2011-12-29 / News

Planning board spends year trying to keep town quaint, yet help it grow

BY KATHLEEN MCKIERNAN

With a history dating back to the 1700s, the preservation of Jamestown as a quaint community village with ocean waves rolling up the coast is something the islanders hold steadfast to living their Island lives.

The year of 2011 was no different as the Planning Commission contended with balancing the future development needs of the town with the wishes of the community to keep Jamestown as it is.

The balancing act began in January when Stephen Evangelista proposed a four-lot subdivision on East Shore Road. After having gone through the two pre-application meetings and a Technical Review Committee meeting in December 2010, three residents wasted no time in the new year making their opinions of the proposed lot clear.

One letter signed by former Town Councilman William Kelly and 11 other people argued that the lot jeopardized the rural character of the entire community from Eldred Avenue, north to the end of the island. The letter said it would open “a Pandora’s box for additional development along East Shore Road and other similar areas like Beavertail Road.”

The original plan was to create a compound of four houses connected to East Shore Road by a private driveway.

In February, town’s concerns over preservation became superseded by the February snowfall that brought down the memorial pavilion at Fort Getty. The structure was a total loss and the town worked to develop a replacement for the Lt. Col. John C. Rembijas Memorial Pavilion.

With pavilion rentals bringing the town significant money for each event, the Town Council and engineers worked to develop the new pavilion to honor the already 20 bookings set to begin in May.

During a community meeting at the Jamestown Philomenian Library, droves of community members arrived to voice their opinion on the new pavilion replacement and how the memorial park can be expanded.

As the town designed its new pavilion, the Planning Commission continued to work on updating the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan, which state law requires revision every 10 years. A point of contention during the plan’s revision includes the commission’s update to the Economic Development section.

In this section, commissioners were divided over whether to include the Jamestown Community Survey in the comprehensive plan because not every one in the community responds. The commission decided to input into the plan that “a large group received the survey and a small group responded.”

In the final section, the commission included revisions of the home-business language, the inclusion of updated employment numbers and the addition of aquaculture enterprises on the island.

In May, it was that time of year again when the Rhode Island Offi ce of Housing and Community Development provides Community Development Block grants to each city and town. Jamestown has submitted requests for funding to the Department of Housing and Urban Development since 1987.

“The whole purpose behind the CDBG is to provide funding [for services] to low and moderate income families and individuals,” Town Planner Lisa Bryer said. “[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 service.”

This year’s requests included $100,000 for the Church Community Housing Corporation for the affordable housing project on Swinburne Street, and $200,000 for Bridges Inc. – a company that serves adults with developmental disabilities. The Bridges funds would help create affordable housing and economic opportunities for the people it serves.

In June, the Planning Commission tackled an issue that has bogged Jamestown for some time: affordable housing. The state requires that 10 percent of housing in each municipality meet federal and state guidelines for affordable housing.

The Press reported at the time that the community plan definition of affordable housing reads, “A household should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities or a mortgage payment and be available to persons earning 80 percent of the median income or less.”

However, in Jamestown, high housing costs leave many town employees having to work on the island, but live elsewhere. It has created a situation where the island is run by non-islanders.

The commission cited the challenge is the tension created by fewer federal and state dollars, and increasing costs in the face of the immoveable state mandate.

Later this year, the town held a public workshop with the Jamestown Equity Project, which was created to fund and support public and private efforts to create suffi- cient affordable housing opportunities in Jamestown.

At the close of the year in December, the community once again did not hesitate to voice their opinions at a Planning Commission public hearing, where abutters to a five-unit development by Bridges on Hammett Court feared the apartment complex for people with developmental disabilities was too large for the neighborhood.

Though neighbors supported the goal of the project to provide a home where people with developmental disabilities to be part of the Jamestown community, they wished the project could be smaller. Despite these concerns, the commission approved the project’s plans because of its community value in providing affordable housing in Jamestown.

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