2011-09-22 / Front Page

Mello sworn in as Jamestown police chief

BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week laid the groundwork for a group of decisions with long-term significance for the island. But, before holding any of the table-setting discussions during its Sept. 19 meeting, the council addressed an immediate piece of business: swearing in Police Chief Ed Mello.

With all of Jamestown’s detectives and officers looking on, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said the former Westerly police chief “comes to us after a distinguished 23-year career in Westerly. He rose meteorically in rank and became their chief at the age of 37.”

Keiser also said, “On behalf of the town of Jamestown, I want to thank Chief Mello for applying.” In his remarks to the packed house, Mello thanked Lt. Angela Deneault for her service as acting police chief, and presented statistics indicating that law enforcement in small towns can be just as dangerous as it’s assumed to be in urban environments.

That said, Mello also pointed out that the quality of life in Jamestown played a major role in his decision to pursue the opportunity to lead the island’s force – a decision, he added, that was enthusiastically supported by his wife.

One of the most anticipated of the council’s upcoming decisions is its planned Oct. 3 vote to select for economic analysis “fixed” and “flexible” uses of Fort Getty. The selected uses will be sent for analysis to Landworks Collaborative, but there seemed to be a departure from the path to vote.

In the first departure, Councilor Mike White, who was not present for the previous Fort Getty discussion, was expected to share his views on, or preferences for, uses of the park. But that didn’t happen.

In the second departure, the Sept. 6 preparations for the pending vote included plans for a second work session in which the councilors could reach consensus on the uses they would vote on. But during this week’s meeting, the second work session wasn’t mentioned. Councilor Ellen Winsor, however, raised a topic that was broached during the Sept. 6 meeting; namely, a resident’s request for the council to consider a referendum as the vehicle for a final decision on Fort Getty uses.

In her exchange with the other councilors, Winsor asked if it would be possible to put that referendum on the November ballot. Told it wasn’t possible, Winsor observed that the referendum could be held at a special town meeting or, alternatively, in the November ballot of 2012. The brief exchange was the only discussion on Fort Getty Master Plan implementation.

There was much more discussion on the proposed transfer of 100 properties to the Conanicut Island Land Trust. The properties, most of them in the Jamestown Shores, were foreclosed by the town due to tax delinquencies. The land trust has proposed to conserve the properties, thereby helping to protect the island’s groundwater while preserving some open space for shores’ residents. But the Conservation Commission and the councilors are raising questions about the terms of the transfer.

During this week’s meeting, some of the councilors raised an additional question: What sort of management plan would the land trust put in place to protect the properties?

Placing the properties into a conservation easement would preclude future political pressure on the town to sell the lots.

“We need to know what their management plan will be because the easement is intended to protect groundwater,” said Council President Mike Schnack. Councilor Bob Bowen added, “I’d like to see their management plans for the properties they’re already conserving.”

But Schnack said the existing plans aren’t necessarily relevant because the proposed transfer would set up an arrangement that doesn’t have any precedent in Jamestown.

“We’re looking at a partnership [among multiple parties] that would be the first of its kind,” said Schnack. “[Land trust] management plans for other properties don’t apply to this proposal. I recommend that we ask the land trust, the Conservation Commission and the shores’ association to work out a management plan before we sign off on the transfer. [Town Planner] Lisa Bryer could shepherd this along.”

Protections for the island’s water resources also figured prominently in the councilors’ earlier discussions as the town’s water and sewer commissioners. Water resources came up when the commissioners considered the request of a resident for water service to supply a one-bedroom apartment for her planned conversion of a dental office into a one-bedroom apartment.

Although the property already has town water, and a single-occupancy apartment wouldn’t have any measurable impact on the island’s water supplies, the request sparked a discussion on the ability of the town to supply water if everyone who owns unimproved lots in the water district decided to develop their properties.

Town Public Works Director Mike Gray told the commissioners that he could prepare a build-out analysis of potential water demand from all the unimproved properties within six months. The results of the analysis will have a bearing on future discussions about water rates as well as water supply.

Water resources didn’t affect the commissioner’s discussions on the service-expansion requested by Bridges Inc., which plans to convert a pair of structures at 2 Hammett Court into five apartments for developmentally disabled individuals. The request for water and sewer service expansion, like the previous water-service request for just one apartment, was approved.

A request for ideas to tap future Transportation Improvement Program funding for local transportation project was presented to the councilors by Keiser, who said the deadline for the town’s submission is Oct. 17.

The state Department of Transportation will fund the selected TIP projects during fiscal years 2013 through 2016, Keiser said, adding that DOT will hold a workshop on Oct. 3, which coincides with the first council meeting in October. So, the councilors are likely to debate their preferences for transportation infrastructure projects that evening.

Another local infrastructure issue emerged with the council’s acceptance of a report from a structural engineering firm, which was hired to assess the condition of the golf course building. The report from C.A. Pretzer Associates indicates that the building’s structural problems are severe.

In a situation reminiscent of the John C. Rembijas pavilion, the building’s roof might not withstand a heavy dose of snow and wind; in fact, just a sudden northwest blow (without snowfall) could affect the building’s load distribution disastrously, Duncan Pendlebury, chairman of the town Building and Facilities Committee, told the councilors.

During winter, the maximum occupancy of the building had been 25, but the town will now prohibit any occupancy at all, which means that the wintertime dance and yoga classes will have to be relocated to either the recreation center or an alternative site. Repairing the building would cost about $300,000 – and amount that the town just happens to have in a reserve account accumulated from set-asides diverted from golf course lease payments.

However, it’s also been argued that the building should be torn down and rebuilt to serve multiple functions, including weddings and banquets. But that proposal raises the specter of parking conflicts with the golfers. Pendlebury’s facilities committee will prepare a list of options for the future of the building, which will become the focus of a robust debate in the months to come.

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