2012-02-23 / News

Planning board may take more time with community plan

Town planner says panel could still make deadline, but may ask for state help
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Work on Jamestown’s Comprehensive Community Plan is progressing, according to Town Planner Lisa Bryer. Her department is on track to deliver the finished document to the Town Council by the middle of March, she told the Planning Commission at its Feb. 15 meeting.

That target date is “still achievable,” she said, but because the March deadline was self-imposed, Bryer said that there is no need to rush. The state is about to resume a review service to the cities and towns so Bryer is suggesting the panel might consider a change in its own plans, take advantage of the state’s assistance and send the document to experts.

The state’s preliminary review typically takes four months, and that time frame would delay sending the plan to the councilors by March, she said. Rosemary Enright, member of the Planning Commission, asked Bryer if the Town Council was expecting the comprehensive plan in March.

“Does the council care?” Enright asked.

“No,” Bryer said. “They have not been told.”

In the past, Bryer said, the state’s preliminary review was “very helpful.” By taking that option, Bryer would go back to the Planning Commission only if state experts suggested “major changes.” Otherwise, her department would incorporate the suggestions into the document and deliver it to the Town Council for final approval.

The Planning Commission has spent much of the past year on revising the plan per state law, which charges cities and towns with updating their comprehensive plans every 10 years.

The panel also reviewed at its meeting 14 new maps, which will become part of the plan, pending Town Council approval.

Justin Jobin, the town’s environmental scientist, presented the maps. The charts were revised for two reasons, he said. In some cases because data changed, and in other instances because map technology changed. For example, Jobin said, one of the old maps depicting land use had been drawn with a Sharpie pen. All the new maps have been plotted by computer software.

Jobin and Bryer went over the maps, which show areas of geological, cultural and historic interest. Several are views of the island’s various features, including topography, soil samples, sewer and water districts, and coastal water designations. According to a new contour map, for example, the Manning subdivision section of Cedar Lane is officially the highest point in Jamestown. That information surprised some panel members.

Bryer said that she would consider the extent of high groundwater areas to be the most startling information shown on the new maps.

It’s not really a surprise, but seeing the information presented graphically reveals the scope of the groundwater issues, she said.

“It verifies what we already know,” she said, adding that planners have long understood about Jamestown’s “very high groundwater table.”

The Planning Commission made comments and suggested some changes, such as improving the color schemes to make the information easier to read.

Michael Smith, member of the Planning Commission, noted on one map, town facilities had been depicted in red on a red background, creating visual difficulty. Commission member Duncan Pendlebury suggested the two bridges should be depicted, at least as reference points.

Jobin said the bridges would look like roads through the water, but said he will add the Newport and Jamestown bridges to the charts. Jobin also promised he and Bryer will work on the color scheme and make improvements.

Enright said the historic points of interest needed additional work. “I did find it difficult to find historic cemeteries,” she said. “[Jamestown] has a lot more national historic sites than are listed here.”

Bryer said the maps will be available online after the Town Council approves them.

“The maps look great,” she said. “We’ll be finalizing them in the next couple of months. I think the Planning Commission was pleased.”

During the meeting, Bryer also presented a new summary of the community survey.

The survey itself will be attached to the comprehensive plan, she said, in an appendix or as an online option.

The plan is supposed to include “citizen participation.” The Planning Commission earlier decided not to include the survey in the comprehensive plan over concerns about the number of respondents and the representative age of people who answered the questionnaire.

Bryer said 523 people responded to the survey, which was distributed in July 2010. (The U.S. Census Bureau puts Jamestown’s population at over 5,000.) Median age of the survey respondents fell between 61 and 80.

Preserving the island’s rural character should be top priority, 91 percent said. Most respondents to the 2010 survey had also completed the previous citizen survey in 1998, but this time, they showed less concern about water quality issues.

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