2017-03-02 / Front Page

Planners are paving way for preservation

Water supply and housing costs are largest concerns
BY TIM RIEL

Jamestown’s sustainability effort is trying to meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.

The planning department mulled several concepts with roughly 55 townspeople during a 75-minute brainstorming session. Consultants from the Horsley Witten Group led the Feb. 15 meeting so they can draft an action plan with recommendations and policies to keep the community economically and environmentally viable well into the future.

“We won’t remain a wonderful place by accident,” Town Planner Lisa Bryer said. “Changing requires constant decisions. Planning doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”

The meeting included seven stations: Climate change, alternative energy, health, conservation, housing, resiliency and business. Audience members visited each to discuss measures the town can adopt to sustain Jamestown as it decides what to do about solar power, farmland and the water supply. Participants also were invited to introduce new subjects. Composting, for example, has gained momentum since the sustainability initiative launched in fall 2016.

Bryer said her office is trying to take a proactive approach to a dynamic world. “We have these darn millennials bouncing around now,” she said. “Everything we thought we knew as planners has completely changed.”

According to Bryer, it’s more effective to envelope the dilemmas opposed to managing them separately.

“We finally realized that all of these planning issues are so intrinsically connected, that we just can’t think of them individually anymore,” she said. “We can’t put them in separate silos.”

Instead, Bryer and her team have created three broad silos: Social, environmental and economic. “The three P’s,” she said. “The people, the planet and the profit.”

The seven stations, which all represented subsets of the silos, were formed following input from residents, including 12 focus groups, three open houses and dozens of surveys.

At the workshop, consultant Jeff Davis reported the most popular responses from four months of solicitation. The most valued asset, he said, was open space. Residents also showed passion about protecting water access, the village district, the small-town feel and community spirit.

“People really value that it means something to be a Jamestowner,” he said.

Top priorities included saving forests, maintaining successful schools and conserving the water supply. As for the threats facing the town, the biggest worry is rising property costs.

“A lot of people seem really concerned that younger adults and elderly residents will no longer be able to live on the island,” Davis said.

Other residents indicated concern that businesses and services will leave town, taking jobs with them. The lack of social cohesion also was repeatedly mentioned.

The most polarizing issue, however, was the environment, specifically climate change. According to Davis, a large contingency of residents ranked it as one of the biggest threats.

“Most people really appreciate the natural resources of this island,” he said. “They are afraid that environmental damage, climate change and sea-level rise will start to erode the island, figuratively and literally.”

Conversely, climate change received more negative scores than any other issue. “A number of people believe it shouldn’t be included in this planning process at all,” Davis said. “Some people don’t believe in climate change, while others thought it was too big to solve on the municipal level.”

Bryer, however, expects to have a section on climate change in the final plan. Not only is it a real threat, she said, but the state is requiring the town to start considering preparations.

Residents also considered ways to help. As for the roles they could play, more than 50 percent of those surveyed said they would commit to shopping locally. Volunteering with town boards and civic organizations, as well as changing their consumption habits with energy and water, also were high priorities.

Bryer was happy with the turnout. “Every project needs a champion,” she said. “The room had great synergy. It was nice to see so many people come out for a seemingly noncontroversial issue.”

The consultants now are drafting a preliminary report, which will be presented to the planning board March 15. The commissioners will then discuss the report and forward their recommendations for a final action plan targeting the top concerns. That document is expected to be published this fall.

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