Advisory Opinion No. 98-19

Re: Christopher P. Morra


The Petitioner, an East Providence Zoning Board of Review member, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to (1) whether he must recuse on consideration of a petition for variance for a portable spring water facility given that he, through his business, is an abutter to the facility, and (2) whether he would be required to recuse himself if a neighbor within 200 feet of his personal residence seeks a height variance.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, an East Providence Zoning Board of Review member, a municipal appointed position, may participate in the consideration of a petition for variance regarding a portable spring water facility. The Petitioner represents that his fire alarm business is located across the street from a large shopping center. The proposed portable spring water facility would be located at the far end of the shopping center, an estimated 2000 feet from the Petitioner's business. The shopping center already contains businesses with drive-up facilities.

The Commission in previous decisions has concluded that certain abutters would be directly impacted financially by matters relating to neighboring properties. In such instances, public officials were advised to recuse when the matters at issue came before them. Those decisions generally have concerned the approval of a subdivision. However, the Commission also has concluded that other zoning decisions did not directly impact abutters. See A.O. 96-63 (North Smithfield Zoning Board member could participate in removal of stipulation on a lot more than 200 feet away from him). Here, although the Petitioner is technically an abutter, the facts recited above are sufficient to rebut the presumption that he or his business would be financially affected by the grant or denial of the subject variance. Therefore, the Petitioner may participate in this matter without violating provisions of the Code of Ethics.

The Commission is not able to consider the Petitioner's second, more general question about participating in the consideration of a neighbor's request for a height variance. At this juncture the Petitioner's request is speculative. Depending on the particular facts of a situation, as ultimately presented, the Petitioner may or may not be required to recuse himself. Factors such as the proximity of the neighbor's property to the Petitioner's house, whether the increased height would affect his view or otherwise affect the property value of his house are some the considerations that would impact whether the Petitioner would have a substantial conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics. Therefore, we recommend that the Petitioner request another advisory opinion when such a matter appears before him.

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Business interest

Property interest