2007-10-25 / Front Page

Life after charrette: the work has just begun

By Michaela Kennedy

The Jamestown Downtown charrette is over, but the planning team continues to keep their sleeves rolled up. Formal zoning recommendations from the consultants will reflect weeks of community input, collected as an integral element of the planning project.

"Part of preserving the island character is understanding what the character is," Donald Powers, lead planning advisor for the charrette said at the closing presentation last Friday. The Oct. 19 meeting drew about 100 residents to the recreation center to learn about conclusions drawn from the series of town meetings and possibilities for future preservation. "We are here to show or dis-show that development would help or hurt us," he added.

Powers noted that the advisory group came to the island to give advice. He also noted that two members of the team, himself and Sandy Sorlien, the form code expert, are from the island. "We are largely one of the island's own," he said. "We were asked to come."

Concerns about why the charrette took place included worries about more municipal spending and a feared marketing scheme to increase development. Nevertheless, the coalition of consultants held fast to their directive from residents to show ways of preserving the quirky character of the island. They addressed the main question coming from many tongues, "What do we have to do to make things stay the same?"

Powers pointed out that development pressures already loom on Narragansett Avenue. "If nobody does anything, others could come in and change things," he stressed.

During the evening gathering, Powers revealed that he knew which shopkeepers clean in front of their stores and who doesn't. He said he knew where the flowers were and what areas made pedestrians feel uncomfortable. "We know secrets about a lot of you," he admitted with a grin.

Results of surveys, meetings and informal conversations showed that islanders would like to change issues about parking. Powers showed design sketches of possible changes to road infrastructure that would formalize edges where storm water surges, and allow ample parking along the waterfront while beautifying the view. "The most beautiful views are given up to hulls and boat storage in the winter," he noted.

At present, a crumbling seawall and fragmented sidewalk curbs safe walking along the waterfront. Powers suggested spending a little thought to create a civil moment. Historically, a swimming dock used to exist on one of the un-buildable properties to the south of East Ferry.

The meat of the presentation revolved around affordable housing. Powers addressed affordable housing and affordability of the island, referring to them as big "A" and little "a." Since water and sewer hookups are currently only available in the village, big A, or affordable housing, would mostly take place downtown. Economic growth was directly related to affordability. Both issues required development, he said.

Architectural renderings of carriage houses, duplexes and annexes illustrated visually acceptable forms of affordable living on the screen behind the speaker. Changes in current zoning laws could allow these suggestions that emerged from hours of meetings with islanders. "We believe there are ways of keeping affordable housing within the family," the architect added.

Powers presented designs in the downtown commercial and commercial limited districts that showed infill potential using a form code. Form codes focus on how buildings relate to one another in an area, rather than addressing only land use. By following guidelines for setbacks and design, increased construction can take place without eyesores, he explained.

One design displayed how affordable housing could be absorbed into a neighborhood with little impact. Through measurements and attention paid to architecture, amendments to the zoning ordinance could reflect an acceptable pattern that already exists, according to the advisor. He suggested making 6,000 sq.- foot lots the minimum size in an R-8 zone where over-sized lots could be pegged for subdivisions. "Now, many lots are under 6,000 sq. feet," he commented.

With a design sample of Narragansett Avenue and North Main Road, Powers showed the four corners to be a place where dayto day needs are met. "Right now, the four corners are zoned the same as downtown," he noted. With some changes, such as relocating a bank or the hardware store and sprucing up the sidewalks, the area could become more user friendly for pedestrians.

When Powers heard murmuring about some of the ideas put forth, he reminded the audience that the consultants' job was to expand the town's idea of what development was. "We're not proposing more development. We're proposing controlled development," he said. He knew some ideas would be thrown out, but brainstorming was the key to success. "We know that some suggestions will be thrown out," he added.

The next phase will be to formalize all the gathered information, opinions and ideas into zoning ordinance update recommendations and design guidelines for the village. The design team is scheduled to return to the island in six weeks with drafts of their recommendations.

For more details about the charrette and the town's ordinance update project, visit online to www.jamestownvision.org.

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