Re-opening rights of way in Shores on council’s plate
The Jamestown Town Council on Monday asked the staff to recommend the next steps the town should take to deal with the issue of impassable and obstructed rights of way, primarily in Jamestown Shores.
Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said he will bring a proposal back to the councilors in June. Options may include the appointment of a panel to deal with the issues, the councilors decided on Monday. Residents of Jamestown Shores and the right of way abutters have asked to be represented on the panel, but the councilors also indicated while they want public input, they do not want the debate to turn into a “public squabble.”
Meanwhile, everything people have wanted to know about the rights of way in Jamestown is now a mouse click away and available on the town website, which is jamestownri.net, Justin Jobin told the council on Monday.
Jobin, who works with the town’s Geographic Information Systems Department, created an interactive map for the website, accessed by clicking Shoreline Access on the home page.
Jobin and an intern, Marianne Diffin, had been asked to go out and document existing conditions on all town rights of way. They provided new photographs, including the entrances, the shoreline access points, and the obstructions or hazards, if any exist.
The accompanying text is based on the parking committee’s 1999 report documenting the rights of way, which is largely still valid, he said. Jobin said he cut and pasted descriptions of the rights of way from the original document and also directly copied all the recommendations from the 1999 survey.
The text and photos are linked to the interactive map, which inKeiser cludes color labels giving the names and locations of each right of way. By clicking on the right of way label, the user can bring up the photographs and the descriptions.
Councilor Eugene Mihaly said based on the information Jobin has collected and on talks with staff, he would like the committee to start planning the next steps, including a list of the first rights of way the town will refurbish and open to the public. Mihaly said he had a working list of four. Three, on Steamboat Avenue, Spirketing Street and Buccaneer Way, call for little work, and he suggested the staff should offer alternatives to the fourth one, the Mast Street right of way, if opening that right of way is not feasible. However, he said, the rationale to open the Mast Street right of way was geographical and was an attempt to deliver access to the shoreline to residents in all parts of town.
“Mast is beautifully maintained by the neighbors,” he said. “Then there’s a drop-off. I’m suggesting we put in a set of stairs.”
Mihaly asked Mike Gray, the town engineer, about a price estimate.
Gray said he didn’t know and also cautioned against a plan to install a set of stairs at the end of the Mast Street right of way to allow shoreline access. The bottom steps would be underwater at high tide and could be costly to maintain.
Suzanne Wheelock confirmed the stairs are expensive. Wheelock, a Seaside Drive resident, said the Coastal Resources Management Council gave her family permission to install stairs down to the water, but not to touch the beach, she noted.
“They’ve been repaired many a time,” she said.
Jobin said there is a problem about reopening several rights of way in the southern part of Jamestown
Shores, due to the steep slopes.
“The southern shore is just so rocky and high up, I don’t see” the way, he indicated, to make the rights of way accessible all the way to the water.
“Okay,” Mihaly said, but reminded Jobin “one of the criteria we used” was location and staff should substitute another southern shore right of way, if Mast Street is not an option.
Resident Sav Rebecchi suggested access to the shoreline did not have to be interpreted literally, in cases where stairs or other expensive engineering solutions would be required. In the case of Mast Street, he said, access could mean a bench at the end of the easily accessible section and a place to allow people the opportunity to enjoy the view.
Council President Kristine Trocki agreed that opening the vista might be an acceptable form of access.
Rebecchi showed a map of Jamestown rights of way and pointed out residents in the village are no more than a short walk away from numerous safe and accessible rights of way, but Jamestown Shores residents do not have the comparable amenities. He suggested spending the $20,000 to $30,000 to engineer some solutions for the Shores residents was a fair solution, given the large amounts the town spends on other waterfront rights of way in other parts of Jamestown.
Gary Girard, a Seaside Drive resident, said the rights of way are open and no one is stopping anyone from using them.
“A few people have a problem,” he said, but he maintained people already “know they’re there” and said the town shouldn’t have to “pay a fortune” to fix them.
Girard and other residents also spoke during open forum. Girard showed a 1947 advertisement for the Shores lots, which showed the rights of way. They had been laid out by the developers at every third street to give property owners access to the waterfront, he said, and they existed before the state CRMC designated the rights of way officially for public access.
Adele Beck, another Seaside Drive resident, said she is concerned about the town’s plans to reopen the rights of way. She owns property abutting the Hull Street right of way and said she was encouraged when she spoke to Jobin and he said it was “just too dangerous to open” that one.
“I was going to tell the council it was too dangerous to open to people,” she said. Beck said she has problems with people parking on her land to go down to the shoreline, and some people have walked up on her private deck. She asked if the council would consider selling her the right of way. The sale would put the land back on the tax roll, she said, and would generate revenues to repair other rights of way, she said.
Keiser indicated the town may opt against reopening all the rights of way. He used the parallel example of paper roads, which town governments sometimes abandon.
“We do abandon paper streets every now and then to neighbors when they’re not needed,” he said. Keiser said the staff would use Jobin’s inventory of the rights of way to assess “which do offer a public benefit,” he said and “how many are needed to satisfy public access.”
Mary Jo Diem, a Jamestown Shores resident, said she would like to hear the council make a commitment to reopening the rights of way.
“Why can’t we have a five-year plan starting with the simplest ones?” she said. Diem said although some abutters have tended the rights of way and kept them in good condition, it’s not fair to exShores pect neighbors to take care of the land, she said.
Nancy Ventrone, a Jamestown Shores resident, said 52 percent of the town population lives in the Shores but has no sidewalks, no fire hydrants, no police patrols by Head’s Beach and no political representation. It would be nice to have some water views, she said. “It’s not a lot to ask,” she said. As far as liability, Ventrone said there are risks at Fort Getty and at Fort Wetherill and at the other public parks.
Councilor Blake Dickinson said, “we all support public access to the rights of way” but added “one of the goals” of this effort was to be sensitive to the abutters’ rights. He indicated he would oppose signage.
“It is in my opinion the responsibility of the public to know where the rights of way are,” he said and added it would be unrealistic to attempt to re-open all the rights of way this year.
Trocki said the councilors have “acknowledged it’s an issue,” and their next step will be to “figure out the best options,” especially because the proposed budget for 2013 – 2014 doesn’t include any funds for reclaiming the rights of way.
Mihaly said he would like to see the town staff and “a couple of us” councilors start figuring out next steps, with consideration of the budget constraints. He suggested a “little group” of citizens and town officials could start the planning and come back to the council with a plan in June.