Wednesday, February 28, 2007
113 Cross Highway before preservation work began. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow/WN file photo
By Jennifer Connic
The Westport Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night partially approved an application that would allow a couple to preserve some of buildings that once were Westport’s first gas station, the Cross Highway Garage at 113 Cross Highway.
Michael and Kim Ronemus were seeking variances to be able to use an old garage and barn as an office and guest house, which are not allowed under the zoning regulations in accessory buildings. The Representative Town Meeting last December designatated the house as historical based on its history as the town’s first filling station, an action which prevents its destruction.
The board approved the variances necessary to allow a home office to be installed in one of the buildings, but it denied a request to change one of the buildings into a guest room.
Board Chairman Jim Ezzes said there is evidence the barn where the home office would be located was once used as an office and therefore it would be appropriate to approve it. However, he said it would not be right to permit expansion of the building because the board does not approve expansions of uses such as a home office.
If storage is necessary for the office, which the applicants stated during a public hearing was the ultimate use of the expansion, the adjacent garage could be used for storage, he said.
The shed for the guest room should not be approved, he said, because it is a use that has not existed on the property.
“I do believe the applicant when they say they want to preserve all the buildings,” he said. “They can renovate and restore all of the buildings without a variance.”
Kim Ronemus said the plan for the office is to house her graphic design business, which takes up a lot of space in her current house.
She and her husband, though, want to preserve the buildings and the property to protect them from being torn down.
“I could easily have my office in my home,” she said. “That would be easy, but then there would be no reason to renovate and preserve these charming buildings. They would be left to fall down.”
The ZBA held its first hearing on the matter earlier this month, and board members said they believed the Ronemuses should ask the Planning and Zoning Commission for a zoning regulation change (See WestportNow Feb. 13).
Town Attorney Ira Bloom said there have been some harsh, insulting comments and letters circulated in the local newspapers and on WestportNow about Ezzes and P&Z Director Laurence Bradley and his staff since the last hearing.
“They have been charged with incompetence, bullying and intimidation,” he said. “I have worked with this board for many years, and people walk out of here satisfied. They may not agree, but they are treated fairly.”
Additionally, those who work with Bradley and the staff know they are professional and excellent.
“There is no place for this kind of language anywhere in town,” Bloom said. “This dialogue has no place in Westport. It’s becoming a pattern and I don’t know the reason. It’s becoming personal, and when I hear these things I need to respond and say there is no place for it.”
Ezzes said the hearing was held open to gather information that was not available at the last hearing, and all things have been filed now except an approval from the health department.
An approval from the Westport Weston Health District should be completed within the next week, he said, and there is no reason why the approval was absolutely necessary before the board ruled on the application.
Bradley said he also wanted to correct some of the information that was presented at the last hearing.
Someone said it would take 18 months to secure a zoning regulation change, he said, and state statutes limit the process to 230 days, which is under eight months.
Additionally, he said, the P&Z rejected a request to change the Historic Overlay Zone because the proposal was designed to address one building, the Bradley House on Sturges Highway.
The problem the commission had with the application was that it would allow for the zone to be imposed on a property without the owner’s permission, Bradley said.
“They felt it was not the right approach,” he said. “If they want to request someone to preserve a property, it should be done through incentives.”
Bloom also instructed the board on various legal cases that involve historic preservation and other zoning boards of appeals in the state.
The board would be on solid legal ground, he said, if it considered the historic significance along with another factor.
The fact that there was once a commercial use on the property and it would continue, he said, is one unique factor the board could use.
Posted 02/28/07 at 06:14 AM Permalink
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It does my heart good to see forward, positive action on this issue! It is so great to think that the Ronemuses can move forward on their renovation and Westport can retain one of its more charming properties. Mr. Ezzes did say that he and all the other ZBA members were emotionally in favor of preservation, and happily it appears that the technical (legal etc) details can be worked out to everyone’s benefit.
Remembering where you have been is critical to know where you are going. Mr.Ezzes and fellow ZBA Members are to be congratulated on finding a workable solution favoring historical preservation while at the same time working within the confines of the Law. Planning Director Bradley and his Staff are also to be recognized for their considerable and tireless efforts for our Community..
I do want the Ronemus’ to continue their preservation of “Cross Highway Garage” and hope that is possible…......