Council rejects hunting ordinance changeFour other ordinance changes passed
The Town Council is busy getting as much done as it can before it sees a changeover with three new council-at-large members in December.
This was evident in its pre-election November 5 meeting, at which the council held public hearings for five ordinance changes. All passed but one, the proposed amendment to the town hunting ordinances, which would have separated archery and shotgun seasons.
Meanwhile, the council approved changes to the town and zoning ordinances regarding game rooms. Game rooms were already not allowed by the town’s zoning ordinances. The new changes seek to clearly define a “game room” as consisting of “three or more games.” Businesses can apply to have up to two video or table games.
Also approved was an amendment to the zoning ordinance reducing the setbacks for small accessory buildings, and an amendment to the town ordinances expanding tax relief for seniors.
Amended hunting ordinances
Amid much public opposition, including multiple opposing letters but only a few in support, the council voted not to amend the hunting ordinance “Miscellaneous Offenses: Hunting, Taking of Game and Firearms.”
The change would have clarified wording to include “no overlapping of seasons for firearm and bow hunting.” The council sets hunting dates, so this wording change would clarify which weapons could and could not be used during the seasons.
First Warden Kim Gaffett read out that the only two endorsing letters were Chris Blane and James Manni, both hunters. Blane was the one who originally brought the issue up with the council.
Gaffett later noted that Police Chief Vincent Carlone, who was not present at the meeting, was also in favor of the ordinance. Although he is not a hunter, he supported it based on the recommendation of his men who are hunters, arguing safety concerns.
However, Gaffett read a letter written by Deer Task Force Chair Mary Sue Record. Record explained that the Deer Task Force could not vote to give an advisory position advising against the ordinance change, as the vote was 3-2 with two members absent. However, the members could voice opinions as members of the public. Record was against the amendment.
Record also quoted a discussion she had with the Department of Environmental Management’s Wildlife Biologist Brian Teft, who advised that “Rhode Island has been allowing concurrent bowhunting and shotgun hunting for twenty-five years with zero incidents. He sees no safety issues.”
Richard Weisbroat, from the audience, commented that there seemed to be no factual evidence as to why this ordinance would be a good idea. Many others stood up and spoke against the ordinance, including several hunters and several members of the Deer Task Force.
John Fournier, a bow hunter, commented that the bow hunting season seems to continually get shorter, and was against limiting it any further.
Deer Task Force member Sara McGinnes, speaking as a member of the public, asked, “How does this council feel about eradicating Lyme disease?” She argued — a position echoed by many others — that limiting bow hunting would simultaneously limit hunting on properties that can only be hunted with a bow.
Blane, who is also a member of the Deer Task Force, disagreed. He commented that few deer are taken by bowhunting, and he repeated a comment he made in the past that shotgun season is “not deer hunting but deer reduction.” He also noted that often, bowhunters limit the property a shotgun hunter could utilize.
He said there are saftety concerns about having overlapping seasons, especially because he claims there are no safety officials on-island to properly enforce rules such as wearing proper orange attire.
He further argued that passing this would give the council power to separate the seasons, but if not, the state regulations of allowing lesser weapons in shotgun season would stay.
“We’ve heard a lot of pros and cons,” said Council Member Peter Baute. “I think one of the most important statements against this motion was the statement by the DEM” that there have been no recent injuries due to bow hunting.
The council voted against the amendment, with Dick Martin opposed, who explained he wanted to back the police chief’s position regarding safety concerns.
The council held a public hearing on two proposed amendments to the town and zoning ordinances regarding video and table games.
Currently, the zoning ordinance forbids “game rooms,” but includes no definition of what this means — making it difficult for the town building official to enforce, and generally only allowing one game per establishment. Proposed changes would include a new limit for the number of game licenses to two per establishment and would also allow retail stores and restaurants to apply for “accessory uses” of video games.
Two members of the audience stepped up to oppose the amendment.
Robert Goldberg, representing Champlin’s Marina and Resort, questioned some of the wording in the amendments. Champlin’s has about 20 games currently.
Their games would be grandfathered into the changes and would not affect Champlin’s, Gaffett explained, but Goldberg disagreed. He believes it would place restrictions on their current use.
“You’re making existing uses into non-conforming uses,” he said. “Non-conforming uses have major restrictions on them and they’re designed to fade out over time. The question is: Why are you prohibiting game rooms?”
Elliot Taubman, representing Aldo’s Bakery, also expressed concern that Aldo’s current game allowances continue. Aldo’s currently has a few games allowed, but Taubman argued that they should have as many as in 1989, when the “game rooms” were first outlawed.
Gaffett argued that this would not be practical. “Nothing has changed,” to the prior existing uses, said town attorney Don Packer.
Planning Board member Norris Pike, from the audience, explained that he feared that some businesses could try to turn their “table games” into gambling machines instead.
Goldberg and Packer agreed that gambling machines are mandated by the state and illegal, so this should not be a possibility.
Baute questioned wording in the proposed amendment that would have required children under age 16 to have guardian supervision, commenting that he’s dropped his grandson off to play Champlin’s games before.
The council agreed to pass the ordinace amendments, but change wording to “under 12” and “adult supervision.”
Reduced setbacks on small lots
The council voted to amend the zoning ordinance to reduce the setbacks for Small Accessory Buildings in the Residential and Mixed Zones.
The Zoning Board previously passed the changes in an early September meeting.
The small buildings would be limited to a size of 144 square feet, Planning Board Chair Margie Comings explained from the audience, because this size would be small enough to not be a garage, but large enough to be used as a storage shed.
Side and rear variances were reduced to 15 feet from the former 50 feet in the RA zone, the rationale being that on a small lot, a shed in the center of the yard is obstructive. In the RB zone, the side setback will be 10 feet, reduced from 25 feet, and the rear 15 feet, reduced from 50 feet; and in the RC zone, side and rear will both be 10 feet, reduced from 20 for the side and 40 for the rear.
Tax relief for seniors
With no public comment, the council voted to amend the town ordinance “Chapter 17: Taxation and Finance Section 17-36” relating to property tax relief for residents age 65 years and older. The change increases the annual household income eligibility to $40,000 from $30,000.
The council had approved the initial request for the change made by the senior advisory committee back in a September meeting.
Hurricane Sandy and public input
Town Manager Nancy Dodge updated the audience on the status of Hurricane Sandy damage and repairs. During public comment, Elliot Taubman commended Dodge, Road Crew Chief Mike Shea, the power company and various other volunteers and town officials for their great work during and after Sandy; there was a round of applause from the audience.
Richard Weisbroat also asked if there would be another joint meeting between the council and the Block Island Health Services board to discuss the management agreement between the two parties. Gaffett said there was no known date set.
The council approved an amended request to the easement of the Ball-O’Brien Park (Plat 19, lot 1, parcel A), as requested by the Land Trust. The amendment will allow for a picnic shelter to be built on the property, as town Recreation Director Robbie Closter had received grant funding to build restroom facilities and a picnic shelter.
The council appointed Allan MacKay as alternate to both the the town’s sewer and water commissions. The council also appointed Debbie Martin to the senior advisory committee.
There is now an opening for a council-appointed position on the Housing Board for a member representing a conservation group.
The council set a public hearing date for sometime in January to amend the town zoning map and ordinances in order to add a property on West Side Road (Plat 18, Lot 6-1) to the Historic District at the owner’s request.