Subdivision could save historic Bristol home

Without zoning relief, the 1845 Gothic Revival home will have to come down

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 4/9/21

Members of the Bristol Planning Board will meet Thursday to discuss a pre-application and concept plan designed to preserve a nearly 200-year-old home at 135 Ferry Road. The current owners are …

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Subdivision could save historic Bristol home

Without zoning relief, the 1845 Gothic Revival home will have to come down

Posted

Members of the Bristol Planning Board will meet Thursday to discuss a pre-application and concept plan designed to preserve a nearly 200-year-old home at 135 Ferry Road. The current owners are building a new house closer to the water, on the lot which stretches from Route 114 to the shoreline.

When the town received the building permit application in November 2020, it revealed an unfortunate reality. The lot, as currently zoned, does not permit more than one residential structure — and the existing historic house, sited feet away from Route 114, does not enjoy protection from any preservation authority.

“It’s not part of the Historic District, and the house itself is not listed in the National Historic District — though it is eligible,” said Community Development Director Diane Williamson.

The Sandford/Simmons house was built in 1845, about 10 years after Sally Sandford and Hannah Simmons inherited part of Hezekiah Sandford’s onion farm. In 1851, this two-and-a-half-story, three-bay Gothic Revival cottage with Greek Revival interior details was one of only three properties on the west side of Ferry Road.

Zoning enforcement officer and Town Planner Ed Tanner realized the only way his office could approve the building permit for the new house, under the existing regulation, is to require that the older building be torn down when the new one is ready for occupancy.

“We struggled with that,” admits Ms. Williamson. But the law is the law, and under the law, their hands were tied. The building permit was issued in January.

Ms. Williamson reached out to Catherine Zipf of the Bristol Historical Society for advice; it was Ms. Zipf who suggested the possible solution of subdividing the property. They also consulted Valerie Talmadge of Preserve Rhode Island, who was also supportive of exploring subdivision in an effort to save the structure.

“Given the age, historic character of the building, and its iconic presence on Ferry Road, I reached out to the owners to see if this was an opportunity they wanted to explore,” said Ms. Williamson.

It was, and owners Bettina and Paul Killion have submitted a plan that would allow both structures to remain on the property, each on their own separate lot. The plan will, however, require considerable relief from the Zoning Board. “To me, it’s an extremely old, charming home, full of character,” said Ms. Williamson. “It makes the streetscape on Ferry Road, and it it wasn’t there, there would really be something missing.”

If the Planning Board pre-application is approved, it will move on to final Planning Board approval before going before the Zoning Board, at which point the neighbors will be contacted to comment on the plan.

In the event the homeowners are granted the right to subdivide the property and preserve the Sandford/Simmons house, they would be encouraged to obtain a preservation easement on the property; a legal agreement that limits certain development rights in perpetuity.

Any preservation easement would be recorded in the land records, requiring any future owners to maintain the property in a sound state of repair and follow national standards when repairing or considering alterations to the building.

“I don’t know how this is going to go, but I had to ask,” said Ms. Williamson.

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