2006-08-24 / News

Consultants considered for downtown developments

By Michaela Kennedy

At its Aug. 16 meeting, the Planning Commission discussed the use of architectural consultants for developments in the downtown commercial district. The commission also approved a new home development on Garboard Street.

In a continued matter, the commission discussed approaches to architectural consultation for commercial design reviews.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer provided the commission with copies of letters received from local architects Jim Estes and Ron DiMauro. The letters were sent in response to an advertisement in the Jamestown Press for architectural services to assist the commission in the review of commercial development applications and make recommendations to the board on plan improvements.

In his letter, Estes proposed offering 60 hours of consultation with billing beyond that. "I believe in community service," Estes wrote.

DiMauro offered an hourly billing rate.

Bryer advised the commission to have both architects on call. "The offer of 60 hours is sure nice and should be considered, but I'd like to talk to both of them about it," she said. Bryer also advised that such consultation should be considered for all commercial plans, noting that North Kingstown and other communities regularly use architects to review applications. "I could really use that consulting," she added.

Commissioner Richard Ventrone asked if the town currently had the ability to approve or reject a plan based on aesthetics. "We don't have the authority to deny a plan based on the type of shingles or windows used. We should be very clear about whether we have the authority to reject something based on aesthetics," he said.

Hubbard disagreed, saying that the town did have such authority. "What Lisa is trying to do is to give some direction," she said. Hubbard also expressed disappointment that that the town did not receive grant money this year to develop a design manual for commercial projects. "Since it's not happening, I think this is a great way to go," she said in favor of the idea of using architectural consultants.

The town planner emphasized her support of the idea as well, saying, "From my perspective, if we have a difficult lot, it would be good to use."

Ventrone agreed it would be a great idea, but asked how consultation could be subsidized.

Calabretta noted that his engineering company often provided services to communities. "It's not uncommon to charge the applicant. It's part of the growing pains," he said.

Commissioner Barry Holland clarified questions about the duties of a design consultant. "If we bring in an engineer, he would look at the plan and offer suggestions to the applicant's architect, who would go back and make revisions according to the suggestions," he said, adding that a "town architect would not be actually drawing up plans for the applicant."

The commission voted 7-0 to have the town solicitor draft an appropriate amendment that would give the board the authority to call on consultants when needed.

In a continued development plan review, applicant James Donnelly introduced engineer John Caito, who designed the proposed house on Garboard Street. In accordance with a request from the planning board, Caito revised the location of the septic system on the site plan. According to the engineer, the state Department of Environmental Management would have no problem with the relocation, and it would not affect abutting properties.

Commissioner Betty Hubbard asked Caito to explain the need of the dry wells placed around the site, mentioning the high ground water on the land. The engineer said that the wells would provide the capacity for leaching.

Hubbard praised the plan for a gravel driveway, and asked if piping for storm-water runoff could go to the driveway. "You'd probably be overflowing frequently. It might be additional protection," she suggested.

Caito agreed the piping could be included since the driveway would be porous. "If the driveway area becomes saturated, it's nothing that would cause concern," he said.

Ventrone compared the plan to another lot that was located near wetlands. "This is very close in character to the plan on Beach Street that we denied," he said.

Girard reminded Ventrone that other lots could not be discussed, "but we can discuss the concept."

Donnelly addressed the wetlands comment. "I've been on the lot three or four hundred times in the last three years, and there has

never been standing water on the lot. We did our homework up front," he added.

Bryer also defended the plan, saying the drainage that the applicant presented was acceptable to the town engineer.

Commissioner Calabretta moved to approve the plan, and the commission voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

In a non-agenda item, Charlotte Zarlengo of Seaside Drive questioned why the Zoning Ordinance amendments related to high groundwater and impervious layer failed to be on the agenda. "I want to remind the board that this has been going on for some time, and the commission said they would deal with this in a timely manner," she said.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer said that not all of the amended sections were finished by the town solicitor, and she had advised the commission to wait for the completed legal drafts before continuing.

In a memorandum to the board, Bryer listed the changes being made. They are:

+ Subtracting jurisdictional wetlands from a lot size before applying the maximum impervious cover standard.

+ Developing a separate ordinance preventing clearing and filling of a lot without a development plan or approval by the building official.

+ Changing standards for development to standards for a specialuse permit.

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