WELLFLEET — Most everyone is familiar with the Eiffel Tower, which soars more than 1,000 feet above Paris. But the Wellfleet Zoning Board of Appeals wants to have a better idea of what a 21-foot replica of the tower will look like standing in the parking lot of a popular French restaurant off Route 6.
Philippe Rispoli, owner of PB Boulangerie Bistro, loves to collect works of art and craft and frequently displays items from his native France in his restaurant. The bistro’s interior features sculptures, paintings, and maps, along with copper pieces he has collected since he was 15. On a trip to France about five years ago, Rispoli purchased a custom-made replica of the Eiffel Tower from a welder and had it shipped to Wellfleet.
It’s been lying in storage in three pieces since then while Rispoli has battled the town in court for the right to display the tower outside his restaurant.
The size of the property and the presence of wetlands has made the tower’s placement a challenge. The zoning board denied permits related to a 2020 plan that would have located the tower in front of the restaurant atop a base that would make it nearly 28 feet high overall. The board’s vote was based on its opinion that the Eiffel Tower replica was a sign: a French symbol to advertise a French restaurant.
Classified as a sign, the tower didn’t meet the criteria needed for the requested special permit and two variances. It was too large, too tall, and too much of an encroachment on the property’s front area, the board ruled.
Rispoli appealed the ZBA’s decision in Orleans District Court, where a judge eventually concluded that the replica was an accessory structure and not a sign but upheld the zoning board’s permit denial.
Rispoli has now returned to the board with a plan that calls for placing the tower in a currently vacant triangle in the restaurant’s parking lot. The replica would sit on a lower base and be strung with white lights.
At the opening of a hearing on Nov. 9, attorney Ben Zehnder, who represents Rispoli and his life partner, Eliza Cox, told the zoning board the tower would be 65 feet away from Route 6 and 77 feet from Lecount Hollow Road.
“We think it’s an ideal location,” Zehnder said. “The Eiffel Tower, as I’ve argued throughout the entire thing, is a thing of artistic interest, particularly to Philippe and Eliza, but I think to the community as a whole.”
Zehnder said vegetation between the parking lot and Route 6 will serve as a buffer for passing traffic. “But if you’re on the site or walking or on a bicycle, to look up and see it will add to the ambience of the restaurant,” he said.
Zoning board member Al Mueller expressed some concern about the replica’s visual effect. “So, I’m coming through the Marconi intersection, and I’m driving toward Wellfleet; I’m tired after a 10-hour drive, and I suddenly see a miniature Eiffel Tower,” Mueller said. “What am I looking at?”
“It’s no different than driving through Wellfleet and seeing a steel turkey in front of a gallery or whatever else somebody wants to put in their front yard,” Zehnder said. “What you’re seeing is something fun and artistic. It’s a whimsy.”
Mueller said he realized that the court ruled the tower should not be classified as a sign, “but it’s the Eiffel Tower replica, and it’s in front of a French restaurant and bakery.”
Zehnder responded that the issue had been settled by the court. “I don’t want to relitigate the case,” he said.
But would the metallic whimsy be a magnet for lightning? Mueller wondered.
“Well, I wouldn’t run to that tower in a lightning storm,” Zehnder replied.
Mueller was undeterred. “I mean, seriously, somebody could get hurt, you know, like if they’re leaning against it and lightning strikes,” he said.
The tower could be equipped with a grounding device, Zehnder suggested.
Other board members wanted a better idea of what the lights on the tower would be like. “My recollection is it has sort of like Christmas lighting wrapped around,” said Cox. The lights will be white and secured to the frame by clips. “It’s a little while since I’ve looked at it carefully,” she said.
The board also asked how long Rispoli and Cox would want the tower lights to be on.
Zehnder responded that the lights would probably be turned on throughout the restaurant’s evening hours of operation. “You have to remember part of this restaurant is the ambience, people walking around enjoying themselves,” Zehnder said.
The last seating is usually around 8:30 or 9 p.m., Cox said. “People don’t stay particularly late,” she added.
The proposed location of the tower is an improvement over the previous plan, said board chair Sharon Inger. “It looks less crowded than where it was going to go,” she said. “The two things that have troubled me with it is that it’s very hard to visualize how tall this is and what it looks like with the lights on.”
Zehnder promised to provide some photos of the replica and obtain the specific above-ground height of the base it would stand on.
One board member suggested it would be even better if Zehnder provided an image with the replica superimposed on a photo of the parking lot.
The two sides agreed to continue the hearing on Dec. 14.
Before adjourning, Inger told Zehnder, “You’ve got a sympathetic audience right now, but we do need to know what this looks like.”