WELLFLEET — The victory may not have been as momentous as that of the Normans in the Battle of Hastings, but after several years of zoning hearings and a round in court, restaurant owner and chef Philippe Rispoli, who came to Wellfleet from Lyon by way of Las Vegas, has won his long fight with the town.
He will be allowed to display his 21-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower in the parking lot of the PB Boulangerie Bistro.
Rispoli purchased the custom-made replica from a welder about five years ago while on a trip to France. It’s been in storage since. The metal structure is divided into three segments, each painted in one of the colors of the French flag: red, white, and blue. The entire tower is wrapped in white lights that Rispoli’s attorney, Ben Zehnder, characterized as being the size of one’s pinkie finger, from the last joint to the tip.
Under the conditions of a special permit authorized by the zoning board of appeals, the tower’s lights can remain on from dark to the restaurant’s closing time, when all lights must be shut off. It can remain lit no later than 11 p.m.
The wetlands on the restaurant property made finding an acceptable location for the tower a challenge. The approved location lies between rows of existing parking, so it won’t reduce the number of spaces on the already tight lot, according to Zehnder.
Rispoli’s original proposal, submitted in 2020, called for placing the tower in front of the restaurant on a base that would make the entire installation nearly 28 feet high. The ZBA denied the permits required for the project based on its classification of the Eiffel Tower replica as a sign: a French symbol to advertise a French restaurant.
Board members said it was too large, too tall, and too great an encroachment on the property’s front area. The restaurant is at the intersection of Lecount Hollow Road and Route 6.
Rispoli appealed the denial in Orleans District Court. The judge upheld the zoning board’s denial but concluded that the tower was an accessory structure and not a sign, which changed the criteria it must meet in the town’s bylaws.
Under the proposal approved by the ZBA on Dec. 14, the replica will stand on a concrete base that will be only three inches above ground, bringing the structure’s height to 21 feet, 3 inches.
During last month’s opening hearing on the proposal, board members had some concerns. Al Mueller wondered about the visual impact and the potential danger the metal tower might create as a lightning magnet. Zehnder’s response to that had been, “Well, I wouldn’t run to that tower in a lightning storm.”
The board wanted a better idea about what the tower, which at the previous meeting Zehnder had called “a thing of artistic interest,” would look like. Zehnder returned on Dec. 14 with some photos he had taken of the tower along with a map of the property showing its planned location. Board members had also done a site visit since the first session.
Questions were fewer on Dec. 14. In response to a query from ZBA member Jan Morrissey about how the tower would be secured to the concrete base, Zehnder said each leg would be bolted to the base.
Chair Sharon Inger said the holes in the metal network would allow the wind to pass through the tower, “which would probably reduce the chances of it going flying.” Member Wil Sullivan jokingly wondered whether a noise study was needed to calculate the sound level of wind passing through the tower.
Zehnder said that any structure more than six feet tall requires a building permit. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they required at least something from a structural engineer,” Zehnder said.
“You’re going to have ospreys building nests on this,” Mueller said, anticipating the decision the board was about to reach.
Deliberation wrapped up in less than 15 minutes, and Rispoli now has what he needs — except the permit from the building inspector — to put up his tower.