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Waterford - Attend any public meeting that relates to the Seaside Preservation Zoning District, and neighbors of the property will be out in force denouncing developer Mark Steiner and his plans to build luxury condos and his more recent proposal to add an inn to the property.
But as the Planning and Zoning Commission continues public hearings for Steiner's recently proposed amendments to zoning of the district, two neighbors are voicing support for a development resulting from a partnership between Steiner and Ocean House Management LLC.
Ocean House President and Managing Director Daniel Hostettler announced at the last public hearing for changes to the zoning of Seaside that the firm, which manages the Ocean House at Watch Hill and Weekapaug Inn in Westerly, planned to advise Steiner in developing a luxury inn at the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled. The firm would also manage the inn.
Permission to build an inn is one of several changes Steiner, who has a contract with the state to develop the property off Shore Road, has proposed. Steiner is also seeking approval to privatize roads inside the property, where he has said he plans to develop a five-star resort and more than 100 units of luxury condos. Hearings for the zoning changes continue tonight at 6:30 at Town Hall in Waterford.
James Montana, an abutting neighbor of Seaside who lives on the road called The Strand and who also owns a house on Shore Road, has written a letter in support of a development that involved Ocean House.
In the letter received July 11 by the permitting department, Montana described management of the hotel firm as having "a wonderful tract record in residential neighborhoods."
"To me it makes business sense for the town to do it," Montana said on the phone Tuesday, later adding, "My perspective prior to Ocean House was that it needed to be developed, but that Steiner was not the right developer."
He commented on the phone and in his letter that delaying development will result in further deterioration of buildings on the property, two of which were designed by architect Cass Gilbert, famous for designing the Woolworth Building and U.S. Supreme Court.
New Shore Road resident Stephen Percy, who said he was friends with Steiner, has also written to the town in support of the proposed zoning amendments. He wrote in a letter received July 11 by the permitting department that a project managed by Ocean House would raise property values, among other benefits.
"I believe such an attraction will improve both the project and the neighborhood, add to the property's value, increase the value of adjacent real estate, improve the tax base for the Town of Waterford and turn what is now an eyesore into (once again) a beautiful property that we can all be proud of," wrote Percy, who said Tuesday that he worked as a real estate broker with Pequot Commercial Real Estate Company before retiring.
He said he met Steiner in the early 2000s when the developer was in the process of purchasing Verkade's Nursery, located near Harkness Memorial State Park.
Other neighbors have previously suggested non-commercial uses for the property. Woodsea Place resident Debby Green has suggested an independent living facility for the disadvantaged; Magonk Point Road resident Kathy Jacques said that in the past, she proposed medical uses; Francis Pavetti, who lives on The Strand, has said he would like to see the space used as a public park.
Pavetti, a retired land use attorney who now works as an arbitrator, has filed a letter with the Planning and Zoning Commission stating that the state's contract with Steiner is unenforceable. Steiner's attorney, Lewis K. Wise, wrote a rebuttal to Pavetti's letter last week stating that Pavetti had misinterpreted case law.
Montana said that he likes the idea of a public park but believes it would increase traffic at least as much as a luxury resort without boosting property values. He said that as far as he knew, few of his neighbors agreed with him about developing Seaside and most were opposed to Steiner's proposed zoning changes.
Woodsea Place resident Robin Pero Ryan said on the phone Tuesday that her concern with Steiner is that his proposals tend to snowball. The current proposed zoning changes are the third set Steiner has proposed for Seaside since the early 2000s.
"What we've seen with Mr. Steiner over the years, is he proposes little baby steps and increments," she said, later adding, "And then when you put them all together and you add them up, it's a whole major change."
The permitting department received a letter from Ryan July 14, in which Ryan wrote that she and her husband were concerned about a road Steiner has proposed to run adjacent to Seaside through another parcel of land.
Ryan said Tuesday that she was concerned the proposal could entail Steiner purchasing and demolishing the residence next to the Ryans' home, resulting in the Ryans living next to a parking lot rather than on a cul-de-sac. She said the conceptual map Steiner had submitted made it vague whether or not their neighbor's house would remain.
Planning Director Dennis Goderre said there are no plans filed in his office to demolish the residence. He also recommended in a recent set of review comments to Steiner that Steiner remove references to public roads from the proposal, since the proposal calls for private roads with public access.