Letter: Article sounds like it was written by a man suing the town

Posted 4/16/24

Article sounds like it was written by a man suing the town



Editor's note: The Shorelines article referred to in this letter was published last week and was a summation of …

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Letter: Article sounds like it was written by a man suing the town


Article sounds like it was written by a man suing the town



Editor's note: The Shorelines article referred to in this letter was published last week and was a summation of the claims made by Branca, the plaintiff, in a lawsuit he filed in Massachusetts Superior Court. For more developments in the case, click here.

The article titled “Point homeowner sues historic commission” on page 4 of the April 11 Shorelines is inaccurate and misleading.  It reads as though it were written either by Robert Branca, the man who is suing the town of Westport, or by his attorneys, because it was taken almost verbatim from the text of Mr. Branca’s lawsuit.  Aside from the repetition of inflammatory language, and the biased and misleading slant of the piece, it is rife with factual misinformation that was presented without any kind of fact checking.

The statement “town documents show that Souza spoke to a commission member who advised him before he issued the permit that the wall would not need a certificate from the commission” is an outright lie.  Souza spoke informally to a commission member after he received the first permit application, which was for an in ground pool only, and asked him if an in ground pool at grade and not visible from a public way would require an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness, to which the answer is no; but that informal hypothetical was inaccurate in every way.  Even though it is all the same project, it wasn’t until later that an additional permit application was made for the approximately 5000 square foot structure, including a mechanical room, that is intended to enclose the pool complex, and raise it approximately 10 feet above the preexisting grade at the West end.  No one discussed that application with anyone at the commission. As should be abundantly clear from the photograph that accompanied the article, that structure is unquestionably visible from the Westport river, which is a public way.  I am sure that the neighbors can speak for themselves, but certainly no one at the commission was aware of the plans to build such a structure, until it actually rose out of the ground in early November.

In the Historic District, even exterior work that does not require a Certificate of Appropriateness, requires an application for a Certificate of Nonapplicability.  If Mr. Branca had only submitted an application for a Certificate of Nonapplicability; in considering such an application, the commission would have become aware of the scope of what he was planning, would have required him to file an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness, and would have required significant changes before approving any such plan.

Before buying 2015 Main Road, Mr. Branca lived in the Historic District at 2038 Main Road, and was clearly aware of the commission’s requirements, because he filed for a Certificate of Appropriateness for the replacement of his roof at his current address; which was granted by the commission.  As an experienced real estate developer, who has worked in other historic districts, Mr. Branca’s claim that he didn’t know that he was required to apply for any certificate from the commission is not credible.

Mr. Branca continues to misrepresent the process by which the commission makes decisions.  The commission is required by state law to seek the input of the abutters and other members of the public, and to consider that input.  Nevertheless, this is surely the first time that anyone has accused commission members of not expressing their own views, or making their own decisions.  I’m the Chair, and even I never know what commission members are going to say about a proposal, or how they are going to vote; especially because open meeting laws basically prohibit commission members from discussing such matters with each other outside of public meetings. If commission members appear to Mr. Branca to be friendly with the neighbors, it’s because Westport Point is a community and everyone knows each other.  If commission members appear to Mr. Branca to be siding with the abutters and their attorney, it is because the commission members have similar opinions of their own; which, ultimately, come down to the fact that the structure as presently proposed (and partially built) at 2015 Main Road is not appropriate in the Westport Point Historic District.  

The commission has bent over backwards in seeking to reach a compromise with Mr. Branca. He has remained completely intransigent in refusing to make, or even consider, any meaningful changes to the proposed structure, to lessen the significant adverse impacts that are already evident. In repeatedly denying that the commission has any authority with respect to his structure, or even that it is a structure, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, and in threatening, and now filing, this baseless lawsuit, he expresses his disrespect of the commission, the Historic District, the community in which he lives, and the town of Westport.

Rud Lawrence


Lawrence is chairman of the Westport Historical Commission.


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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.