2012-03-29 / News

Panel mulls economic development plan

Home-based businesses has turned town into more than just a waterfront
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Jamestown’s economy has seen a surge in home-based businesses, according to Town Planner Lisa Bryer, who said that there are many more parts to the town’s economy besides the waterfront and downtown businesses.

Bryer made the comments at the March 21 Planning Commission meeting when she explained the background behind a new economic development plan titled “A Town Economic Development Plan and Strategy, including Cultural, Historical and Creative Economies.”

The board is mulling whether to create an economic development plan for Jamestown. Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury said the reasons why a plan is important should be spelled out, so people understand the issues, such as the reasons why business and commerce help with local taxes. If they do go ahead with the plan, the home-based businesses should be part of the strategy, Commissioner Rosemary Enright agreed. Homebased business owners will be invited to become part of a steering committee as stakeholders.

Planning Chairman Michael Swistak suggested all the commissioners should be part of the steering committee, too.

Jamestown’s home-based businesses run the gamut, Bryer indicated. Bed-and-breakfasts are part of the mix, although these establishments have been declining in number. Other home-based workers include artists, consultants, plumbers, contractors, information technology experts and inventors. But the impact on the overall economy has not yet been quantifi ed, Bryer said, and the homebased business could become an issue in a community eager to preserve its rural character.

The comprehensive plan is “very specific” on keeping “commercialism in the commercial district and not spilling over,” she said. However, she said ideas about encouraging more bed-andbreakfasts in the village district, which includes downtown residential areas, could work into the economic development plan.

At a recent meeting, Commissioner Michael Smith had noted Jamestown has only two bed-andbreakfast establishments. He suggested the current zoning, which restricts them to the downtown commercial district, might be too restrictive and that the community would benefit from a change to allow bed-and-breakfasts all through the village district.

Swistak asked Bryer to go over the steps on the way to adopting an economic plan.

First, they agreed, she would identify the stakeholders to serve on the steering committee. Bryer has already mentioned the plan to Chamber of Commerce members. Other candidates would come from the arts community, homebased business owners and residents, in addition to the planning commissioners.

Then, she said, the next step would be to identify all local businesses. Town officials already have an accurate count of the downtown and waterfront businesses and also have accumulated much of the data about home- based ventures. But a consultant could help verify information. The numbers would ultimately lead to a community picture “of who we are,” she said.

Next, she suggested, focus groups should weigh in. “Now, have the community tell us what they want Jamestown’s economy to include.”

Meanwhile, Bryer said she was seeking feedback from the panel about the outline she had presented. Enright and Smith initially questioned her emphasis on businesses that are based on the arts.

Bryer noted that there is much information on the arts and their impact on New England’s economy from the New England Council on the Arts.

Enright said she wanted to see the nonprofit organizations included in the economic development plan. Bryer said she would recast the draft to balance the arts data with information about the other economic sectors.

However, Pendlebury said the arts do contribute to a flourishing downtown retail district, as evidenced by the experience in Providence.

“We’re not looking to have Waterfire here, I assume,” he said. “But town-based businesses would like to see more traffic.” Pendlebury wanted to know if private donations could help pay for the plan.

“Is the chamber going to fund part of this?” he asked.

“No, it’ll be funded by the town,” Bryer said, but then added the local business chapter could contribute.

Pendlebury also suggested the economic development plan might belong in the comprehensive plan. “That far-reaching look is kind of missing in the comprehensive plan now,” he said.

Bryer said the economic development plan is being developed separately from the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan but could potentially become incorporated into the plan.

Commissioner Richard Lynn said he would like to see the plan delve into “cultural tourism,” which would support the arts and downtown businesses, especially restaurants. He said Jamestown is home to several artists of national reputation, and they draw visitors. He also said the plan could consider ways to attract members of the “creative class,” such as inventors and IT professionals.

In other business, the Planning Commission is about to review the wind turbine project, which has been proposed for Taylor’s Point.

Bryer expects to present the turbine project sometime in April but added that she is not prepared to say yet if the commissioners will be asked for a recommendation or if the turbine’s financing would be part of the discussion. That’s because the turbine project has to be treated as a public district review.

The Town Council at its March 19 meeting asked Town Administrator Bruce Keiser to present the proposal to the Planning Commission and to the Zoning Board of Review.

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