2014-01-02 / News

Planners schedule preservation workshop

By L.A. Murphy

“How is history important to Jamestown?” According to Town Planner Lisa Bryer, that is the question Don Powers of Union Studio will try to answer during a workshop scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

Union Studio is an architectural firm based in Providence. Powers will be joined by Arnold Robinson of Roger Williams University and Robert Leaver of New Commons, a consulting firm.

The planning commissioners at their Dec. 18 meeting said the dialog is years in the making. Commissioner Mick Cochran wants a packed house for the workshop. “Let’s hope that all 80 seats are filled,” he said.

In order to provide ample community outreach, the workshop is one step the town is taking to navigate the future of Conanicut Island while preserving its past. In the meantime, the Town Council has imposed a moratorium on building and demolition permits for Lower Shorbey Hill homeowners. As it stands, the six-month freeze will expire in June.

After some heated debate regarding the newly imposed moratorium, members of the planning commission are seeking a clean slate in order to move forward. The crux of the issue is how to best protect the history of Jamestown and at the same time respect rights of private property owners.

There is no appeals process for the moratorium.

“One standing problem is that while the community may understand the value of preservation, many may not have knowledge of the regulations that may be required to accomplish it,” said Bryer. “While everyone seems to agree that protecting the history of Jamestown is in everyone’s best interest, what is unclear is how exactly to go about doing just that.”

According to Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury, one problem is that the town never defined a building of value.

“Some of the controversy stems from the lack of a clear definition of terms,” he said. “What exactly is a building of value? There is a tool needed to assess buildings of value and that’s just the beginning.”

Pendlebury said the commissioners are not only looking at buildings with historical significance, but under the same umbrella are landscapes and resource preservation.

“That is the very reason we are looking for universal town support,” he said.

The desired outcome will be to generate conversation with input from the community. It was deemed important to homeowners to clarify the terminology and the intent of the process. Bryer also pointed out that the past community surveys amassed strong support for preserving historic landscapes and building in Jamestown. When the question turned to creating historic districts, however, interest was lukewarm.

However, the surveys didn’t ask two important questions: Why the regulation was preferred or not?

Bryer suggested the need to profile the composition of who attends. “A few simple questions, other than name and address, will let us know who is attending,” she said.

“From a planning perspective, it makes a whole lot of sense to chew on it and get it right,” Cochran said. “In order for the Planning Commission and all others involved to exert future authority there needs to be, at the very least, text amendments that still needs to be delved into. With the moratorium invoked until June 2, before that deadline, in all fairness, if we designate specific buildings, we must notify the owners.”

Currently, the commission is shying away from an actual map that pinpoints affected properties.

“At the time of the workshop,” Bryer said, “the level of preservation that is acceptable will be discussed. Not addresses.”

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