2018-02-22 / Front Page

Salve Dorm Hearings ‘To be Continued’

By James Merolla

Size, scale and compatibility to the surroundings are the three issues that will likely determine whether Salve Regina University will be able to build two new dormitories to house juniors on its campus.

But it could be some time before a decision is reached.

“We may be meeting [on this] until Christmas,” Historic District Commission Chair Diane Sylvaria said, after a three-plus hour meeting on Feb. 20 to consider the university’s conceptual design plans.

Salve Regina is petitioning for two special use permits to construct a 196-bed dormitory just west of Lawrence Ave., between Shepard and Victoria avenues, and a 214-bed dormitory on the southern side of Victoria Ave. Each dormitory would house about 200 juniors. The university hopes to finish the construction by 2019.

A dozen abutters prepared to protest the size of the dorms were in attendance, along with expert preservation witnesses, Preserve Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization brought in by attorneys representing two neighborhood groups who live next to the university.

The abutters never got the chance to protest, however, as attorneys representing the neighbors and Salve Regina argued over the introduction of new materials, evidence, procedures, protocols and the site plan.

In addition, Preserve Rhode Island filed its objections to the plans.

As a result of the lengthy discussion, the HDC has continued the dual presentation to Feb. 22.

In order to construct the dormitories, the university must demolish five existing homes and a wing of the historic Watts Sherman House. The original application was submitted on Oct. 16, and since then, the matter has been continued several times (“Salve Regina Proposed Dormitories Delayed,” by Bob Rulli, NTW Nov. 9, 2017).

Attorney Patrick Dougherty, representing abutters along Whitty’s Way, told Newport This Week that he will likely call for a stay to the submission of the plan, or fight it in court, because it was not properly advertised. He said that Lot 89, one of a dozen lots that would be affected by the construction, was not included in any of the notices.

He called the omitted lot “an integral part of all the plans,” and said, “I believe it cannot be taken up, [due to] not being included. I don’t know at this stage of the proceedings, [if] they can just remove that.”

Sylvaria said that Lot 89’s technical omission was, “Really not going to affect the decision-making of this commission. I think it is more something you need to take up with zoning.”

When project architect Paul Weber and Salve’s attorney, Jay Lynch, began speaking about lot size, Dougherty asked if Lot 89 was in the presentation. “It factors into the landscape and surrounding property and other issues,” Dougherty said.

Zoning Official Guy Weston said that approval or denial of the application would not affect Lot 89.

“That’s a significant portion of that lot,” Dougherty said. “Your notice does not have it. Your December application leaves it out. You are going to have to redesign this site plan without this lot. I have never seen a project of this magnitude without [a proper] review initially.”

Lynch said the matter would be resolved at the Zoning Board of Review.

The discussion continued with arguments about the size of the footprints of the two buildings, lot square footage of newly-created lots and lot coverage.

When provided square footage figures on Buildings A and B, Commission member Patrick Dolat expressed difficulty understanding the exact specifications.

“Given the size and the scope of this project, I think Mr. Dolat raises some very important questions,” Sylvaria said.

She requested more precise numbers by the Feb. 22 meeting. “Without that, it is going to be very difficult for this commission to come up with a decision,” she said.

Weber then showed slides of projected images of what the landscape and abutter views would look like with Buildings A and B inserted into the scenery. But he was unable to provide a scale to the image.

“It’s a good thing we still have another meeting to go, because it is difficult,” said Sylvaria.

Attorney Karen Augeri Benson questioned Salve’s projected images. “You added some trees?” she asked.

“Yes, we added trees,” Weber said. “The trees are actually there. The trees were on the site. We put them in our image.”

Benson then provided her own images of side-by-side drawings of the proposed buildings as compared to the largest existing buildings on campus, including the O’Hare Academic Center.

“It’s not fair for the commission to have this kind of intensive evidence [introduced late],” said Benson. “It’s fair and equitable that both parties have time to study them,” she said, adding that she would wait until Feb. 22 to present them formally, with expert witnesses prepared to speak to her exhibit evidence chart.

(Editors Note: The Preserve Rhode Island’s letter of objection can be viewed at Newportnow.online.)

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