2011-08-25 / Front Page

Panel evaluates conservation letter concerning community plan

BY GEOFF CAMPBELL

The ongoing review and update of the 2004 Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan is winding down. The Planning Commission considered the final drafts of three elements including open space and recreation, circulation, and population at its Aug. 17 meeting.

In addition, the commission reviewed a first draft of the corresponding action plan amendment for the “open space and recreation” section. Each element will eventually be paired with an action plan that tracks responsibility, resources and progress.

The “open space, agriculture and recreation” portion of the document was examined first.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer read a letter to the commissioners that she had recently received from the Conservation Commission. The Conservation Commission had been given a draft of the community plan revisions this spring in order to garner its feedback. Bryer said that the group responded with “a bulleted list of things that they would like addressed in the [plan] rather than providing page by page [comments].”

The list included:

• Recognition of sole source aquifer designation.

• Recognition of cumulative impact legislation and the desire of community to be proactive about cumulative impact development issues.

• Necessary rewrite of the “function of conservation land and open space” section of document to improve accuracy and more positive phrasing.

• Update inventory of open space and protected areas.

• Review references to freshwater wetlands protection and make sure all current legislation and Coastal Resources Management Council and state Department of Environmental Management regulations are properly referenced.

• Water quality and quantity issues need examination; also to examine and educate regarding these issues and assign responsibility.

• Need for outreach/mapping effort to describe current conservation land and potential conservation opportunities and/or development risks based on current protection addressing responsibility and method.

• Need solid stewardship plan for town conservation land. Should in- clude partnership with other island conservation groups such as Conanicut Island Land Trust, the Jamestown Shores Association, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and The Nature Conservancy.

• Current role of Conservation Commission and Water Resource Protection Committee needs to be accurately reflected.

• Conservation development goals articulated.

The letter acknowledged that the list was a starting point and the Conservation Commission welcomed an opportunity for further discussion. Bryer recommended that she address the issues in a revised draft and then bring the revisions to the Conservation Commission.

The Planning Commission appeared to be in favor of that approach. Commissioner Michael Smith noted that the letter included “a lot of land mines.” He added, “I’d like to know what we are discussing when they start talking about all of those terms.”

Bryer said that she would seek clarifi cation from the Conservation Commission to avoid “interpreting what their meaning is.”

The Planning Commission also reviewed the corresponding action plan for the “open space and recreation” element.

The Planning Commission appeared split regarding the adoption of conservation development in the action plan. Conservation development requires significant pre-planning in order to make creative use of the topography of the land. It strives to create open space in the context of unique and attractive features found on the land. It does not increase the number of building lots per subdivision.

While cluster zoning also promotes open space by creating smaller building lots, it does not necessarily attempt to work within the natural topography while protecting natural resources, such as wrapping a road around a stand of existing trees or maintaining natural rock formations as part of an attractive entrance. Conservation development provides developers with clearer guidelines, according to Bryer.

Bryer explained that she is seeking language that forces developers to consider the land as it exists and to understand in advance that he or she may not be able to reduce lot sizes to the cluster-zone requirements in the context of “environmental constraints.”

Planning Commission Chairman Mike Swistak and Vice Chairman Duncan Pendlebury were in favor of including the concept while adjusting the language. Both Smith and Commissioner Susan Little were opposed to the change in development approaches citing overcrowding, a strain on water resources, and increased costs to developers. Smith went one step further to suggest that cluster zoning, the current development mandate, be repealed in favor of traditional development.

Pendlebury said that he recalled that the commission appeared to be more comfortable with the concept if it were an option and not a requirement.

Swistak summarized the monthslong conservation-development conversation beginning with presentations made by Tony Lachowicz, a consultant in the field. Swistak said that in the absence of a “formal vote, there was some agreement that we would try to work that concept into the [community plan] encouraging that approach to development and the reason that we have done that is that the current approach, as it stands alone is ineffective.”

He added that the term “conservation development” needs to be clearly and specifically defined by the commission and that conversation has not yet taken place. Bryer agreed to rewrite the conservation-development language and to present it at the next meeting.

Pendlebury suggested that the build-out analysis for Jamestown, a listing of potential building lots available next month, will provide a better understanding of just how much land is developable and that in turn may inform next steps.

No changes were made to the “population” element.

The meeting concluded with a thorough discussion of the final draft of the “circulation” element of the community plan. Circulation addresses roads, transportation, traffic and parking.

Once again parking generated a vibrant discussion led by Smith, who argued against the inclusion of this language in the plan, “Based on the data, it is the conclusion of this study that the town has only moderate seasonal parking issues,” he said.

He continued: “I find that just ridiculous. I think that from the fire station to East Ferry we have terrible parking issues. It’s become a one-way street during the daylight hours. You don’t have two-way traffic there.”

Acknowledging that the 2004 parking plan is now seven years old, the commission agreed to revisit the parking study. The next meeting of the Planning Commission is scheduled for Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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