2007-03-29 / News

Planners examine a new commercial building proposal

By Michaela Kennedy

The Planning Commission offered advice and opinions on a major land development project being proposed for the southeast corner of Howland and Narragansett Avenues at their March 21 meeting.

William Burgin, the architect representing property owners Allan and Nancy Randall, showed a rendering of the existing house on Narragansett Avenue moved to the back of the lot facing Howland Avenue, and a new building facing Narragansett Avenue. Burgin also showed a floor plan with a covered porch and two first floor units, or one large unit. The second floor would also be offices.

The ordinance requires a mixed use variance.

John Murphy, attorney for the Randalls, noted that the ordinance calls for a zero-foot setback. Murphy clarified there would be a mixed use on the property, "but not in the new building, which will be a single use."

Commissioner Richard Ventrone complained that the size of the building did not "fit within the character of the town now." He referred to the comprehensive plan that calls for compatibility with the downtown village character. Girard agreed that the design was too large for the area.

Commissioner Jean Brown defended the design, and called Randall's work "impeccable." Commissioner Michael White also favored the design.

Commissioner Barry Holland praised the applicant for making best use of the lot by designing the largest building possible. "It's got some square footage. So what? It's a downtown business," he added.

Commissioner Victor Calabretta complimented the commercial building design, calling it "a fine addition to the town." He called for a resolution to the parking problem in the plan, however, which showed fewer parking spaces than required by the ordinance. Calabretta asked if a financial burden would result if the building size were scaled back.

Burgin reminded the board that he did not go to the maximum building size allowed by ordinance. "In the long run, we've got virtually no space for business expansion. Certainly you could build a much smaller building with more parking spaces, but is it best use?" Burgin said.

Commissioner Betty Hubbard told the group that when the ordinance was changed in 1995, the zero-foot setback was left in the document. "The first thing we talked about was that we wanted a pedestrian-friendly design," she said.

Randall stood up to explain his plan to move the residential house over to the residential road, and position the commercial building on the main road. "Maybe it's a change the downtown is ready for. Sure, it was nice to sit there when the horses went by. But we have a very busy downtown nowadays," he said.

Girard noted that the commission works with the community plan, and all were considering what was best for the town. "It's a critical time for Jamestown," he said. Murphy said it was "somewhat wrong" to interpret the community plan as "against big."

In other business, the Planning Commission reviewed a draft which will be used to advertise for consultants interested in developing commercial district design guidelines.

According to the request, the chosen consultant will help the town with a general update of the zoning ordinance, development of architectural guidelines to be applied to the downtown commercial districts, and review of applications in the commercial and public districts.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer asked the planners for overall comments on the proposal. She noted that Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero suggested a time frame be included for the selection and for the work. She also said the person making the decision, and the name of the person interviewing the applicants should be included in the request. Commission Chairman Gary Girard stressed the importance of a timeline for the work.

"It's critical that we get out of it what we want to get out of it" Bryer said.

The second meeting next month, April 18, has been cancelled.

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