2011-08-11 / Front Page

Conservation panel agrees to focus on Fort Getty

BY GEOFF CAMPBELL

A packed agenda held the attention of the Conservation Commission for two and a half hours at its Aug. 9 meeting. Chief among the issues discussed was review of items that the commission wants to see included in the Planning Commission’s final draft of the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan.

Among the 11 items the group seeks to include, according to a document circulated by Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki, are the “sole source aquifer” designation, an updated inventory of open space and protected areas, and a fuller examination of water quality issues.

Concerns about the lack of a solid stewardship plan for town conservation land, the current role of the Conservation Commission and the Water Resource Protection Committee, and the absence of clearly stated goals conservation development, were also listed.

One commissioner aired some concerns regarding the distillation of several months worth of work down to a bulleted list, but the commission agreed that given the stage of the process it’s important for the Planning Commission to be aware of the items and then follow-up conversations with the town planner can be pursued.

Trocki said that the comprehensive plan is an “aspiration document [which] has significant impact on the direction that various entities are charged to go, which is why something specific like conservation development, which we have been working on would be a very prudent thing to include.” Trocki also acknowledged that the Planning Commission has already voiced its interest in conservation development as a workable concept. She added, “It’s just a matter of codifying it.”

The Conservation Commission also agreed to have commissioner Mike Brown construct a memo for the group to discuss at special meeting, prior to the Town Council’s consideration of any further discussion regarding a plan for Fort Getty at its Sept. 6 meeting.

The draft memo will highlight the commission’s collective view of the key conservation elements in any plan. Brown suggested a strict focus in the context of the Conservation Commission charge, “Maximizing and preserving open space, [passive] recreation, and view sheds.”

In summary, he added the bottom line, “Don’t burden the place anymore” He said that conservation elements are best protected when the primary use of the space included passive recreational uses in an open space. The commissioners voiced support for the memo but were mixed in their opinions concerning how far the memo should go. Trocki expressed her preference: “It seems to me, my preference at this stage would be to reiterate all of these things that you mentioned that are important facets of what the sensitive resources are at Fort Getty that you want to see protected and that we are interested in being involved in that process and that we are available to educate whomever is involved.”

Commissioner Pat Driscoll supported a proactive and positive approach as well, but he wanted to go further. “We should find our vision for Fort Getty irrespective of anything that is happening there,” he said. “It couldn’t be more squarely in our mission in terms of what we want to promote and what we want to safeguard in Jamestown.”

Commissioner Ted Smayda concurred with Driscoll, suggesting that the memo intended eventually for the Town Council be strong enough to “force a town debate to get us out of the rut the town has been in for the last 20 years.”

Commission member Maureen Coleman added that “a greater emphasis on public access” be included in the memo. The one-hour single agenda item to discuss the memo will be held on Aug. 17, at a location yet to be determined.

New business on the agenda included stewardship of town lands. The commission considered a draft of a conservation easement that would be granted to Conanicut Island Land Trust of town-owned land in the Jamestown Shores. The properties were obtained by the town at the urging of the Water Resource Protection Committee. In many cases the lots carried unpaid tax bills and were unbuildable because they were consistently wet throughout the year. Trocki explained that privately held easements of town-owned properties is a typical model that helps to insure that lands are maintained as open space in perpetuity.

Nancy Coleman Ventrone, president of the Jamestown Shores Association, told the group that shores’ residents are concerned by the condition of some of the lots and that they are prepared to work in concert with Conanicut Island Land Trust to provide annual maintenance on the lot.

Charged by the Town Council to consider the viability of gifting these easements to the land trust, the commissioners discussed their concerns about an apparent inability to keep up with current maintenance of the more than 400 acres held, although the totals are not well-known. Concerns were also expressed regarding the absence of a management plan for the proposed easements, and the ability to get answers to questions from the trust by phone or otherwise.

Trocki suggested, and the commissioners supported, writing a “carefully crafted letter to the Town Council we can phrase it such a way that it invites discussion and partnership.”

The commissioners appeared grateful to Ventrone and the association for their willingness to assist in the maintenance of the properties should they be gifted to the land trust or not. They also expressed hope that the current issues involving land trust could be easily resolved.

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