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Rhode Island Superior Court Approves Variance to Expand Coastal Home from One to Three Stories

Rhode Island coastal communities often contain lots and structures of various sizes and shapes that have been developed inconsistently over time. As zoning, safety, and environmental regulations change, existing buildings may become noncompliant with current regulations. Although new regulations cannot generally be used to make a preexisting property illegal, owners who seek to renovate or change their existing non-compliant property must seek the approval of a municipal zoning board by applying for a dimensional variance or special use permit to proceed with construction. A Rhode Island state court recently addressed a Rhode Island property owner’s request to demolish their one-story home in Charlestown and construct a three-story home upon the same foundation.

The petitioner in the recently decided case purchased a single-story home as a vacation home in the coastal community of Charlestown in 2000. The petitioner sought to enlarge the house by demolishing the existing structure and building a multi-story dwelling in its place, for use as a primary residence. To comply with coastal and FEMA regulations that were issued since the construction of the original property, the petitioners would be required to fill in the basement of the existing home and could not have any habitations on the first floor of the structure. The petitioners sought approval from the Charlestown zoning board for a three-story structure that would be built upon the original foundation. One of the adjacent property owners objected to the petitioner’s request, in part because the proposed three-story structure would impede the neighbor’s view of the waterway.

A hearing was held on the petitioner’s proposal, where the parties each argued for and against the issuance of a dimensional variance to allow the construction to continue. The petitioner called witnesses who testified that the proposed construction was reasonable, and was the “least relief necessary” to meet the petitioner’s needs. The objector’s witnesses disputed the supporting testimony, arguing that the larger building was not within the character of the neighborhood and that the issuing of the request was not justified. After several hearings, the Charlestown zoning board decided to issue the petitioner’s request, finding that issuing the variance was necessary and reasonable for the petitioner and that the objectors’ arguments were more related to the view being blocked, and not relevant to the actual dimensional variance that was requested by the appellant. The Objectors appealed the zoning board’s decision to the Superior Court, where the lower decision was determined to be supported by the evidence on the record, and was ultimately upheld.

Contact a Rhode Island Property Law Attorney

If you desire to perform renovations or demolish and reconstruct a building on a piece of property in Rhode Island, you may be required to comply with regulations that did not exist when the structure was initially built. Special permits or variances may be needed to comply with current regulations. When approaching the municipal zoning board with a request, the help of one of the experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP can make the difference between obtaining quick approval and a lengthy and fruitless process. Our qualified zoning and development lawyers understand how to convince local zoning boards and courts to grant variance requests and special use permits. If you have questions about a Rhode Island zoning or permit issue, call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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