The Block Island Times

Planning weighs affordable density regs, capital budget

By Judy Tierney | Jan 15, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis

The Planning Board met Wednesday afternoon to finish up old business from 2012, specifically, the updated version of the ordinance allowing increased density for affordable housing projects. The group also worked on new business, compiling the 2014 capital budget and deciding which planning projects to tackle in the new year.

Members of the Town Council and Housing Board listened as Town Planner Jane Weidman presented a new version of the housing density amendment, Article 4, Section 405, which falls under criteria for special use permits in the town’s zoning ordinances. The new law would expire under a sunset provision in five years, on December 31, 2018, or when both of the following criteria are met: 50 affordable home ownership units and 30 affordable rental units have been created. The town now has 41 home ownership units and 17 rentals.

The sunset criteria would not preclude the Planning Board from then deciding to enact a new provision addressing affordable housing if it determined one was needed.

Under the new provision, density will be tied to lot area, Weidman said. Affordable projects could use 50 percent of available lot area. As an example, she said a lot could have two houses or a duplex if one is affordable in the RA and RB zones. They would need 120,000 square feet for a market-value residence and 60,000 square feet for each affordable structure in the RA zone, and 60,000 square feet for a market-value residence and 30,000 square feet for an affordable dwelling in the RB Zone. For the RC, RC/M and Mixed Use zones, 40,000 square feet is needed for the primary, market-value home and 20,000 square feet for the affordable home if sewer service is available. Even greater density is allowed in the commercial districts, OH, NHC and SC zones: 20,000 square feet for the main house and 10,000 square feet for the affordable unit.

Non-profit groups will be allowed still greater density, such as one or more duplexes or a multi-family structure up to four units.

Projects would need Planning Board approval under a special use permit process under new Article 7, section 712, comprehensive permits for low and moderate income housing. First Warden Kim Gaffett questioned Weidman about that, asking why the review was moved from the Zoning Board, which usually grants variances and waivers, to the Planning Board. Weidman replied that the state had suggested the change as the standards for review differ from those the Zoning Board usually uses, and it makes for a one-stop review.

Projects undergoing review would be judged on several criteria, including the types of units proposed, with preference given to projects addressing the greater affordable housing need, whether rental or ownership units. Preference will also be given to projects that utilize adaptive reuse of existing structures and conversion of existing units to long-term affordable units. The Planning Board would like affordable housing to be distributed throughout the island, so location will also be considered.

Two other major changes to the expired 405 ordinance are built into the new law. One, a requirement that parking is provided on site, a minimum of two spaces per dwelling unit as well as for additional expected vehicle ownership. The Planning Board had expressed dissatisfaction with parking in the 20 homeownership units off West Side Road, and tried to rewrite the ordinance to control having vehicles parked on the streets. The board’s other major change was to change the total number of units allowed in a project from 20 to 16.

Capital Budget

Chair Margie Comings opened the discussion of the 2014 capital budget with a question to town Finance Director Amy Land, who attended along with the entire Town Council. Comings wanted to know how much money Land thought could be allotted to capital expenditures.

Land said she did not expect major changes in the budget, and Comings interpreted that as meaning $250,000 to $300,000 was available. However, Land told her that last year $107,000 went to revaluations, which was not necessary this year, so that money would be available for capital expenditures.

Comings asked for “the priorities” of the new council members. Those seemed to coalesce around upgrading the maintenance of the town’s infrastructure — buildings, docks, roads and dunes. Councilors Norris Pike and Sean McGarry suggested bonding for all of those projects at once rather than spending piecemeal, which they said leads to more deterioration and more expense. They also noted that tackling those projects would provide work for the island’s construction industry.

Councilor Chris Warfel addressed alternative energy needs. He said he has identified opportunities that would yield a one-year payback and consistent savings in the future for the town.

The Planning Board was to begin meeting with department heads to review their capital requests the day following this meeting.

After some discussion, the board identified projects to pursue in 2013. It will attempt to plan for sea level rise and future storms, identify island view sheds and watersheds with an eye to protecting them, update wastewater regulations, complete wind and solar regulations, update zoning maps, and regulate outdoor displays of merchandise in Old Harbor.

Before they adjourned, the board members reelected Margie Comings as chair and chose Sven Risom as vice-chair. They welcomed John Spier, who will fill Norris Pike’s seat, as Pike now serves on the Town Council.

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