 53 Little Beach Rd. be postponed until Oct. 8 so that the buildings could be redesigned.