2007-09-27 / Front Page

Creating a vision of the island's future

By Michaela Kennedy

The recreation center is reserved tonight, Sept. 27, for the Jamestown Vision Workshop. Residents, town officials, business people and all interested in creating a solid path for the island's future are encouraged to attend the 7 p.m. town meeting.

"Please come," invites Town Planner Lisa Bryer. "We want a broad spectrum of people, so we can produce a vision by all residents." She notes the workshop is going to be interactive. "The goal of the evening is to further flush out issues for discussion solutions and come up with an initial list of ideas."

Russell Preston of Cornish Associates says the most important thing is for everyone island-wide to participate, not just those businesses or residents in the village area. "The more people we get to come and participate will let us know about what needs to be preserved," he adds.

Each member of the Jamestown Vision consultant team has had his own experience in helping communities, urban and rural. "We've used this process in Providence three times, a week-long charrette," Preston recalls.

The French-loan word "charrette," is used now in America as a collaborative public planning process, harnessing the talents and energies of all interested parties in order to create and support a buildable plan.

One concern, parking and how to make it better, is everyone's issue, Preston continues. Whether the community is Cape Cod or Providence, people want to park right in front of the store. If someone wants to expand their business, parking is a problem the way the ordinance is now written. Preston hints that a solution may lie in educating downtown visitors, since he found downtown parking in a two-block radius readily available. "We may not come up with the solution, but someone who may have been thinking about it may say something off the cuff that will be valuable," he suggests.

Donald Powers, the consultant team leader, reveals that the process is "fraught with danger," since they are tinkering with the fabric of the village. He emphasizes the importance of eliciting information from everyone, so residents are not surprised by the outcome.

The team is creating a template that may be used in other towns that want to clarify their vision. "We understand how traditional towns, like Jamestown, get built, and we've worked hard to gain expertise in writing guidelines that would help achieve that result," Powers comments.

Team member Sandy Sorlien is an experienced code writing specialist who offers specific knowledge in the language of SmartCode, a planning template to be created from information collected during the charrette. "If a code has been customized through a charrette, then everyone knows what it's going to produce," Sorlien explains.

The big benefit Sorlien sees for the town is that the new ordinance code will speed up the development process. "Every project won't have to be scrutinized," she says. "Ideally, a charrette brings forth the closest to a shared vision the community can bring forward, and decide together what they want to protect. Effective tools need to have good input."

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser remembers "a specific and major," charrette in South Kingstown a few years ago, where residents offered valuable input for the South County Commons development. "I don't think you can have a negative experience," he says about the public workshop series.

Robert Leaver of New Commons, a key facilitator in the workshops, comforts people who may feel daunted by so many professional advisors. "Professionals try to find the collective will of the people," he explains. "The way we've designed this is like a big funnel, starting at the top with a lot of ideas. Then you get downtown to the point where you find what's doable, what's buildable."

Leaver is also working with Martha's Vineyard to create a 50- year vision plan for the whole island, "a little more daunting than this project," he adds.

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