Harbor panel considers capping permits at Maple Avenue
The Harbor Commission at its Sept. 11 meeting decided to consult with town officials before it decides about capping the number of beach permits for kayaks and small boats.
The question about a cap came up at the August meeting when Police Chief Ed Mello reported the situation at Maple Avenue, where 57 permits are active. He said it was becoming congested. The permits allow people to leave a dingy, kayak or paddleboard in a rack on the beach. Permits are also required for Head’s Beach, East Ferry and Fort Getty, but similar problems have not occurred at those locations.
Commissioner David Cain was asked to make a trip to the beaches and assess the need for a cap. On his recent trip to Maple Avenue, Cain counted 52 vessels.
“I’m guessing it was parking congestion,” he said.
Mello replied it was parking and access. In addition to the permitted vessels, some residents drive to Maple Avenue with a craft and launch it.
“The parking is a problem and getting the kayaks through is a problem,” Mello said. “It’s tight. The rocks are close together. The path is surrounded by other dinghies and kayaks.”
The bottom line, he said, is that the harbor management plan calls on the commissioners to protect access to the water for all, not just for people with water crafts and beach permits.
“That was pretty much my presumption,” Cain said.
Mello added there is no question the Maple Avenue right-ofway could not accommodate all the people who currently hold beach permits if they all decided to go there at the same time.
Cain asked the commissioners to give him more time to speak to the town planner about potential solutions to the parking crunch.
“We do need a reasonable assessment of parking and what the town planner and council have in mind,” he said.
Cain also said he wanted to find out if any new initiatives are in the works “for providing municipal parking on Narragansett Avenue maybe up near the school.”
“We should know what our capabilities are before we set any limits on permits for small vessels,” he said.
In other business, a letter from resident Clarke Moody writing to oppose the Conanicut Marine expansion has raised a new question about zoning on the waterfront.
“This letter raised a legal issue that I don’t quite know the answer to,” Commissioner Patrick Bolger said.
Summing up Moody’s argument, Bolger said, “He speaks to the fact the marina is now moving out of the commercial into residential, which is a zoning issue.”
According to Bolger, he wants to ask the planning board or the town solicitor who has the authority to turn residential waterfront into commercial.
Bolger said marina owner Bill Munger within the past two years purchased waterfront residential property at a tax sale and acquired the riparian rights. The land is between Lincoln and Friendship streets. According to Bolger, that’s where Munger plans to expand.
“He could move all the way east to Friendship,” Bolger said. “He may have all the right to do that, but we should get the solicitor to look at it.”
“Somebody should at least look at it,” Chairman Michael de Angeli said in agreement.
Moody wrote that Munger’s plan would represent a “significant expansion of the town’s commercial district and infringe upon the residential district that begins at Lincoln Street and extends south from there.”
“This is a well written letter,” de Angeli. “We still don’t know what [Munger’s] planning.”
Conanicut Marine has not yet given the commission details about the expansion.
Cain said the harbor commissioners also don’t know the timetable.
Harbormaster Sam Paterson said he doesn’t know for sure if Munger still intends to expand the marina.
“After the last commission meeting, I haven’t heard a word,” he said.
In connection to the discussion, de Angeli recalled he had promised a resident that he would look at the marina’s permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“I said I was going to look at the Army permit, and I didn’t,” he said. “Do we have access to that?”
Harbor Clerk Kimberly Devlin replied in the affirmative.
Cain asked the other commissioners if the marina already obtained the approval from the Coastal Resources Management Council.
“No,” Bolger said. “His expansion is not in his CRMC permit.”
However, Bolger said he wanted to know if Munger was required to take his plan to the Zoning Board of Review.
“My question is, does he have to go before zoning? Or CRMC?”
Cain said the commissioners could ask the question when Munger officially submits a plan.
Bolger said the commissioners should raise the question about zoning because a precedent could be set opening the door for every owner of residential waterfront property to convert to commercial.
“That’s a precedent,” Bolger said. “That’s very, very troubling.”
He suggested the commissioners should advise the Zoning Board and the town solicitor in advance, and de Angeli agreed. He said the commission would send a copy of the letter to the solicitor and to zoning “so everybody knows what’s going on.”
In other business, Mello reported that the season “is winding down.” Paterson is preparing to store the boats for the winter, and the assistant harbormaster has wrapped up his duties for the year.
Mello also advised the commissioners that he has sent a copy of the harbor ordinance to Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero for a legal review. Several minor changes were requested by the state’s coastal council. Ruggiero is now studying the new wording. If the legal review raises any significant issues, Mello will report back to the commissioners.
Also, he said, the commissioners will need to take action on the harbor management plan because it was “never actually ratified.” Once ratified, the plan will go to the Town Council for approval.
Following Mello’s comments, Paterson said there would be no harbormaster’s report. However, Commissioner Ed McGuirl asked for an update on an aquaculture farm proposed for Head’s Beach.
“Last month, we talked briefly about that aquaculture project,” McGuirl said, adding that the plan was to develop a map and show where the farm would be located. By plotting the farm’s coordinates on the map, the commissioners would be able to see if the farm interfered with any mooring fields.
According to Mello, he has been working with Paterson and environmental scientist Justin Jobin to map the current mooring fields. They will then create an overlay map showing the aquaculture farm. However, the entire issue is going to be discussed again by the Town Council. Earlier, the councilors notified the coastal council they wanted to raise some concerns, but now, Mello said, the council is going to discuss their position again because “there was a change in the location of the farm.”
“I heard it was moved away from the eelgrass,” McGuirl said. Be also heard the application was going back to the CRMC.
However, Mello said the hearing has not been scheduled yet.
“We are monitoring that,” he said.
Finally, Devlin said a few mooring holders had failed to renew their permits, and they have been sent forfeiture notices. The commissioners also reviewed a new form to be used by mooring inspectors.