While he said he’s done nothing wrong, followed the letter of the law and isn’t trying to get away with anything, the owner of a Westport Point home called out by the historical …
While he said he’s done nothing wrong, followed the letter of the law and isn’t trying to get away with anything, the owner of a Westport Point home called out by the historical commission for building a large concrete structure without the appropriate certificates said he’ll file for them in the coming weeks.
“I have no problem doing that,” Robert Branca told commission members Monday evening. “We thought we were following the rules.”
This past Spring, Branca, of 2015 Main Road, applied for and received several building permits to install a pool and a large concrete structure at his waterfront home, which he purchased two years ago for $3.6 million. The structure is about 60 feet wide and 100 long, and rises nine feet above grade. The structure, in part, houses pool-related equipment.
Work began just after Labor Day and by early November, neighbors began asking questions about the structure, visible from the Westport River and, to a lesser extent, the road. Several contacted the commission, which oversees all construction in the historic district, and chairman Rud Lawrence subsequently instructed building inspector Ralph Souza to issue a stop work order as Branca had not filed an application for a certificate of either appropriateness, non-applicability or hardship, as is required in the district when the work is visible from a public way.
But Branca, an attorney and real estate developer who has done work in the historic district before, said he was and remains aware of the certificate process, asked about it while applying for permits, and said he was told by Souza that none were required. When Souza issued the building permits he sought, Branca said, he said, he thought he was cleared to proceed:
“I feel like I’ve complied with everything,” Branca said. “I acted in good faith. When I got my permit approved, I assumed I didn’t need” any certificates.
“Our understanding was that a certificate was not required,” added his attorney, Kelly Jordan-Price of Hinckley, Allen and Snyder in Boston. “We had approved plans. We were given two building permits. My client has since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (and) here we are in December (with) a notice of violation."
Lawrence said Monday evening that he indeed spoke to Souza about the structure prior to the issuance of building permits, and in response to the building official’s question on whether a certificate would be required, “I said, ‘Yes, it would be if it (the structure) was above grade.’”
Plans submitted to the town did not make clear the nature of the structure, or its height above grade, Lawrence said. But either way, he said, “our procedure is ... any construction that is done within the district must be applied for, whether it is in view from the public ways” or not, Lawrence said. “If it is not in view it still has to come before the commission ... that was not followed.”
Branca said his life, and his family’s, have been thrown into disarray since the structure started going up. He said he’s had neighbors coming onto his property and screaming at workers, drones flying overhead recording footage, and a constable came by and threatened arrest even though work on the structure had stopped as soon as the stop work order was issued.
“My family is emotionally distraught and my children’s financial future is in jeopardy,” he said. “We went through this in good faith, then seven, eight months later ... I’m not making it up. I mean, how would I hide this project? I’m not sure what my motive would be to skirt jurisdiction to something that’s obvious to the world. I’m insulted by it.”
After about 40 minutes of discussion, and following a recess during which Branca and Price spoke with the town’s attorney, the homeowner returned and told the board that he will apply for certificates of applicability and non-appropriateness. When asked why he’ll file for two, when only one is needed, he responded:
“Because I need to preserve my rights,” he said. “The states are too high. We will come before you,” but “we are still going to assert no jurisdiction.”