2006-06-29 / News

Planners hear chamber downtown ideas

By Michaela Kennedy

The Planning Commission met with the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce on June 21 to discuss ideas and concerns that impact local economic development. About 30 residents and merchants joined in the work session.

Chamber President Charles Petit started the discussion by stating the business community's vested interest in contributing to a successful village. Petit noted that the topics outlined in a handout to the commission were ideas solicited from members of the chamber. The topics were categorized as follows:

+ Improvements to services and facilities that will contribute toward an attractive and efficient economic zone, and overall business development.

+ Improvements to services and facilities that will enhance the business environment

+ Programs designed to take advantage of new technologies.

Michael Swistak, former president of the chamber, addressed the town's search for a business consultant. "Our dream planner is a partner in business who is going to help us be as profitable as possible," he said.

Earlier in the spring, the commission discussed a request for qualifications that would be used to seek a planning consultant to help the town with Zoning Ordinance updates and design guidelines. The commission asked the town planner at the April 19 meeting to solicit bids for the upcoming project.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer pointed out that the town's Comprehensive Community Plan states that the Planning Commission and the chamber of commerce should meet twice a year. Bryer noted that, as the downtown continued to develop, it made sense that buildings would be larger. "We don't want to limit our businesses, but it's important to think about what the face of the downtown is going to look like," Bryer said, adding, "I think it's important to continue to have a dialogue with the chamber."

The first topic under the category of business development was in support of bed and breakfast operations. According to the handout from the chamber, current zoning regulations inhibit the creation of new B & Bs and growth of existing operations.

Donna Kohler of East Bay Bed & Breakfast stood up to say she would like to see more consistency and easier accessibility. "B & Bs are going to be looked at again as a home business. It is so cost prohibitive to convert your home to a B & B by the state (regulations)," she said.

Planning Commissioner Barry Holland noted that the town restricts B & Bs to the commercial district only.

Randy Tyson of Seaside Drive said that illegal rentals could be found in a number of places on the island, resulting in lost tax revenue. "Rentals are going on all over the island. We do want B & Bs, and we do want to control them," he said.

Kohler agreed, adding, "Because of strict and costly fire codes, I don't think anyone is going to come forward and say they are running one." She suggested looking at the current properties owned by the town and consider the feasibility of creating more B & Bs.

Bill Munger of Conanicut Marine Services said the town was host to 20 boats entering the Bermuda race. "We had a huge shortage of rooms," he noted. Munger said that B & B business "provides a service to my guests and to a number of people who would like to have guests but may not want to put them up in their own home."

Also under business development was the commercial waterrate structure. Swistak stressed that the business community was not well represented on the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners. He pointed out that "millions of dollars of improvements" were decided upon with little input from the merchants. "We're spending $20 million, and you only have 1,500 of us to pay for this," Swistak said.

Bryer noted that one of the questions on the last community survey was, Should we have a separate commission for water and sewer? Girard replied, "It seems that we're moving in that direction tonight."

Under new technology programs, the chamber document listed reverse osmosis, wind power, and a municipal wireless zone.

Munger said that the water issue is something concerning businesses and residents alike.

He said the new water plant, which will soon be under construction up at South Pond, included a membrane filter system. "It will be able to process anything," he noted, adding that the town should consider adding a system that would keep South Pond full. Munger presented prices for saltwater treatment systems, saying, "For far less than a million dollars, we could have a system for reverse osmosis."

Swistak told the commission that the governor had an initiative to increase the use of rechargeable energy sources. Swistak noted that "volunteers locally are putting together a white paper" to

send to the state on the merits and potential for siting a wind generator system on the island.

Holland voiced doubt about the acceptability of a wind generator. "I have seen people come before the board to put up structures. I have a feeling that wind power will be a hard sell," he commented.

Under economic zone improvements, Swistak asked if there were a way planning could come up with some comparable tax relief for local businesses. The commission agreed to look at possibilities.

The two groups also discussed the beautification of the village. They agreed to consider putting decorative brass light poles along Narragansett Avenue, similar to the poles seen near the Community Center. Planning Commissioner Jean Brown asked if the parking signs downtown could be addressed. Bryer and the commission agreed.

In other business, the commission began review of the preliminary plan for applicant Gail Sheahan, who is proposing to replace the existing residence at 27 Luther St. with a new building. According to the plan, the first two floors of the structure will be used as an adult day-care center and associated offices, and the third floor will have two apartments.

In a memorandum from the town planner, Bryer advised the commission to review planning applications on July 19, since the July 5 meeting has been cancelled. Bryer added that proposed amendments to the high groundwater table ordinance may be available from the town solicitor.

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