2009-10-08 / Front Page

Council backs away from North Road purchase

By Phil Zahodiakin

The Town Council decided this week that a property the town had targeted for purchase and affordable housing development wasn’t worth the asking price.

The three council members present for the Oct. 5 meeting – Julio DiGiando, Bob Sutton and Michael White – voted unanimously against presenting a draft purchase-and-sale agreement to the sellers. Consequently, the property at 79 North Main Rd., site of the former Ocean State Scuba, will be offered for sale in a foreclosure auction scheduled for today.

Under the draft P&S agreement, the town could have walked away from the $350,000 purchase if a Phase 1 archeological study uncovered evidence of Native American burials or artifacts, which would have made construction at the site impossible or prohibitively expensive.

But the price was still an issue – and not just for the council.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser told the council that “the Affordable Housing Commission indicated in their meeting with me [on Oct. 5] that the returns from this investment [in terms of affordable housing units] would not be enough for them to support spending $75,000 per unit. So, this is a judgment call.”

Sutton said it was his judgment that the price was too high, and he warned that the property would end up costing at least $400,000 after doing all the work necessary to upgrade the buildings on the property.

“An empty lot would offer us a lot more flexibility,” Sutton said, adding, “but what we’re looking at is $400,000 for a little over half an acre. That’s too much for what we’ll get back.”

White said he felt that “the commission’s point is well taken: We’d be taking all of the money [$250,000] that we’ve set aside for affordable housing over the past five years and throwing it into a questionable property.”

Council President DiGiando expressed the view that “we wouldn’t find another lot for that amount of money,” but, like the other council members, he cast his vote in support of Sutton’s motion against submitting the draft P&S while, at the same time, keeping track of the property in case it doesn’t sell at auction.

When asked about the decision, Keiser told the Press that 79 North Main Rd. “was a very good location for affordable housing,” adding that there was “a lot of uncertainty about possible constraints on the number of units we could have had there. One constraint, obviously, could be the presence of Native American artifacts. The other constraint and uncertainty is the drainage qualities of the property.”

Other issues addressed by the council included:

• Fire horn complaints. The issue of the powerful fire horn reemerged when the council accepted another letter from a resident who feels the horn is a health threat. In this case, the resident argued that the horn has actually been louder since it’s been repaired, and urged the council to at least “lower the volume” of what is now an “ear shattering noise.” Although Keiser said the fire department does not believe that the horn is any louder than it was before, he recommended a “work session” on the issue. The council agreed, and decided to hold the work session – with the participation of the fire chief – on Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m.

• Carr Lane ordinance. The town solicitor has drafted an ordinance to limit truck traffic on Carr Lane – a narrow road that is also a convenient shortcut between East Shore and North Main roads. The ordinance, which would apply to trucks weighing more than 7,000 pounds, would prohibit “through trucking … except for town-owned vehicles, emergency vehicles and home pick-ups and deliveries.” In a public comment, a resident observed that the exception “sets a bad example” that keeps the door open to truck drivers taking a shortcut. A hearing on the draft ordinance will be held on Oct. 19.

• School bus storage. School Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser advised the council that First Student – the contractor providing school bus service for Jamestown – has asked if the town could accommodate the storage of five more buses on top of the five already stored on the island. But, the council was hesitant about possible storage sites. The proposal will be re-visited when negotiations with First Student are further along.

• Coyotes. The council discussed a proposed ordinance that would prohibit residents from feeding wild animals – with coyotes being the wild animal of concern. The draft ordinance, which is also being proposed to the town councils on Aquidneck Island, was written by Numi Mitchell, who is the lead scientist for the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study. Although the council was not averse to the spirit of the ordinance, Sutton expressed concern about additional enforcement burdens on the town. Mitchell was advised to draft some enforcement language for the ordinance, which would be advertised for a hearing at some point in the near future.

Tax lot stewardship. In public comments to the council, Ellen Winsor urged the town to proceed cautiously in drafting any stewardship agreement for the foreclosed lots in the Shores area. Whether it’s the Conanicut Island Land Trust, the Conservation Commission or some other group that takes responsibility for protecting the lots, the town must make sure that any easements granted to the stewarding group don’t prevent access for environmental investigations or other important purposes, Winsor said.

Beavertail Lighthouse donation. The council agreed to make an initial $15,000 donation to the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association. The group had requested a $25,000 gift from the town, but the council – which was impressed by a recent tour of the lighthouse and the ongoing restoration work – decided to allow the next council to decide on the best way to fund the remaining $10,000 of the gift.

Ft. Getty shocks. In its latest attempt to solve the problem of electrical shocks at Ft. Getty, National Grid has started installing a new conductor at Ft. Getty, Keiser said, adding that he did not know how long the job would take.

• Highway barn. The previously scheduled open house for the new highway barn was rained out last Saturday, and it has been rescheduled for Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to noon.

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