2009-05-28 / Front Page

Residents spilt on Shoreby Hill historic designation

By Erin Tiernan

Jamestown's first subdivision, Shoreby Hill, is looking to pioneer another tradition on Conanicut Island. The Shoreby Hills Historic District Study Committee introduced a proposal at the Planning Commission's meeting on May 20 in favor of establishing lower Shoreby Hill as the first historic district on the island.

Commissioners did not reach a decision, but responded favorably.

Planning Commissioner Richard Ventrone agreed Jamestown had a responsibility to preserve the "endangered species" of the era from 1898-1936, during which 70 percent of the homes were constructed.

Nancy Bennett, planning commission member, asked for more information regarding nonconforming buildings and the burden of creating a commission to regulate the appropriateness of renovations on historic properties.

Interested in preserving the aesthetic appeal of the historic structures and landscapes of Shoreby Hill, the committee has conducted research over the past four years to determine the feasibility and local support for the project. They determined about 75 percent of homeowners in the neighborhood are in favor instituting a historic district.

Many residents spoke in favor of adopting historic status in the Shoreby Hill area and urged the town to take quick action to preserve it or else risk losing its historic charm.

"As a first step in Jamestown, it's important to protect it (Shoreby Hill) as a resource so that the community will continue to have its appeal in the 21st century," said architect and Shoreby Hill resident John Upton. "Once something is gone it's too late, and as has been explained, we're beginning to lose some of these historic properties. The interest in the general community is to protect what we do have in the character of Jamestown."

A historic designation could have a positive impact on property value and offer up to $2,000 per year to property owners under the Historic Homeowner Tax Credit. Homeowners can apply for this credit to make exterior restoration projects more affordable.

Although many structures have been slightly altered, most have retained features central to what the committee considers the common character of the neighborhood; shingled homes with gabled or gambrel roofs, symmetrically placed windows and porches leading to most entry ways.

Despite considerable support, several Shoreby residents voiced opposition to a historic designation. Concerns surrounded regulation of historic zoned properties and those opposed urged commissioners to move slowly and consider the implications of their decision.

Speaking on behalf of the Shoreby Hills Historic District Study Committee, Betty Hubbard said many residents had misconceptions about how strictly their properties would be regulated. She explained regulations would be determined by the town and could be as lax or restrictive as the community desired.

Interior renovations would be left completely to the owner's discretion and she said the committee would encourage lenient guidelines that would preserve the neighborhood's overall make up without implementing rigid design policies.

Planning Chair Gary Girard said the meeting ran too late Wednesday night, but said they will meet to discuss and vote on the matter in the future.

In March of 2008, the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission voted preliminary approval for the nomination of Shoreby Hill to the National Register of Historic Places.

In other business, the Planning Commission delayed voting on the application by Michael and Janice Dutton to develop a minor threelot subdivision with a private extension of Prospect Avenue and continued the public hearing until Wednesday, June 3.

Several abutting property owners in attendance expressed indignation at the Dutton's development of the road.

They expressed concerns over the legality of the construction and said it was altering drainage and causing additional water runoff to flow onto their properties.

Bennett explained that the Planning Commission is not a law enforcement board and suggested they take their complaints up with Building Inspector Fred Brown.

Town Engineer Michael Gray explained that Prospect Avenue had been accepted by the town as a public right of way, but approval for its development and the subdivision had not yet been decided.

He said the plans submitted by the Dutton's allowed for a 40-foot wide road with a drainage swell and two 12-inch drainage pipes designed to keep water flowing as it did prior to construction, with no additional runoff.

Dutton contacted Gray prior to making improvements to Prospect Avenue and Gray said he explained to him he would be moving forward at his own risk because plans have yet to be approved.

"I believe the board should look at the plan as the application before you and not get hung up on whether a road was constructed or not," said Gray. He commented that the Dutton's plans were drafted by an engineer and the engineer must certify that the road was constructed in accordance with the plans approved by the board. If the construction isn't cohesive with the plans approved, he will have to make corrections.

"Assuming it (the application) is approved, there are conditions that will be placed on it, so regardless of what improvements have been made, someone is going to be inspecting what was done and what needs to be done to complete the road," Gray said.

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