2011-12-01 / Editorial

VIEWPOINT

Town Council’s assault on open space
BY CHRIS POWELL

As former chairman of the Jamestown Conservation Commission for over 25 years, I feel I must provide some insight into what I feel is a serious precedentsetting misstep by the current Town Council. What they are proposing will reverse efforts championed by the Conservation Commission, previous Town Councils, town administrators, town boards and commissions, the Conanicut Island Land Trust, and many Conanicut Island residents.

The Town Council is proposing to eliminate the Open Space-1 zone on a portion of Taylor Point Park to allow the location of a 363- foot high wind turbine within the park, even though the structure could be located, by right, within the public zone just south of the park where the sewage treatment plant and highway barn are currently located. Why the proposed change? First, wind turbines are prohibited in Taylor Point Park which is zoned Open Space-1. Locating it here requires a change to the zoning of the park. So why locate it in the park? In speaking with various town officials, I have not heard a reasonable explanation or justification for changing the open space designation in order to locate the proposed wind turbine within the current open space zone, especially when there are alternatives.

One explanation I have heard is to move the turbine “fall zone” away from any portion of the Newport Bridge. However, using the size of the fall zone, as shown on the town site plan, the bridge would still be outside the fall zone if the proposed turbine was relocated to within the fenced area of the sewage treatment plant. Another alternative is to reduce the height of the proposed turbine so the fall zone does not impact the bridge. Using either alternative, no changes to the Open Space-1 zone would be required. So if these options are available, why is the Town Council proposing to locate the wind turbine in the park? Only they can provide that answer.

So, why should we care about the proposed zone change to a portion of Taylor Point Park? Efforts to ensure the preservation of the Taylor Point area as a park go back many years. Originally the entire Taylor Point area north of the Newport Bridge was designated as open space. Municipal facilities like the town sewage treatment plant (a “grandfathered” use) and other government uses could be allowed by special-use permit within this open space zone. Realizing the peril future specialuse permits could bring to Taylor Point and other open space-zoned areas of the island, the Jamestown Conservation Commission proposed the creation of Open Space 1 (OS-1) and Open Space 2 (OS-2) zones. Under the zoning ordinance as amended in 1999, they are defi ned as:

• OS-I Conservation Preserve: Intended to preserve, protect and enhance where appropriate environmentally sensitive and natural resource areas such as conservation areas, watersheds, reservoirs, wildlife refuges and wetlands.

• OS-II Park and Recreation: The purpose of this zone [district] is to allow agriculture as well as recreation activities that will not substantially impact the historic, scenic and/or environmental character of the zoning district, nor compromise natural resources.

With this open space zoning in place we felt areas that needed permanent protection would be secure under the OS-1 designation, and the OS-2 designation would ensure the proper use of active recreational and agricultural areas of the island.

In addition, a new “public zone” was created to allow for government uses like the sewage treatment plant, highway barn and the police station.

This progressive zoning provided the town with the necessary tools to “build what needed to be built and save what needed to be saved.” We can only assume that either our Town Council has proposed this zoning change naively and doesn’t understand all that went into creating these zones, or they are intentionally ignoring the past efforts of many to permanently protect our valuable Open Space-1 areas.

Carol Trocki, chairwoman of the Conservation Commission, summed it up best when she was quoted in last week’s Press in her address to the Town Council: “Changing the zoning at the Taylor Point site would ‘undermine’ the thoughtfulness that went into the [OS-1] designation.” She goes on to say that “a spot [zoning] change could set a precedent for other changes down the road.”

I agree with Ms. Trocki and feel strongly that the Town Council would be making a serious mistake in changing any portion of the Open Space-1 designation at Taylor Point. Previous efforts by many groups and individuals to protect and preserve our farms and open spaces are what make Conanicut Island a special place to live. We should not allow one Town Council to undo the efforts of many. Please contact your Town Council members and let them know that eliminating open space protection of any portion of Taylor Point Park to allow what is currently prohibited is a bad idea and will open the door to future assaults on our precious open space.

The author was the inaugural chairman of the Conservation Commission and served the post from 1984 to 2010.

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