2010-01-14 / News

Planning Commission votes on minimum lot size for multi-family dwellings

By Iain Wilson

In its first meeting of the New Year last Wednesday, the Jamestown Planning Commission tackled an ongoing issue: Minimum lot sizes for duplex and multi-family dwellings.

The commission’s unanimous vote ensured that duplex and multi-family dwellings would require larger lots than singlefamily homes.

The language will be inserted into table 3.2 of the zoning ordinance. The table refers to dimensional requirements, specifically minimum lot size, and has major implications in the location of state-mandated affordable housing.

This section of the ordinance has been a point of contention since its passage, and the commission held an extensive discussion about it during the meeting. Commission member Michael Smith made a motion to drop the minimum lot size for multifamily dwellings in the R20 district from 200,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet initially.

That vote was not successful.

Instead, the commission ultimately voted to leave the duplex and multi-family minimum lot sizes the same as they were in the previous ordinance for the Village residential districts.

Commission Chair Michael Swistak said it’s important to consider public opinion.

“Some people say that that’s going to destroy the character of the neighborhood if you put a four-unit apartment there,” he said.

If the commission had passed the first motion, developers would have been able to build multi-unit complexes on smaller lots in the R20 district.

Affordable housing is coming to Jamestown, but finding a place for it will be difficult. Swistak said opinions on locations weigh on both sides of the argument.

“Other people say we’re never going to get to our affordable housing count unless we allow lots of that size, or maybe smaller, to be developed,” he said.

Prior to the vote, Justin Jobin, an environmental scientist with the town’s public works department, presented an updated flood insurance rate map to the commission. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires the town to adopt an ordinance, but Jobin said the update is, “really nothing new, a few things here and there. It streamlines what the building official has to do today.”

The maps currently used by the town were completed in the 1970s, and Jobin said a visual update is needed.

The town must adopt an ordinance, and Jobin’s presentation was for a recommendation to the Town Council. The recommendation wasn’t made, and Jobin will return for further discussion at the next commission meeting. The ordinance needs to be submitted to FEMA before April 5, 2010, he said.

Jobin also said that town residents shouldn’t be overly concerned about major alterations in rates or policies, including tax hikes.

“It’s very straightforward, a lot of it has been in Rhode Island building code for a while,” he said.

In preparation for its upcoming comprehensive plan survey, the commission also discussed potential questions during the meeting. Many of the questions from the last survey will be used, but the commission will look to this list for further questions on topics from housing to public service to economic development.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be held Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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