2012-06-14 / News

Board approves residential apartments

Downtown commercial space will be converted
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Jack Brittain, owner of commercial property at 14 Clinton Ave., went to the Planning Commission for permission to convert the second and third floors of his downtown building into two residential apartments. The request came as an amendment to the approved Windridge Properties development plan, and passed without opposition.

Michael Swistak, chairman of the Planning Commission, recused himself from the discussion on June 6 and stepped off the board. Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury led the meeting in Swistak’s stead.

Brittain said he and his wife were “downsizing” and wanted to move back downtown, where they had once lived. “Everything today seems to be downsizing,” Brittain said. “We do like the idea of being in the downtown area.”

The couple plans to live in one apartment and rent the other. The garages will stay commercial, he said.

Brittain said he was able to meet the parking requirements. When it was a commercial space, he needed 19 parking spaces. Now that he’s changing the upstairs to residential space, he needs fewer spaces. Pendlebury said Brittain will satisfy the regulations and will have 15 parking spaces.

“The required parking of 15 spaces will be satisfied with five at the street and 10 spaces on site on the western edge of the property,” he said.

Commissioner Rosemary Enright asked if the building’s facade would remain the same. Brittain said the north side of the building would stay as is, and he was making slight changes to the south side to incorporate a porch.

Enright also asked about the light in the third-floor apartment. Brittain said the third floor had skylights, which had originally been installed to vent heat and insulate the space.

Brittain also said he planned to eliminate two of the exterior floodlights.

“There are three floodlights on the back of the building, and I have been thinking of cutting that to one,” he said.

Several residents spoke in support of Brittain’s project. James Rafferty of Carr Lane said he owns property on Clinton Avenue.

“I approve of the amendment,” he said. “It will make the neighborhood nicer, improve the value of property around it, and make it a little safer.”

Arlene Petit also said she thought having people live in the building would improve safety downtown. She said the change was consistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Community Plan.

Bill Munger, owner of property at 20 Narragansett Ave., also supported the change to make the upstairs residential. Munger cited “a glut of commercial space in the village right now” due to vacancies.

“Jack’s building is largely empty,” he said. “Conversion to residential on the second floor is a positive component, a good fit for Clinton Avenue.”

The Planning Commission was also conditional on the applicant’s obtaining a building permit within a year and performing all the work according to the plans.

In other business, discussion about the wind turbine has been postponed to a later date, which has not yet been announced.

The planning commissioners had begun to consider the turbine’s development plan at their April 18 meeting but decided to hold off on a vote, due to insufficient information. They continued the discussion to the June 6 meeting because the town solicitor would be able to attend, but the development plan was not on the agenda.

Swistak deferred to Town Planner Lisa Bryer to explain the reason for the new postponement. Bryer said the state is issuing guidelines in July about wind turbines, including failure scenarios. Therefore, the decision was made to wait until those guidelines became available.

The Wind Energy Siting Guidelines Advisory Group is developing state guidelines along with the Renewable Energy Siting Partnership at the University of Rhode Island, it was reported previously.

Swistak and Bryer also said the project consultants needed more time to provide data and answer questions, which the planning commissioners raised at their previous meetings. The commissioners have asked for specific numbers about the potential impact on property values. They are also requiring detailed drawings about the electrical-connection plan and more data on the turbine’s height, the length of its blades, the setback distances to surrounding buildings, water tanks and conservation zones.

Additionally, the commissioners want assessments about the white light atop the turbine’s stanchion to indicate whether the glare will interfere with a motorist’s night vision. They also want information about low-frequency noise, including ways to compare the type of noise the turbine will generate to other sounds. They have asked for a comparison of the proposed Taylor Point turbine’s height to other turbines in the area. The panel also has requested safety records and failure rates, plus historical approvals and recommendations, including any action by the Coastal Resources Management Council.

The Planning Commission is reviewing the turbine development plan and will ultimately make a recommendation to the Zoning Board of Review.

Swistak said members of the Planning Commission had gone on a site visit to the Portsmouth High School turbine on May 31. The commissioners did not discuss the site visit, however.

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