2007-08-23 / Front Page

Planners want community input

By Michaela Kennedy

Architect Donald Powers introduced his consulting team for the town's zoning ordinance update project at the Planning Commission's Aug. 15 meeting. The team proposed a sequence of events designed to collect community input that will help mold zoning amendments.

Focus on community outreach is essential for maximizing public awareness and input, Powers said. The outreach includes creating a project Web site, and targeting stakeholders with vested interests, such as a property, home, or business owners. The consultant also noted that educational materials on modern zoning designs would be provided. Powers recommended two meetings before the charrette, to begin the dialogue process with residents.

The team expressed hope of involving people in a guided conversation through a community visioning meeting. "It's a way to raise the level of the conversation," he said.

Powers addressed the town's request for a charrette, adding that not everyone had the same understanding of the term. He explained that a charrette takes the normal sequence of a project and compresses it into an intense process. "The idea is to create a public event that people know about, so they will stop in," he said

Town Planner Lisa Bryer, who served on the search committee, noted that the choice of consultants was an easy one to make. "This group is very connected with new urbanism, the most forward thinking urban planning," she said.

The study will start with the downtown district and expand out to the residential areas, according to Bryer. "I don't expect many changes happening outside that area," she added.

Russell Preston of Cornish Associates, a partner in the project, said a main goal was to "get people who don't normally show up to these things to come." Preston voiced the need to register concerns by locals, such as those who do not want to be told what to do with their property, and others who want to preserve a certain look.

Commissioner Richard Ventrone asked if requesting a moratorium on building until completion of the project was appropriate. "It may be a draconian thing to do," Powers responded.

Commission Chairman Gary Girard pursued the suggestion, and reasoned that the project would take up much of the commission's time. He said a moratorium would only be for a few months, adding, "We're talking about from now until December."

The consultants continued to resist the idea of putting a hold on construction, but agreed to at least consider the thought. "In my view, you are starting off with a negative," Powers said.

The commission went on to discuss the accommodation of affordable housing into the village design. The town planner mentioned the possibility of a special development district.

Affordable housing does not need to be a bitter pill to swallow, but something more creative and attractive, Powers noted. "Our job is to show how increased density can be beautiful."

The commission agreed to target the week of Oct. 15 to 19 for a five-day intensive on-site workshop that will be open to the public. "This is a process we think will create a lot of excitement," Powers added.

The award-winning urban designers come to the island with a price tag of $63,000.

In other business, Commissioner Victor Calabretta moved to recommend approval of a downtown land development project, which the commission unanimously approved. The plan, submitted by applicants Allen and Nancy Randall, includes moving the house located at the corner of Narragansett and Howland Avenues to the rear of the property and construct a new commercial building in its place.

In an unrelated matter, Girard reported he attended a recent Harbor Commission meeting, which was "very enlightening." He noted surprise that the Harbor Commission had not yet acknowledged the Planning Commission's role in preparing land side facilities, referring to recent discussions about Head's Beach. "Once it touches land, it's our territory," he said. Girard failed to mention that he was questioned at the meeting by the HC chairman about the Planning Commission liaison's poor attendance record. The liaison to date has attended only one HC meeting in the last eight, according to meeting minutes.

Harbor Commission Chairman Michael DeAngeli later said that the HC would be happy to work with the Planning Commission, but had not received input from the PC.

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