August 21, 2008

Zoners OK Restaurant Move on Water St.

By Alex Kuffner

WARREN -- Three Rivers is set to move into a new location on the waterfront after the Zoning Board of Review last night voted in favor of allowing the first floor of a proposed building on Water Street to be used as a restaurant.

After a three-hour public hearing in Town Hall, the board unanimously approved the application submitted by Barrington lawyer Giovanni Cicione, the developer of the new three-story building at 279 Water St. Three Rivers owner Nancy O'Connell has signed a lease with Cicione that will allow her to move her restaurant from its current home just north of the Town Wharf and expand it into a 138- seat facility.

"We were very happy to have her as a neighbor," Cicione, who is also chairman of the state Republican Party, said. "We're even happier to have her as a first-floor tenant."

The board gave its approval with certain restrictions. Most significantly, if Three Rivers expands to include dinner service, it must close by 10 on weeknights and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant must still apply for a liquor license.

But it wasn't the establishment's operating hours or its intention to serve alcohol that took up the bulk of the discussion during the hearing. Rather, it was the question of parking and whether Cicione's property would be able to accommodate all of O'Connell's customers and the businesses he plans to house in his building's second and third floors, including his own law practice.

At the center of the debate was an easement that governs parking for his parcel and the surrounding properties on the Town Wharf. According to Cicione, there are 65 spaces available to the property owners in the area, more than enough for his proposal. However, the other owners covered by the easement have access to those spaces, too, which means there could be competition for places.

Any conflict would then spill into nearby residential streets, complained neighbors who said that parking is already a serious problem for them.

Some residents urged the board to disregard the easement entirely. Sandy Scott, a State Street resident and chairman of the advocacy group Develop Warren Wisely, called the document approved by the town a mistake.

"It's bad policy. It's bad zoning. It's bad planning," he said.

Board chairman Benedict Ferrazzano had his own questions about the easement.

"For anyone to think there is not a concern about it would be foolish," he told the audience.

Although the easement may be unclear and could even appear contradictory, the document is binding, board members agreed.

"I think our hands right now are tied," Ferrazzano said.

There were no votes against having a restaurant in Cicione's building, though board member Michael Gerhardt said he voted in favor "reluctantly."

The decision followed an earlier vote in favor of giving Cicione a variance so his 41-foot-tall building can exceed the town's 35- foot limit on all structures.

The variance was granted after a brief presentation by Cicione. The concerns surrounding the restaurant took much longer for him and O'Connell to address.

But not everyone was worried. Board vice chairman William A. Hanley said the parking crunch that currently affects O'Connell's restaurant on weekends doesn't create serious problems for the surrounding neighborhood. He said that things shouldn't be that different when Three Rivers moves.

S. Paul Ryan, attorney for the board, took the broad view.

"If you look at all the major waterfront areas in Rhode Island, including this one, you're not going to find adequate parking in any of them," he said.

Warren [email protected] / (401) 277-7457

Originally published by Alex Kuffner, Journal Staff Writer.

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