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Neighborhood beginning to build up beyond flood waters

July 9, 2017

The Newport Daily News

By Marcia Pobzeznik | Correspondent

TIVERTON — The tomato plants and the wire cages that held them were ripped from the garden in Madeline Dessert’s side yard by the sea churned up by Hurricane Bob in 1991. They ended up in Augusto Desa’s basement across the street.

Dessert’s living room wall that faces the water was knocked down. A boulder that Desa estimates weighed five tons sat in the middle of the room, deposited by the ocean water that rose over the cliff and sent waves crashing over the roof of the cottage Dessert has summered in for decades.

Desa stayed in his house to watch the storm through a hole he had cut in plywood that covered a window that faces the ocean. He was one of a few in the High Hill area of town who stayed put during that damaging hurricane.

Pictures taken by some teens who also stayed behind show waves crashing as high as the telephone pole near her house, said Dessert, who still has a yard facing the ocean because she had a sea wall built there in the late 1970s. A lot next to her’s that doesn’t have a sea wall has eroded at least five feet since 2000.

Residents who have lived in the High Hill area, which is in the extreme south end of town, south of Fogland Beach and just a stone’s throw from the Little Compton line, have felt the brunt of storms over the years.

That’s why some of the newcomers who want to make the area their year-round home are knocking down and building up to comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency construction standards for homes in flood zones.

Residents who have been there for decades know their quaint neighborhood that was once all single-story summer cottages and shacks will change as homeowners who undertake major renovations will have to build higher to comply with FEMA regulations.

Many of them crowded into Town Hall recently for a variance hearing on a neighbor’s request to knock down his cottage and build a two-story, 1,500-square-foot home on the same footprint on a 3,500-square-foot lot at 24 Shore Road. The main floor will be at least 10 feet off the ground, or about 23 feet above the water that on most days is calm. The ground floor will have breakaway walls that will let the water from a storm surge pass through.

“It won’t be quaint little houses anymore,” said Rick Soares who has spent the past 35 summers there. He and many others at the meeting told the board they support the change.

Building Inspector Neil Hall told the board he was one of many inspectors who were called to the Misquamicut area of Westerly after Hurricane Sandy. “Some houses were moved three or four streets away,” Hall said. “The only one left standing looked like this,” he said of the raised house. “It opened up my eyes to how we are susceptible to this. Tiverton is half waterfront.”

“There are a number of other people in town contemplating this,” Hall said. “FEMA is driving it. The building code says it has to be brought up to FEMA standards, no questions,” if it’s in a flood zone and 49 percent or more of the property is going to be renovated.

Hall said the state Emergency Management Agency goes through the town’s building files once a year and pulls out waterfront project applications to ensure the regulations are being followed. “FEMA’s not going to pay you out if you’re not permitted,” said Hall.

There were detractors to John and Marcy Scaduto’s request for variances for their project.

Tracie and George Fountas of Andover, Massachusetts, who own a one-story summer cottage at 10 Shore Road, said in a letter to the board that allowing building closer to the road in the already congested neighborhood and razing the old cottage to build a larger one “goes against what drew us to this area in the first place and will allow this area to lose its quaint cottage charm.”

Kimberley Waltz and Elaine Barboza, are co-owners of a three-story home at 18 Shore Road and a one-story summer cottage at 19 Shore Road. Barboza also has a two-story home at 21 Barbara St. and two small vacant lots on Shore Road. They hired attorney Frank Lombardi who tried to dissuade the board from approving the variances.

“It’s just a matter of time before everyone builds buildings this way,” board member David Collins said. “The buildings are getting older,” he said of the cottages that were built in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and will eventually have to be renovated or replaced.

Board member Wendy Taylor Humphrey said many people are building bigger and better, but the Scadutos “went through all the right hoops and followed the rules.”

One other house in the neighborhood was also built using flood-resistant construction, Hall said.

If Dessert ever has the kind of damage she had from Hurricane Bob, she said she’ll have to do the same. Pieces from board games were scattered on the road after the storm, she said of how the water ripped things apart and carried them away. Two houses just down the road ended up in the creek, she said.

Her family was among the first to buy the small lots in the High Hill neighborhood in the 1940s, when the former Tremaine Estate, known for growing peas, was subdivided into 50-by-50-foot lots and sold for $500 each, she said.

Her house at 35 Shore Road used to be the High Hill Social Club building where the summer residents would gather. They still do on occasion.

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