It was a neighborhood divided against itself.
On one side of City Council Chambers sat a group who are upset with the actions taken to build a waterfront home on Charlotte Drive in Potowomut. On the other side was an equally large group that thought that David Cesario, owner of Dave’s Marketplace, should at least be given the opportunity Tuesday night to present plans for the house and to be heard on his request for a variance of the side yard setback.
But that didn’t happen Tuesday night.
Instead, the Zoning Board, by a 3-2 vote, told Cesario he would have to wait until April to be heard. Some neighbors thought that was fair. Others were outraged.
The irony is, the same board voted 4-1 last December to grant Cesario not one, but several variances to demolish a house at 187 Charlotte Drive and build a larger one in its place. Cesario’s contractor, Joseph Polumbo, who happens to live in the house next door, didn’t abide by the full stipulations of the approval. Cesario was supposed to leave two foundation walls of the former house standing. Instead, the builder took them out, although the overall footprint of the house wasn’t changed.
When that happened, the city building department issued a cease and desist order, stopping construction early this summer. Last month, Polumbo and Cesario appeared before the board with a new request that would have put the same house on an entirely new foundation.
That’s when the bad blood started to flow.
Neighbors complained that the city was “being duped” and the board was being asked for forgiveness when the developer really should have gained city approval to take down the walls. Board member Richard Corley pounded at Polumbo, demanding proper justification for removal of the walls. In the end, Corley made the resolution to continue the petition until next April.
However, within a week, Cesario was back with a new petition that downsized the house and reduced the need for variances. Instead of having to wait until April, Cesario was back before the board Tuesday night.
That bothered Corley.
He noted the developer wanted a continuance, which he got.
“What bothers me,” said Corley, “is that we told him it would not be heard until April 2014 and he seemed to agree to it. It seems like he’s manipulating the Zoning Board and I don’t feel kindly about someone manipulating me.”
Corley accused the petitioner of “showing no respect for the board … he’s dug his hole, now he has to lie in it. I think this is an end run. It’s about what we did last month.”
Cesario’s attorney, John Shekarchi, who is also a neighbor, disagreed. Pointing out that he has been retained in the last month, Shekarchi said “out of respect to the board and the neighbors,” Cesario redesigned the house and how it would be situated on the property. He said he was prepared to present the petition and had the proper experts to testify. He said it was his idea to withdraw the petition continued to April and come up with a new one.
Corley, who is also an attorney, didn’t blame Shekarchi. Corley pointed out that Cesario has sufficient land to build without the need of variances.
“I don’t think it passes the test of fair dealing with the board,” he said.
That wasn’t the issue, in the opinion of board Chairman Donald Morash.
He viewed the action to continue the petition until April, which he voted against, as a disciplinary action. He saw nothing gained by delaying the new petition as the hole for the foundation has been dug, the petitioner had his experts and neighbors on both sides of the issue were in attendance and the issue could be addressed right now.
“I don’t see any benefit stalling this to April,” said Morash. He said it was “unfortunate” that Cesario had relied on his builder, as he put him in this predicament.
Alternate board member Paul Wyrostek, who pointed out he could not vote but was in attendance anyhow, said a house would be built on the lot at some point. He urged the board to proceed with the hearing.
Shekarchi made a final appeal for the petition to be heard sooner than April. Contrary to Corley’s reasoning, that an April hearing would give Cesario the chance to build next summer assuming approval, Shekarchi said permitting would take up most of the summer.
Corley suggested Cesario “fill the hole if he’s a good neighbor.”
With the vote taken not to hear the petition until April, neighbors on one side of the room applauded. Those on the other side gathered around Cesario and his wife.
Karen Monteiro is one of those who feel Cesario has sufficient land [16,000 square feet] to build a conforming house. She questioned why Cesario hadn’t contacted her and others with his plans for the property. And she asked what would become of the hole and mound of sand on the property. That was also an issue for Ron Amelotte, who lives across the street from the site. With winter winds, he fears blowing sand will fill his property.
Across the isle, Marie Shore, who also lives on Charlotte Drive, said, “This is not the way justice should be meted out.” She felt Cesario should have been permitted to present his case Tuesday.
Another neighbor, William Pinelli, was disgusted with the board’s action and the audience’s reaction.
“Neighbors are clapping when you can’t build a house,” he said. “What kind of neighbors do we have?”