Planning Commission gives nod to new town hall proposal
With the commission’s recommendation, the proposal is now ready to go before the Zoning Board of Review to ask for the special-use permits and variances required by the Zoning Ordinance.
Town Planner Lisa Bryer said the town began the process of planning for new town offices when she took her position in 1999. Bryer told the planning board that the Town Building and Facilities Committee reviewed about five schemes before deciding on the design and site before them that evening. The site was sentimental to many, between two churches, and within walking distance of many places downtown, making for easy accessibility, she noted. “We decided overall that the existing site was the best,” the planner said, adding that decisions were made based on wanting to keep the original structure on Narragansett Avenue.
Architect William Burgin presented his rendering of a new town hall, which included a relocated original building connected by a vestibule to an additional two storey building. “Moving the original Town Hall to one side aligns the building better with the churches on either side,” Burgin noted. He pointed out details of similar design that the old and new buildings would share. He said they tried to keep as many trees as possible on the property. Burgin also said underground parking was considered but not feasible within the budget, “which is why we are asking for a shared parking variance.”
Landscape architect Michael Weremay outlined the plan for parking, noting that a lot of effort was made to take maximum advantage of green areas and the sharing of parking facilities.
Weremay said that the designers discussed parking with abutting St. Matthew’s church. “It makes sense to share. Since the church uses it on the weekends, the town would use it during the week,” he explained.
Weremay also outlined the drainage plan for the property, pointing out that three-quarters of the drainage of the property moved to the west. “To the southwest and just to the northwest of the property, there will be indentations, shallow depressions that would catch runoff,” he said.
“We propose a gas light, with a lantern head that would look like a gas lantern,” Weremay said about lighting for the parking plan.
Former Planning Commissioner Dennis Webster addressed pedestrian access to the property. Citing the Comprehensive Community Plan that states the desire to keep the downtown pedestrianfriendly, Webster voiced concern that the restructuring might create the loss of walk-through areas. Webster also said that the windows on both buildings should be more alike.
Webster said he was delighted about the outside lighting in the plan. “It sure would be nice to keep the lights white instead of orange,” he added.
Commissioner Richard Ventrone commended the plan, saying, “You’ve done an overall beautiful job.” Commissioner Victor Calabretta echoed Ventrone’s praise for the project, and made the motion to approve it.
In old business, the commission recommended an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that would limit the number of permit application from for-profit developers to a total of 1 percent of the number of year-round housing units in the town.
Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks, who wrote the proposed amendment, told the board that without a limit, for-profit developers would flood the Planning Office with applications. He told the commission that the amount could not be changed, only a decision to have the limit or not.
According to state law, Section 4 of enabling legislation specifically allows towns with approved affordable housing plans, which are meeting local housing needs, to limit the number of permit applications from for-profit developers “to an aggregate of one percent of the total number of year round housing units in the town.” The town planner noted in a memo to the commission that the amendment was “necessary to make our ordinance consistent with the state law.”
Also in old business, the commission continued to look at a preliminary review for applicant Joseph Manning to create a major nine-lot subdivision on Cedar Lane.
Bryer said she wanted to get the process on the application going as soon as possible. She noted that any information to add to her checklist of the required conditions of master plan approval should be requested at this meeting. The town planner listed the zoning requirements for the master plan in a Feb. 10 memorandum to the board. She addressed the problem with nitrate levels, and asked the commission about possible clearing or fertilizing restrictions that could be put on the lot.
Dr. Paul Aldinger, engineer for the applicant, offered analysis on nitrate levels and on possible restrictions on fertilizers. Bryer praised the applicant for having “done his due diligence.” She said she felt comfortable with the calculations given in Aldinger’s model, admitting, “The fertilizer worries me to death.” But after the engineer’s presentation, Bryer said, “You have a professional putting a concrete number model in front of you that uses a conservative model. I feel comfortable with these numbers.”
Attorney John Murphy, representing the Cedar Lane project, told the board that by the March 16 meeting, “You will have all the information you need before you in order to plan a public hearing.” Murphy referred to the checklist in the planning memo as the applicant’s guidelines.
Commission Chairman Gary Girard welcomed Michael White, a newly appointed commissioner, to the board. Girard also welcomed the new town administrator, Bruce Keiser, who attended the meeting. Girard then announced the reappointments of Commissioners Jean Brown, Betty Hubbard, and himself.