2011-01-27 / Front Page

Panel says turbine moratorium ‘not necessary’

By Geoff Campbell

The Planning Commission plans to review regulations from other communities as it drafts a new wind turbine ordinance.

According to a memo from Town clerk Cheryl Fernstrom to the Planning Commission, the Town Council voted unanimously to accept correspondence from Council member Ellen Winsor, which suggests that the commission and the Zoning Board of Review consider “examples of wind-turbine issues seen in ordinances” from around the country in order to proactively address the matter in Jamestown.

With no substantive sub-committee reports on the agenda, Vice Chairman Duncan Pendlebury asked that the Planning Commission address the correspondence at its Jan. 19 meeting.

Two days earlier, the Town Council discussed statewide and town-specific moratoria at its meeting, and concerns over a lack of clear criteria for the construction of all types of wind turbines.

To fill the current void of expectations and regulations, the state is looking to foster turbine-friendly legislation, according to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser.

Windsor said that she suggested a moratorium earlier in the month to allow the Planning Commission time to adequately address the issue. Ultimately, the Council agreed that the commission needs to move as quickly as possible to address the issue as part of the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan.

Although formal communication has not yet taken place between the Council and the commission concerning the Council’s most recent discussion of the turbine issue, the commission discussed the existing process regarding wind-turbine approvals in the town.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer reminded the group that a special-use permit is currently required for each case. Commissioner Michael Smith noted that a lack of published standards is “not necessarily a weakness.” He explained that a lack of standards may limit the number of people who seek to build wind turbines.

Bryer countered, saying that standards or criteria help the zoning board when they are addressing a specific turbine project.

Pendlebury said, “The specialuse permit process is OK for now, but a list of criteria would help abutters understand the expectations and common concerns.”

The commission reached consensus, and Pendlebury summarized the group’s position to be crafted into a statement for the Council. The commission said that a moratorium on wind turbines is not necessary, since the special-use-permit process insures an approval process by the Town. It added that the process provides an opportunity for neighbors to be heard in regards to any issues that they might have concerning a specific wind-power project.

The commission further agreed that enhancements could be added to the zoning ordinances regarding wind turbines in the form of criteria or general expectations.

Finally, the commission agreed that both public and private wind turbines should be included in the comprehensive plan and that the necessary work to include the topic will begin immediately. Final revisions of the comprehensive plan, following public hearings, will likely be completed in six months.

Pendlebury turned the proceedings over to Bryer, who guided discussion on the 10-year review and revision of the comprehensive plan.

Previously the commission reviewed half of the circulation section that addresses transportation, roads, traffic patterns and parking.

After some give and take regarding the relative value of widening Narragansett Avenue by reducing the sidewalk width for the safety of drivers, the group began to discuss the state of parking in Jamestown. Six recommendations that came out of the 2004 Downtown Parking Plan were reviewed. All but one of the recommendations has been addressed with varying degrees of success.

Yet to be accomplished was a recommendation to create “additional parking spaces by purchasing a new lot financed in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce,” as well as investigating the possible development of a parking-impact fee, according to the revised language of the comprehensive plan.

Smith, who believes the parking problem is “getting worse, not better,” said that more parking restrictions are necessary. He also voiced concern regarding the number of waivers granted regarding ordinance required parking spaces and loading docks for new businesses seeking building permits. Smith supports an impact fee in order to provide the Town funds, through which it can better address the lack of parking spaces.

Commissioner Rosemary Enright reminded the commission that street parking between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m. is prohibited island wide and she recommended that language of the comprehensive plan be adjusted to reflect that.

Enright also raised the issue of parking as it is addressed in the proposed revisions to the Harbor Management Plan. She pointed out that currently the language in the harbor plan concerning parking conflicts with the message regarding parking in the comprehensive plan.

Harbor Commission liaison Susan Little said that she will take the concern back to the Harbor Commission for further review.

Boat trailer parking was also discussed, but did not appear to be at the center of many complaints heard directly by Town staff.

The remaining sections of the circulation portion of the document were addressed relatively quick and focused on alternative modes of transportation and the availability of public transportation connecting the island to Providence – and subsequent stops along the way – by bus or train through Wickford Junction.

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