2009-08-13 / News

Planning Commission discusses update of town zoning ordinance

By Tyler Will

The Jamestown Planning Commission last week discussed updating the responsibilities of the town’s Technical Review Committee.

The discussion was the only item on the Aug. 5 meeting agenda, and no members of the public attended the meeting.

By the end of the nearly twohour discussion, the consensus on the commission was to keep the TRC’s responsibilities what they are, with few adjustments.

“Do we really have so much work that the Planning Commission should not be making these decisions?” Commissioner Nancy Bennett said, adding that the commission should simplify its own decision-making processes rather than hand duties down to another committee. “Is not that sort of what we are supposed to be doing, is streamlining our process so we do not hang people up while we worry about the color of their wall paper?” she said.

Vice Chair Gary Girard said the commission could revise the ordinance again in the future.

“This is not carved in stone… we can always change it,” he said.

The idea of giving more responsibilities to the TRC was an attempt to pare down the commission’s load by allowing “uncontroversial” applications that satisfied all ordinances to appear solely before the TRC.

“I think there are certain things that do not need to come before the planning commission,” Town Planner Lisa Bryer said.

Commissioner Richard Ventrone agreed, saying that if an application meets all town rules, there is no reason for the planning commission to see it. Commissioner Barry Holland added that sending a cooperative application before the commission would be “pointless.”

“You could not deny it anyways, because…there would be no grounds to deny it,” Holland said.

A “checklist” of requirements that an application must meet would streamline the process for the planning commission, some said, but Duncan Pendlebury, appointed to the commission when former Commissioner Alexandra Nichols resigned, said that a checklist could make it more difficult for the town to deny an application.

“You cannot ask them to make a change if we have no basis for them to make a change,” Pendlebury said.

A system in which only controversial or uncooperative applications go before the planning commission might also give residents the idea that they can make changes when they may not be allowed to, he said.

The commission also recommended that a planning commission member serve on the TRC on a rotating basis for administrative purposes. Bennett asked whether the rotating commissioner should serve on a time basis, or for a certain number of projects. Girard said that a project quantity basis would be better because some months are busy, while others are idle.

Bennett was concerned that extending the power of the TRC would increase town bureaucracy.

Ventrone agreed, asking if the town needs “another layer.”

Holland said the TRC is a permanent committee whose members have experience and can handle the responsibilities well. He said the commission discusses parts of an application that have little relevance to town regulations.

Bryer said her experience with technical review committees is that they are efficient, but she also said amendments can be made, if the planning commission later decides to give the TRC more responsibilities.

Other proposed changes to the zoning ordinance will assess loopholes. Under current town regulations, two structures adjoined by a breezeway can be classified as one structure. The commission will look to modify the language of the ordinance so that an accessory structure must have a common roof and wall. The commission also plans to restrict external night lighting to prevent outdoor lighting from offending neighbors.

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