2008-02-28 / Front Page

Vision report suggests preservation avenues

By Michaela Kennedy

Donald Powers, team leader for the Jamestown Vision consultation project, gave a presentation Feb. 20 of results from last fall's charrette before the Planning Commission and other town offi- cials at Town Hall. "It seems like yesterday that we were working here until three in the morning to finish this charrette for you. I encourage you to look at a hard copy," Powers said.

Powers warned that he met with "so many different groups that represented different constituencies that not everyone will be happy." He said the dominant message from citizens was, "We want to do exactly what we need to do to keep the island from changing."

Part one of the document lays the issues addressed, which were current zoning, the island character, and SmartCode introduction as a template to implement formbased zoning. The section goes on to suggest how methods of affordable housing can be used, "how you keep the island affordable for our children and our parents who have to move because they can no longer afford to live here?" Powers said, adding that form-based ordinance was a tool the town could adopt to implement many of the objectives listed in the report.

Part two offers ideas that went beyond the directives, "additional stuff that came out of the charrette. We were surprised it (the charrette) brought up a cathartic." The consultants identified the four corners, as well the east and west waterfronts, as places to develop for more pedestrian traffic. "We are saying that you should allow mixed use in the downtown district as a right. It's logical, completely in accord with the existing situation, and one less hurdle for you," he said.

When asked if the team suggested a specific area to consider for a historic district, Powers responded that in general the town should support historic districts. "That's a resource that creates one more protection," he added.

Holland asked the difference between design guidelines and an ordinance. Powers acknowledged a sense that people would bridle against being told what to do. Girard added that the value in having any guidelines was, "It gives someone a starting point for discussion. If people come prepared and have a general idea of what the ordinance wants, it is a lot easier."

Commissioner Nancy Bennett asked if this would be an element of divisiveness among those who would be "caught in the net" and those that are free to do what they want, noting a fear of a conformist mind.

Powers defended that guidelines would make decisions more predictable for people. "I believe when you are building in a place like the village, I feel it deserves a certain amount of respect. The town has a right to at least give an opinion." Bryer also defended the guidelines, saying, "The way I see it, it's helping both planning and the applicant. None of us are architects. When someone comes before the committee, you know you don't like it, but you don't have specific suggestions."

Commissioner Barry Holland asked about the art community and allowing home-based businesses. Brown pointed out that realtors, accountants, and lawyers are working from their home, "and they're not small ticket items."

Town Council president Julio DiGiando showed favor toward smaller lots, but voiced concern about size problems. "We want more density, but in my neighborhood a mega-house is going up." He asked if the commission would have a greater responsibility if zoning were changed. "If the SmartCode is in place, are we going to allow McMansions in an R 8 zone?" he asked.

Powers remarked that size was much more an issue when a home was poorly designed. Commission chairman Gary Girard noted that the guidelines would save applicants "a heck of a lot of money and time. Some applicants spend months, even years coming before us."

Town councilor Bob Sutton stood up to express an appreciation for architecture and design, but warned against deciding what each other thinks. "Truly believe there's more depth that we have to figure out rather than the architect of a building. Design does not build sustainability," he said.

Powers agreed with Sutton that the guidelines could play a tricky game. But Powers went on to debunk the warning, saying, "At the end of the day, how important is aesthetics? The most sustainable community is the one that is most loved by the people and they keep returning," he noted. "We're not advocating; we are presenting a pattern that has existed here for a long time."

Don Wineberg, vice-chairman of the zoning board, disagreed with Sutton. "If you go to the places you love in the world, they all have self-imposed kind of codes, it's important to sustainability."

Nick Robertson of Carr Lane interjected a pitch for affordable development. "Whether we like it or not, affordable housing is a serious problem. We've realized we have done this much too late," he said. Robertson went on to express concern about demolition happening on the island. "Unfortunately we won't have mandatory review until some treasures are torn down, so give consideration to a demolition ordinance."

Later Powers noted that generally the comments were predictable, but showed some surprise that the design guidelines sparked such debate. "I think of the guidelines as being not so much a restriction, but as a resource.

Jamestown was a great test bed for subjects studied by the company, not because it's unique but because it is focused, more acute, on an island with limited resources. You've got to be careful of what you've got." He called the downtown study "perfect" because it brought to a head everything that other communities deal with as well. "From Jamestown, we will develop a model for the communities in the state," he said.

Events from the charrette last fall can be viewed online at www. jamestownvision.org.

In other business, Girard closed the public hearing for Dutton subdivision review.

Commissioner Bennett asked that a $300,000 proposal for an island-wide water study, reviewed and tabled by the Town Council last week, be added to the agenda for continued scrutiny. After some discussion of the non-agenda item, the board agreed to add the study to a future agenda.

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