Why is home building still booming on the island?
Many experts purport that the upscale home-building market is beginning to soften in most areas around the country. However, if Jamestown were the yardstick used to measure the pulse of the industry, national statistics would be strongly disputed. According to Town Zoning and Building Officer Fred Brown, applications seeking approval for variances as well as building and special-use permits needed to renovate, expand, or improve houses of every size and description continue to inundate the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Review.
Jamestown is riding a wave of construction that is steadily gaining momentum and is not likely to crest at any time soon.
"When compared to island destinations like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Jamestown has a lot to offer," Brown said. "We're a low-crime, well-run community that has managed to preserve the quaintness and charm that makes New England one of the most desirable areas in the country in which to live. We enjoy island life at its best, isolation with easy access to urban America via two bridges. Jamestown, the only town on Conanicut Island, offers its residents a small-town, rural New England lifestyle, yet they are only 5 minutes from a bustling city, easy commuting distance to a major airport, and they never lose sight of or connection with the mainland. Nowhere on the East Coast can compete with that geographic description," he said.
"When you couple the location with land and housing prices that pale to comparable areas, construction and all related businesses are going to prosper for as long as the town allows home construction to continue," Brown added. "When the island is built out to the max, to the point where the infrastructure cannot possibly support another dwelling, the building will stop and prices will rise as buyers clamor for a dwindling inventory," Brown said.
"Jamestown is still a good investment. The prices of homes may adjust slightly with the market, but they are not going to lose value. The people who can afford to live here are buying summer beach houses and little vacation cottages built in the post World War II era. They are attempting to convert them into mini-mansions or at least expand them to the limits that zoning ordinances allow, and live in them year round," he added. "Not many builders speculate here. The town plan doesn't permit the kind of building that attracts major developers. The island draws wellheeled investors buying for the long term or possibly retirement. The farms and open space areas are well protected by intelligently designed covenants, provisions and ordinances written by town founders and planners. They had the foresight to protect the island from the urban blight that has caused so many New England towns and villages to lose their identity," Brown said.
Visitors find it difficult to believe that several of the oldest working farms in the country are located on Conanicut Island. The agricultural district is practically walking distance from Newport, a densely populated, busy metropolis connected to Jamestown by bridge. Aquidneck Island, where Newport is located, provides residents with both urban and rural environments. Unlike Conanicut islanders, Aquidneck residents must contend with the challenges of city life. Jamestown has managed to maintain a village persona throughout the island.
Thanks to the town master plan, major chain stores, fast-food franchises, and strip malls will never exist here. Remove the cars from the commercial district on Narragansett Avenue and a visitor would be hard-pressed to identify the century by using the well-preserved historic surroundings as reference points. Residents relate to that image, and prospective Conanicut islanders want to be part of it.
"People will continue to build on the island," Brown said. "That is a certainty. The important thing is to make sure that we build responsibly and preserve the reasons we love to call Jamestown home," he added.