Bristol's Battle of the Belvedere continues as abutters appeal

By Kristen Ray
Posted 9/20/18

It looked as if the entire Bristol community were crammed into the Town Hall chambers Monday night as they sat in for what turned out to be only the first wave of public hearings regarding an appeal …

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Bristol's Battle of the Belvedere continues as abutters appeal

Posted

It looked as if the entire Bristol community were crammed into the Town Hall chambers Monday night as they sat in for what turned out to be only the first wave of public hearings regarding an appeal of the “Belvedere at Thames Street” project approved by the Bristol Historic District Commission and Bristol Planning Board on July 12.

Not even a month after the two boards ended their series of joint meetings regarding applicant Jim Roiter’s controversial plans to construct a mixed-use, residential and commercial structure in Bristol’s historic downtown district, five abutters submitted their applications for appeals to the Zoning Board of Review, unleashing a heated debate over the legality of both boards’ actions.

“This has been an unusually divisive application in Bristol,” acknowledged assistant Town Solicitor Andy Teitz.

Acting as the representative for both the HDC and Planning Board throughout the appeals, Mr. Teitz, joined Mr. Roiter’s representative, Joseph Shekarchi, as they battled against the claims highlighted by the appellant’s representative, Stephen MacGillivray. Opting to conduct the public hearings separately, the Zoning Board of Review sat through three and a half hours of what was occasionally hostile back-and-forth between the attorneys as they first tackled the allegations brought on the HDC:

  • On the combined hearings: While Mr. MacGillivray claimed that by teaming up with the Planning Board for three sessions this past spring, the HDC was inadvertently influenced by their members and, consequentially, negligent in maintaining its own standards, Mr. Teitz argued that those joint discussions merely served to be more efficient and were properly advertised and not objected to at the time.

  • On justifying its massive size: When factoring in Belvedere’s overall mass in relation to its proposed location along Bristol’s historic waterfront district — characterized by small-scale buildings — Mr. MacGillivray stated that the HDC improperly considered irrelevant outlying or nonexistent structures, including the mills, Stone Harbour and the long-demolished DeWolf Hotel. Mr. Teitz maintained that Bristol’s downtown is comprised of varying structures and that it only makes sense to acknowledge its past when considering future construction.

  • Regarding the roof: Although the bulk of the public hearing regarding Belvedere’s roof design was centered on the flat roof option, it wasn’t until after public discussions closed and deliberations began that the HDC circled back to the peaked roof option, preventing, Mr. MacGillivray claimed, residents’ ability to properly provide testimony on the matter. According to Mr. Teitz, both design options had been submitted prior to deliberation and that the HDC fairly factored in all testimonies as they considered multiple designs of the building.

  • Adhering to the HDC Guidelines: Though Mr. MacGillivray argued that the HDC can’t base decisions on nonexistent or anticipated changes to the law, Mr. Teitz reasoned that it made sense for the board to balance out the guidelines’ outdated nature with the rest of the evidence provided in their final decision.

  • On the “expert” testimonies: With seven experts totaling 188 years of experience in historic preservation recounting their opposition to the proposal, Mr. MacGillivray found fault in the HDC blatantly disregarding their testimony in favor of Mr. Roiter’s team of real estate, civil engineer, zoning and architectural “experts.” Mr. Teitz disagreed, stating that the architect on the project, Douglas Kallfelz, is, by profession, automatically an expert who additionally has had experience in historical structures. Mr. Shekarchi took it a step further, speculating that perhaps the HDC found the experts against the project to be not as credible as they made themselves seem.

 

Though the attorneys representing both sides extensively covered the main aspects of the appeal, many residents still welcomed the opportunity to raise their concerns; almost constantly, testifiers were stopped mid-sentence in the Board’s wary attempts to steer the conversation away from either revisiting established issues or piling on additional facts not documented in the appeal.

“We’re here for a very narrow purpose,” reminded Town Solicitor Mark Hadden. “We’re not here to reopen evidence.”

Perhaps the only person not interrupted during his statement, Halsey Herreshoff urged the board to send the proposal back down for further discussion and take into consideration not only what is legal, but what also has the community’s best interest at heart.

“I appeal to you, Appeal Board, to consider the fact that the town here is very much not satisfied,” he said.

Ultimately, though, they’ll have to base any overturn in decision on clear, unwavering errors in law.  After being provided plenty of evidence to contemplate, the board decided to schedule the continuation and potential conclusion of the HDC appeal for Oct. 1.

Hearings for the Planning Board appeal are not slated to begin until Oct. 30. Both meetings will be held at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall chambers.

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