The Block Island Times
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Planning board mulls major Payne Road subdivision

By Gloria S. Redlich | Dec 19, 2012

Members of the Block Island Planning Board spent most of its meeting time on December 12 poring over a pre-application submitted by William Merkler and Shannon McAloon for subdividing a 23-acre property (plat 9, lot 58, bordering Payne Road) into six lots.

Representing Merkler and McAloon, attorney William Landry said his clients were attempting “to have single lots of approximately three acres each, while wanting to accomplish open space in a way that keeps part of a flexible design concept.” Landry emphasized that “the focus here is that everyone’s going to want to keep some continuous open space in one area.” He added that his clients were “similarly interested in imposing deed restrictions [to ensure] dedication to open space.”

Much discussion revolved around the siting of houses and relocation of a road and of a stone wall — bringing the latter closer to the southern-most property line.

Town Planner Jane Weidman objected that the “actual flexible design has yet to be submitted as a concept plan.” In a memo she distributed to board members, Weidman referred to an agreement reached at an October meeting to “preserve the large cleared field as open space/agricultural use, relocate the road so it does not bisect the field and locate the houses in a manner that achieves the goal of protecting the field.”

Weidman felt the current plan fell short in “protecting the field” in three ways: no “actual delineation of area to be protected”; no designation of “how much land is being protected (50 percent of the developable land must be set aside as protected open space); and how the open space is to be protected and managed.”

Land Surveyor David Hillbern noted, “The idea is to have building envelopes (indicating setback requirements on the plan) to maintain a continuous open area.”

Merkler interjected, “We want to provide housing (an accessory dwelling) for Shannon’s dad, so we need that space.” By re-siting the houses and the road in a more southerly direction, it was generally felt views would be enhanced and driveways shortened. Re-siting the road allows the accessory building to be accommodated, as well.

Weidman felt there needed to be a flexible plan indicating the features of the open space area and how it was to be protected. “It has to be defined as an open space lot or an easement,” she said. Merkler agreed they were willing to restrict the area — particularly designating it for agricultural use, which was his intent. He noted while he hadn’t meant to “disparage a flexible plan,” he was leaning more to a conventional one.

Planning Board member Sam Bird explained a flexible plan would allow the land to dictate where boundaries are set and houses sited, as opposed to a conventional method where zoning determined boundaries and where the building envelope is fixed according to setback requirements.

Bird said, “We are letting the regulations design the layout rather than letting the land determine where things should go. What does the land tell us? What is the logical place for the open space?”

Considering the topography of the land, “its wetlands, flat plains, hillside,” Bird felt it naturally dictated choices such as where to place houses, based on considerations such as views.

Merkler indicated he and McAloon had made very deliberate choices — walking the land carefully, determining housing sites in order not to block a neighbor’s home.

After much discussion back and forth, board members pointed out that the flexible plan would offer the most protection for the open space into the future and allow the owners to have more open space and greater flexibility in siting houses.

However, anticipating that parcels of the land might be sold off at some time in the future, they wanted safeguards for the open space and suggested these should be built into the original restricting deed. They also suggested that a homeowners’ association be set up to prevent potential future disagreements among homeowners.

Chair Margie Comings cautioned, “Who pays for the utilities? The roads? Who pays to take care of the wells, etc.?” She added, “For your own protection and for everyone else’s down the road… We want to assure that what you protect remains protected.”

In emphasizing the need to specify land use for the open space area, Socha Cohen suggested writing in the emphasis on farming by identifying uses such as maintaining orchards and a barn, or husbanding animals.

Landry suggested something like a conservation easement that, for example, “could have a restricting statement that only one of the owners had control [of the open space].”

While initially Merkler and McAloon did not see the value of an association or of a flexible plan, they agreed to work out a more specific plan that would be acceptable to the board. Comings felt they were going in the direction of a modified flexible plan.

In other matters, the board voted to approve a minor subdivision of property owned by Margaret Miliken (Plat 8, Lot 194) off Pilot Hill Rd. Approval is pending review of the deeds by the town’s attorney Donald Packer.

The board approved a Mylar (for Plat 13, Lot 3) to be filed at Town Hall for Keith Lewis, in order to assure the land remains in open space.

A decision on the Block Island Power Company’s request to add panels to existing antennae was continued to next month.

The board also approved filing of a Mylar for Old Harbor Meadow/Block Island Economic Development pending approval by Jim Geremia, the town’s engineer.

Finally, the board voted to approve its meeting schedule for 2013: to meet the second Wednesday of each month for half a year (through winter) at 4 p.m. and half (through summer) at 7 p.m.

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