2010-12-30 / News

Planning Commission: Year in Review

By Geoff Campbell

The Jamestown Planning Commission designed and executed a lengthy comprehensive plan survey in order to better inform their decennial review of the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan. The two tasks overlapped in a year that also offered up the usual work of the commission: reviewing all stages of subdivision proposals and overseeing the town’s development.

The work of the commission is guided by the commission’s charge as recorded in the Town Charter: “Act in an advisory capacity to the Administrator and Town Council in all matters concerning and the physical growth and development of the town as such growth and development affects the general health, safety, and welfare of the inhabitants of the Town.”

The commission tackled questions of minimum lot sizes in January, choosing to require larger lots for duplex and multifamily homes. The topic correlated directly to the issue of affordability housing and related state mandates.

Later in the month the commission heard a pre-application review of what would eventually become the Cottrell Farm subdivision.

The comprehensive plan survey, which went on the to-do list in 2009, was a topic at most meetings either as an item in the planner’s report or as a major agenda item. Along with the plan, conservation and the Community Flood Plain Ordinance were among the recurring agenda items in 2010.

The bike path, recorded as “conceptual” in January, has made significant progress over the course of a year’s worth of subcommittee meetings. Progress was made as well toward ending the “sidewalk saga” and installation of new sidewalks and road improvements on the eastern end of Narragansett Avenue are slated to begin the spring of 2011.

The Community Plan Survey covered a variety of topics including fresh-water quantity and quality, housing issues, and Fort Wetherill. Town Planner Lisa Bryer and the chairman of the commission, Michael Swistak, reminded the commission that the survey results will help to set the community plan agenda moving forward.

“If there is an overwhelming response to a certain question, I think that we need to take it seriously,” Bryer said ealier in the year.

Swistak echoed Bryer: “We can’t ignore the results.”

At that time there was some hope that the return rate for the 2010 survey could match or beat the 31 percent return rate from 1999. It was not even close: the fi- nal rate of return for the 2010 version would be 19 percent.

Susan Little, Richard Lynn, Dan Lilly Jr. and Rosemary Enright all joined the planning commission in 2010. Duncan Pendlebury was elected as vice chair, while Barry Holland, Nancy Bennett and Gary Girard left the commission at various points throughout the year.

Fundamental to the commission’s charge as keepers of the town’s plan, the commission heard from interested parties regarding the possibility of beefing up subdivision standards with an eye toward land conservation.

Planning consultant Tony Lachowicz was hired by Jamestown to amend the land use regulations to incorporate conservation development. The lively discussion included a spirited back and forth over the relative merits of the current cluster method and the conservation development paradigm.

The development approach addresses the accessibility of open spaces to the general public. The Conservation Commission, having studied the topic for some time, was better able to discuss the advantages such as lower road and infrastructure costs.

The survey work heated up in the spring, “fine tuning” the questions at the end of April, and then tackling the survey delivery question. The 1999 survey had been mailed separately to all homeowners. Ultimately, the survey would be sent electronically and available as hardcopy in the Press. The advantages of data collection following electronic distribution were noted.

The survey was targeted for a summer-time distribution to hit as many voters as possible. Fliers were sent out in May announcing the soon-to-be e-mailed survey link.

Addressing the issue of affordable housing, the Planning Commission granted preliminary approval, “granting the necessary zoning ordinance relief” following a public hearing on the Church Community Housing Land Trust of Newport’s three-lot subdivision, according to the meeting minutes.

At the time, it was reported that the number of affordable housing units numbered 104, less than half of the 243 that the state requires.

In late summer and early fall the commission addressed the community plan in increasingly deeper detail and considered the 15 additional historic sites and districts eligible for National Registry of Historic Places status.

On one question included in the 65-item questionnaire, 363 of 514 (71 percent) responses felt strongly that maintaining the island’s rural character was the overriding goal of the Jamestown Comprehensive Plan.

The survey results were accepted by the commission as an integral planning tool for development of the five-year update of the community plan in a unanimous vote on Nov. 3.

During the fall the community plan review continued and led by Bryer, engaged in a detailed and painstaking review of first draft changes in the Public Services section of the plan. In spite of the chair encouraging the commissioners to take a big-picture approach, the group found themselves slogging through many sub-sections of the document word by word.

This year ended with the commission reviewing the changes proposed to the Town Council by the Harbor Commission in the Harbor Ordinance and the Harbor Management Plan, one topic among many that the commission will no doubt take up again in 2011.

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