2009-09-24 / Front Page

Study grant concerns Town Council

By Phil Zahodiakin

A state grant for an inventory of historic properties on Shoreby Hill sparked debate during the Sept. 21 meeting of the Town Council. The Jamestown Planning Commission last summer recommended historic district status for Shoreby Hill, where reaction from residents has been divided. The debate led a council member to raise a red flag over a recent $10,000 grant from the state Historic Preservation Commission.

The grant is intended to fund a study to determine the number of Shoreby Hill houses that qualify as historic. The tally would then be used as part of further council discussions on the merits of nominating Shoreby Hill for historic status. However, council member Bob Sutton said that the wording of the grant seemed to imply that the money has been awarded in support of a nomination, as well as a survey.

“The record should be clear that we have not agreed to nominate Shoreby Hill” for historic status, he said.

Sutton also noted that he has received “many phone calls” from Shoreby Hill residents opposed to historic status for their neighborhood, although Council President Julio DiGiando said he has not received “any calls” about the issue. DiGiando agreed that a nomination is strictly up to the council, “once we know the percentage of homes that qualify.”

Referring to the eventual solicitation for a contractor to perform the study, Sutton asked if the state grant specifically obliges the town to solicit bids for an inventory in support of a nomination, adding, “I don’t want to be required to do the nomination if it turns out that the inventory warrants it.”

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero replied that the terms of the grant will have to be examined to find out if it does, in fact, stipulate a nomination if the inventory supports one.

“If the grant is not what we thought it was, we can return it,” Ruggiero said.

Other discussions and decisions by the council included:

Liquor license expansion. The council voted to maintain the eight liquor licenses already on the books, and declined a request from council member Barbara Szepatowski to expand the number of available licenses to nine. During debate on her motion for an amendment expanding the number of licenses, which was not seconded, council member Bill Kelly said that eight was enough. He added that those who hold the licenses are “already pressed by the economy,” and warned that an expansion to nine licenses would open the door to yet another expansion down the road.

• Affordable housing. Town Administrator Bruce Keiser and Town Planner Lisa Bryer are still discussing the terms of a purchaseand sale agreement for the property at 79 North Rd. The town would like to build five to six affordable, single-family homes, or a complex of affordable units, on the property. Concerns about the possible presence of Indian artifacts at the site have stalled the purchase, but “the sellers remain interested in working with the town,” Keiser said, adding that it’s still unclear if the two sides will reach agreement on a contingency that will link the purchase to the results of a Phase 1 archeological study.

• Tax lots. In a Sept. 15 letter to the Conanicut Island Land Trust, Keiser reiterated the town’s position against selling any of the foreclosed lots in the area of Jamestown Shores, but warned that “any future Town Council could unilaterally alter course by modifying development restrictions and selling property.” Consequently, the letter asks the Land Trust to consider accepting conservation easements on the lots, thereby ensuring preservation of the properties.

• Carr Lane truck traffic. The council debated the issue of commercial traffic on Carr Lane, which, residents complain, is too narrow to accommodate large trucks (or two vehicles side by side). Some council members feel that the road should be restricted to trucks with gross vehicle weights less than 30,000 pounds, but Kelly noted that the restriction would exclude such vehicles as Island Energy delivery trucks and Island Rubbish garbage trucks, which weigh 33,000 pounds. Szepatowski suggested signage limiting truck traffic to “local delivery trucks only.” Ruggiero will write a draft ordinance for consideration at the next Town Council meeting.

• Sailing school. DiGiando issued a request to everyone at the meeting, generally, and Conservation Commission Chairman Chris Powell, in particular, to furnish the town with parameters for a municipal sailing school. DiGiando said he expects FAST to return with a refined version of its previous proposal, and would like to have in hand parameters for a locally-oriented school. A sailing school run by Powell at the Conanicut Yacht Club had garnered rave reviews, DiGiando said, adding that it would serve the town well to tap such local expertise. Sutton added, “We should create on paper the ideal [sailing] program instead of being a residual program.”

• Hydrant flushing. Keiser noted that there have been some complaints from water customers whose water became turbid as a result of hydrant flushing. The flushing is necessary as part of regular maintenance, he said, adding that most of the complaints actually arose during the use of hydrants for firefighter training.

• Ft. Getty shocks. Keiser said that stray-voltage experts “brought in from around the country by National Grid” have still failed to find the source of electrical shocks to Ft. Getty residents. “National Grid will be installing a new conductor in hopes of resolving the problem,” he said.

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