2014-03-20 / News

Planners want to ease rules for accessory apartments

By Margo Sullivan

The Town Council heard plans Monday to relax the requirements for in-law apartments. According to Town Planner Lisa Bryer, since the new rules went into effect in October 2013, two residents have applied for an accessory apartment, but neither could satisfy the requirements.

In light of the experience, the Planning Commission proposed simplifying the regulations.

The first change would allow in-law apartments as a matter of right on undersized lots, as long as the number of bedrooms did not increase and no exterior changes were made. Currently, in-law apartments are not allowed on undersized lots. In a Nov. 8 memo to then Town Administrator Kevin Paicos, Bryer wrote, “Since many of our lots are undersized, not allowing them at all would exclude much of the island, including all of the Jamestown Shores.”

The second change dealt with in-law apartments in detached structures. The ordinance currently requires a special-use permit and a variance if the detached building fails to meet the setback requirements for the main house. The amendment would allow the in-law apartments by right, and only require a special-use permit if the setbacks could not be met, Bryer said.

The councilors agreed to advertise amendments to the accessory dwelling ordinance in the Press in advance of an April 21 public hearing.

Under correspondence, a letter from Jamestown resident Kenneth Lima sparked debate about the Tick Task Force’s strategies to reduce the number of deer ticks. Meagher asked councilors to discuss the letter, which dealt with several issues, including the lack of data about human Lyme cases in Jamestown, the cost of a deer cull, and the strategies of other communities. Specifically, the letter mentioned Shelter Island, N.Y., which successfully reduced ticks without killing the deer.

Council President Kristine Trocki said she had a long conversation with Lima and referred him to Councilor Eugene Mihaly, who is the task force’s chairman. The letter referenced a conversation with Mihaly.

Lima proposed asking three “simple” questions: Have you ever been diagnosed with Lyme? When? How much did you know about Lyme and its prevention prior to being infected?

In his letter, Lima said Mihaly objected to the idea because Jamestowners “don’t respond to polls.”

Mihaly on Monday confirmed he would object to gathering facts about the actual number of human Lyme cases in Jamestown.

“It’s a diversion and not particularly useful,” he said. “We know from the medical community. It’s enormously widespread on this island. Hardly any family has not been touched.”

Councilor Blake Dickinson, who also serves on the task force, agreed with Mihaly and refer- enced statistical work by Dr. Thomas Mather of the University of Rhode Island. Dickinson also referenced a veterinarian, whose name he could not recall. Although both have a financial stake in the work they are promoting, Dickinson said, their models are regarded highly enough to be used by insurance companies to predict car collisions with deer.

Moreover, their studies are being used to track the incidence of tick-borne disease in humans based on the “dog population as a baseline.” Dickinson said dogs and humans “share similar problems,” and the scientists estimate at least 18 percent of the dog population has contracted Lyme. The task force is moving toward putting solutions into action, he added, and did not see the point of spending money on a survey.

However, Meagher agreed with Lima’s suggestion about surveying residents to establish a baseline. She sees the survey as a way of communicating with residents and organizing political support. She allowed some people may never be on board with the task force’s recommendations, but said others may find the facts compelling if the statistics should bear out opinions that Lyme is pervasive in Jamestown.

“It’s not going to add much,” Mihaly replied. “People are streaming up to us; the ones who have been ill.”

Trocki agreed with Meagher and indicated the cost of doing a survey would be inconsequential.

“I can say from the council perspective, I don’t think there’s much harm in conducting a survey,” Trocki said.

“Go get it then,” Mihaly replied. “It won’t be much use.”

“Then how do we monitor and have a baseline going forward?” Trocki asked Mihaly. “If you have it, great. I’m willing to hold my comments.”

Mihaly said she was asking the task force to do what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been trying for years.

“And they have totally failed,” he said.

However, Meagher maintained the notion of a baseline would help explain the task force’s efforts to the community.

Meagher said she didn’t want to “distract” from the task force’s work, but added that a survey would be helpful.

Trocki also said she did not want to slow down the task force’s work, but believes Lima’s letter is an “important communication.” She will attend the upcoming task force forum, she added.

In other business, Kitty Wineberg, president of the library’s board of trustees, and Craig Watson, chairman of the library’s building committee, asked to update councilors about plans to improve the library.

Wineberg said the trustees realized last week that communications have “fallen through the cracks,” and she came before the councilors to update them about a renovation project that has been ongoing for the past two years. To summarize, she said the trustees hired a consultant and formed a building committee after the library director suggested the space inside the library should be reorganized.

The need is for additional space for small meetings and projects, Wineberg said, as well as for office areas. Currently, the reference librarian is working out of a meeting room, and the children’s librarian also doesn’t have an office.

“There is enough space for the children’s library,” she continued, but the library needs more flexibility.

Watson said the library plans to raise money for the project and will update the councilors on the project later this year. He indicated he wanted to dispel false rumors about the project.

“I don’t know how these stories get started,” he said.

Trocki thanked Watson and Wineberg, but the councilors would not comment further because the library project was not on their agenda. (The two library representatives spoke during open forum.) Trocki added that she doesn’t listen to rumors, but had not heard any stories about the library.

During the interim town administrator’s report, Tina Collins said she received the University of Massachusetts report on Jamestown’s cultural organizations. She sent the document to staff and has scheduled a presentation at the council’s April 7 meeting.

Finally, Trocki volunteered to serve as the council’s representative on the Hazard Mitigation Plan Update Committee. She was unanimously appointed by her colleagues.

“I am happy to be part of the team and mitigate any hazards we have,” Trocki quipped.

Bryer estimated the committee will have four meetings and can wrap up its business before the end of the year. In a Feb. 25 memo to the council, Bryer said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had urged the town to enlist support from public officials who can put the hazard mitigation plan into action.

“Our consultant ... has suggested that we utilize a Town Council representative to fulfill this purpose,” Bryer wrote.

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