Two boards narrowly approve downtown Bristol project

Divided planning board and historic district commission approve plans — but they are different plans

By Scott Pickering
Posted 6/22/18

The controversial proposal to construct a large building in downtown Bristol cleared two important hurdles Thursday night, winning preliminary approval from the town’s planning board and the …

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Two boards narrowly approve downtown Bristol project

Divided planning board and historic district commission approve plans — but they are different plans

Posted

The controversial proposal to construct a large building in downtown Bristol cleared two important hurdles Thursday night, winning preliminary approval from the town’s planning board and the town’s historic district commission.

But there’s a catch.

The Bristol Historic District Commission approved an earlier version of the "Belvedere at Thames" plan, which has gables and areas of pitched roof on a building that would be 47’ 9” tall (see image above).

The Bristol Planning Board approved a more recent version of the plan, which has a flat roof generally considered by most people to be less attractive, but which is only 41 feet tall (see image above).

The last 30 minutes of Thursday night’s dual meeting of both boards, held inside the Colt School auditorium on the same night as the opening performance of the Bristol Fourth of July Concert Series taking place just a block away, was confusing for most people in the room, including an audience of more than 50 people.

As it became clear the two boards would be approving different plans, and as board members debated procedural questions and briefly considered re-voting, opponents of the project began heckling and jeering the proceedings.

Stephen DeLeo, whose development company is one of the opponents who hired an attorney to represent them, loudly said, “This is a joke.”

The Thursday night affair was the third installment of a meeting that began in May (lasting for four hours), was continued to June 7 (lasting another four hours), and was continued to June 21, when it wrapped up after another three hours. In this latest session, applicant Jim Roiter and his team responded to testimony from the public and presented closing arguments. Attorney Stephen MacGillivray, representing the opposition, did the same.

Throughout the night, members of both boards asked questions of the applicant and debated among themselves, before it came time to vote.

The planning board voted first. Chairman Jerome Squatrito and members Anthony Murgo and Armand Billotti voted in favor of the project, specifying the “flat roof” design. Members Charles Millard and Michael Rossi were opposed. It passed 3-2.

The historic district commission then voted in favor, but specified the earlier design with the pitched roof and gables. The vote was 4-3, with Chairwoman Oryann Lima in favor, along with members John Allen, Sonny Furtado and Victor Cabral. Christopher Ponder, Mary Millard and Gerald Walsh were opposed.

In both cases, the boards did not formally approve the project — yet. They each instructed the town’s attorney and planning team to write final decisions outlining their approval and specifying details of their decisions. In each case, those written decisions will come back to the boards for final review and approval. Though it is considered unlikely, board members could still change their minds, as the votes are not final until the next meeting, three weeks from now.

As for how the two boards rectify the confusion over the two different building designs, there are an array of possible options, which includes the developer asking either board to reconsider its decision, or appealing to the Bristol Zoning Board of Review to render a decision on either plan.

For more from the meeting, including arguments in favor and against the project, see next week’s Bristol Phoenix newspaper.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.