Advisory Opinion No. 98-102

Re: Christopher P. Morra


The Petitioner, an East Providence Zoning Board of Review member, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate in consideration of a request for variance from height requirements given that his private residence is located within 200 feet of the subject property.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Petitioner, an East Providence Zoning Board of Review (Zoning Board) member, a municipal appointed position, from participating in proceedings regarding the subject variance request since there is not sufficient evidence that the Petitioner's property would be impacted financially by the matter under consideration. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a).

The subject variance concerns a house to be constructed that would exceed the height restrictions by 4 feet 10 inches (34'10" in total). It is located across the street from the Petitioner's private residence and from a historic house and barn that he owns. The Petitioner states that he does not believe that the variance will impact his property particularly since his home is 38 feet in height and the subject property is not visible from his house because of trees. Additionally, other homes will be constructed between the Petitioner's house and this property.

Under the Code of Ethics, a Zoning Board member may not participate in any matter in which he or she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). An official will have an interest in substantial conflict with his or her official duties if it is likely that a "direct monetary gain" or a "direct monetary loss" will accrue, by virtue of the public official's activity, to the official, a family member or a business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a).

Here, after considering the relevant provisions of the Code and past advisory opinions (including a similar advisory opinion issued to the Petitioner, A.O. 98-58), we conclude that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Petitioner from participating in the consideration of the subject variance. This decision relies on the Petitioner's representations that he does not believe that the variance decision will impact his property. Also, there is no evidence that the Zoning Board's decision would trigger the prohibitions set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). As such, there is no need for the Petitioner to recuse himself from this matter under the provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

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Property interest