2011-05-12 / Front Page

Panel reviews applications for community grants

By Geoff Campbell

The Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) were reviewed in detail at the May 4 meeting of the Jamestown Planning Commission.

The yearly grant applications are made by Jamestown to the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development for funding that is made available to the state by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Requests for funding to the Department of Housing and Urban Development have been submitted by Jamestown since 1987.

The application process is overseen by Town Planner Lisa Bryer and the planning office. Bryer explained that, “The whole purpose behind the CDBG is to provide funding [for services] to low and moderate income families and individuals.”

“[Funds are] filtered down through Rhode Island’s Department of Housing and Community Development in The Department of Administration and … includes anything from housing projects to job training to public services,” Bryer said.

She explained that five towns and cities in the state are considered Entitlement Communities receiving funds based on “population and economic status of its residents.” The remaining cities and towns are in competition for the remaining money.

The process includes applications from non-government entities like the Church Community Housing Corporation (CCHC) and East Bay Community Action Program. Two public hearings are included as part of the process. According to Bryer, this year there were 12 applicants.

CCHC is a regular applicant whose requests are part of the annual $250,000 cap. Bryer added that in the last two years the town has requested the maximum and this year requests exceeded the cap “because housing development can exceed the $250,000 cap.”

Those requests included $100,000 on behalf of the CCHC for the affordable housing project on Swinburne Street and $200,000 on behalf of Bridges, a program serving adults with developmental disabilities “for the purpose of creating affordable housing and creating economic opportunities for people with developmental disabilities,” Bryer wrote in a memo to the commission.

The Bridges request was the only new one this year, according to Bryer; the other requests were from repeat applicants. Bryer explained that Bridges has been providing services to developmental disabled adults in Jamestown at three locations for nearly 25 years. Some of the funds would be used to purchase the property at 2 Hammett Court, which is already under agreement, according to Bryer.

The Jamestown Housing Authority, which oversees Pemberton Apartments, requested funding for fire code improvements valued at $60,000.

The total as outlined in Bryer’s memo is $202,000 of funds subject to the cap and $300,000 of funds not subject to the cap.

Chairman Mike Swistak asked if the requested amounts are ever “amended in any way.” Bryer said that the amounts are generally adjusted at the state level and that the recipient rarely receives the amount that was requested. She added that the Department of Community Affairs, within the Department of Administration and Statewide Planning, review the applications and the governor has final approval. The hearings are only held at the local levels, according to Bryer.

Swistak asked how much funding was received as a result of last year’s CDBG grants, and Bryer explained that $97,000 was received from requests within the cap and an additional $140,000 in funding was received as part of federal stimulus monies that was considered part of the grants last year.

The Jamestown Town Council reviewed the prioritized list and confirmed it at its May 2 meeting. Bryer explained that the Planning Commission must certify that the application is in compliance, then signed by the chairman and sent off to the state.

The Fort Getty Workshop with the Town Council, which was planned for May 18, has been moved to Thursday, May 19, at Lawn Avenue School. Landworks of Worchester, Mass., will facilitate the workshop that will consider future uses of Fort Getty. Together with Parks and Recreation Director Bill Piva, Bryer has been meeting with Landworks in planning the event.

Bryer explained that the attendees will be grouped at tables according to five topics. The tables will act as stations so that each group will rotate discussing each of the five topics: [historical and cultural, recreation on the water, recreation on the land, passive environmental and educational.] Following a break each attendee will be permitted to place a colored sticker on the topic of their choice, in essence casting a ballot for priorities.

The Planning Commission members in attendance will move with groups of attendees and help the process stay on track, according to Bryer. The goal, Bryer said, is to come up with an “exhaustive but realistic list of uses for Fort Getty.” She added that the uses will be addressed separately from the potential cost and revenue.

Landworks will develop a plan for the use of Fort Getty using the information provided by the workshop.

Bryer reminded the commission that both the existing 2005 Fort Getty Master Plan and the 2006 Land Use Plan can be found on the planning page of the town’s Web site. Commissioner Rosemary Enright suggested that it would be valuable to “know what had been said formerly.”

In the town planner’s report, Bryer talked about an effort to collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce to develop an economic development plan for the town.

“It’s a good time, when the economy is bad, to plan for the future,” Bryer said.

She stressed that this must be a partnership and “if the Chamber would like to work with the town we could do an economic plan.”

She added, “It is not something that the town will do for them. They have to be an integral part of that plan.”

A meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 23 where the Planning Commission and the Chamber of Commerce can begin a conversation.

Susan Little, the Harbor Management Commission liaison, reported that the new Fort Getty boat ramp is complete and that the commission is continuing its work on the Harbor Comprehensive Management Plan.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be held on Wednesday, May 18, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, where the commission will review the specific roles and assignments of the commissioners for the workshop on the next day. They will also address revisions for the housing element of the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan.

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