2012-05-10 / News

Council’s plate full, mulls handful of issues awaiting resolution

In new business, chief of police briefs panel on status of animal control on island
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week discussed a wide range of issues awaiting resolution, including a replacement for the golf course clubhouse, the proposed wind turbine, a proposal for accessory apartments, and the future of Fort Getty.

The council, which also discussed a potential expansion of the town’s leash law, met on May 7. The proceedings included the reappointment of Clayton Carlisle to the Buildings and Facilities Committee, and Jerry Scott to the Fire Department Compensation Committee.

The golf course discussions have been on the front burner since the buildings panel issued its comprehensive report and recommendations for the structurally unsound building. It’s far too late to design and bond the financing for a building this year. But the council has to launch the initiative by deciding on the community functions – and possibly private functions – that the replacement building will host.

Because that discussion will be complicated by the limited availability of alternative town-owned sites for community functions, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser advised the council to hold a second clubhouse workshop, with the first one having been a work session on the committee’s report. It won’t be until the council reaches a decision on the replacement’s uses that the town can solicit design proposals.

The proposed wind turbine will present the council with a far more difficult decision, although it’s unclear when that will happen. Keiser told the Press that the request for proposals that will provide hard numbers on turbine and construction costs has not been finished, which means that those numbers probably won’t be available until early summer. At that point, the town’s turbine consultant, Harley Lee, will be asked to fine-tune his cost projections and present them to the council.

But the town has already spent most of the money allotted for Lee’s contract, which means additional funding would have to be found if he were asked to answer additional questions – such as those that the Planning Commission might ask before its vote on the turbine development plan. The commission is expected to pin down those questions during its May 16 meeting.

Keiser told the council that agency officials have indicated to him that the state might be willing to kick in additional funds – either from the Office of Energy Resources or the Economic Development Corporation’s Renewable Energy Fund – that may be necessary for additional consulting work. Keiser added that the possibility of additional consulting work and its costs should be placed on the agenda for the council’s May 21 meeting.

Meanwhile, the long-standing proposal to allow the addition of in-law apartments to single-family homes without a property-tax penalty remains just that: a proposal. There are two reasons why the policy isn’t ripe for a council vote. The first one is that the Planning Commission still must review the proposal.

The second reason, as Town Planner Lisa Bryer told Councilor Bill Murphy – who has been a vocal proponent of the idea – is that the Comprehensive Community Plan has not been revised to include a discussion of in-law apartments. “The comprehensive plan should be amended before we change our policy,” Bryer said. The comprehensive plan is in the final stages of formatting.

Once the plan is formatted, it will be presented to the council for endorsement, which should occur by the end of next month. But Bryer would like the council to hold off voting on the policy until the state signs off on the comprehensive plan, which is a formality required under state law.

The longest standing issue of any before the councilors is the future of Fort Getty. Council President Mike Schnack announced that the park will be back on the agenda for the June 18 meeting, at which point the councilors will “bring forward our ideas of what we want to do,” said Schnack, adding that the council will then “decide on next steps.”

Councilor Ellen Winsor asked if those steps will include the formation of a Fort Getty committee, which Winsor and Schnack had separately suggested during the April 23 work session. Schnack told Winsor, among other things, “Yes, I said I thought a committee would be a good idea for the implementation of the current Fort Getty Master Plan. That was my recommendation – but not a committee to rehash everything that’s been hashed and rehashed over the last 10 years.”

Bowen expressed the opinion that the discussions on a Fort Getty committee “were taken out of context by the Press, and a lot of people in town thought we were going to punt this thing to yet another committee. So that’s how this was handled by the Press.”

The headline for the Press article incorrectly stated that the council had decided on a committee, and a correction of that misstatement was published in the May 3 edition. But the article itself led off by saying “it looked like” the council would appoint a Fort Getty committee. The article later paraphrased Schnack as saying that the council “will appoint” a committee to work with the Recreation Department, which aligns with the official minutes of the work session.

The minutes paraphrase Schnack as saying, “First off is to implement a permanent town committee (similar to a planning commission) to work with the Recreation Department and focus all year long on the park.”

In the only piece of new business, Police Chief Ed Mello updated the council on the department’s animal control efforts. Mello said that the department has responded to 311 animal-related calls since Sept. 1, with only 19 of those calls resulting in charges against the owners.

Keiser said that the Humane Society of Jamestown and resident Barbara Szepatowski have been assisting the department with its animal-control responsibilities in a variety of ways, including picking up roadkill and transporting stray animals to the North Kingstown shelter. Although, Keiser added, “We need to bring animals to the shelter only once or twice a year.”

Currently, the town’s ordinance requires dogs to be leashed from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a letter from Mello to Keiser says the timeframe “should be further discussed by the council with consideration to expanding the hours.”

Bowen agreed: “A loose dog after 4 p.m. is OK, and at some point we need to figure out whether that’s OK with the town, or whether we need to extend the leash law to a longer period of time.”

To that end, Mello said the department would gather data on 60 days worth of animal-related calls (whether or not they involve leashlaw violations) to determine if any significant number of calls come in after 4 p.m.

In other discussions and business, the council:

• Passed a resolution approving the sale of the former Town Hall at 44 Southwest Ave. for $350,000 to a company called West Ferry LLC.

• Learned from Keiser that the report of the Washington County Planning Commission on potential energy-efficiency enhancements to town and school buildings will be presented for council discussion at the May 21 meeting.

• Learned from Keiser that the draft plan for the Conanicut Island Land Trust to assume responsibility for the stewardship of the 100 tax-sale lots in the Jamestown Shores will be the subject of discussions and review by himself, Bryer, and Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki. Their goal is to have a plan available for council review at the June 18 meeting.

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