Town Council agenda: noise, cars, lunch trucks and fireworks
There was quite a crowd in attendance at the Town Council’s Wednesday, June 18 meeting, as the council was slated to discuss two heated issues: special event licensing and outside storage of motor vehicles.
Following numerous letters and complaints about large, noisy events in residential areas, the council voted to amend the Chapter 8 Licenses and Business Regulations, Sections 8-301, “Definitions,” and 8-302, “License Required.”
The activity at Lynn’s Way was cited as a sort of catalyst for the public hearing, and owner Suzann Walsh was in attendance. She clarified that Lynn’s Way has never been used for commercial activities, and has also been refusing any renters who wish to hold large events.
A letter from residents Jean and Clif Payne, who were in attendance at the meeting, reported that they hear noise from commercial venues all day and night, and that they hoped this trend would not spread to residential areas. They pointed out that wedding season was coming up soon and that there are any number of homes around them that would serve as nice wedding venues.
Other residents brought up this point as well.
“We have zones for a reason,” Peggy Montgomery said. “We bought in a residential zone for a reason.”
In the past, licenses were required for residential area events if 100 or more people would be in attendance. The motor vehicle cap was 50. Now, any residential area event that will attract 75 or more people and/or 30 motor vehicles will require a permit. The town originally proposed even lower figures, but residents at a May 6 public hearing felt that this would prevent homeowners from holding family celebrations.
Other changes to the ordinance include that only owners can obtain special events licenses and that they may apply for and hold no more than four licenses in any calendar year. The council may grant more than four if extenuating circumstances “pertaining to health, safety, economics, general welfare, and such other matters as the town council shall deem appropriate” arise.
“I think that’s the key,” Councilman Gary Ryan said, referring to the fact that only owners can hold special events. “… I do think this is a good midway point.”
Still, some residents felt that there were too many loopholes in the amendment. Rowdy parties under 75 people may still be held, for example, and renters might hold parties as well.
Second Warden Ken Lacoste suggested that owners and realtors might take action to “protect the sanctity” of their neighborhoods. Clauses concerning holding parties could be added to leases, for example.
Ryan agreed that “the gap about this ordinance that we are worried about may be filled with action” on the part of the realtors, owners and insurance agencies.
“A lot of this comes down to common sense and neighborliness,” First Warden Kim Gaffett said. “You can’t legislate that.”
The approved changes apply only to residential events; special event licensure for commercial venues is still required if 250 people or 50 motor vehicles will be in attendance. In addition, commercial establishments will still be able to apply for and hold up to 20 licenses per calendar year. Licensure will still be required, if the event requires partial or full closure of a road or includes 100 or more people on the Fred Benson Town Beach or other state/town property. Existing licenses will not be affected; the amendment applies only to licenses granted after the June 18 meeting.
Outside Motor Vehicle Storage
Another neighborhood concern, the storage of an excess number of motor vehicles on one’s property, was addressed. The council voted to refer the ordinance in question, Zoning Ordinance Article 1, General, Section 111 — General Prohibitions, A.1. Outside Storage of Motor Vehicles, to Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla for redrafting. After the ordinance is redrafted, it will be reheard as well.
The council voted to return to the drawing board after too many loopholes were revealed in the proposed amendment, which would add an up to date inspection sticker to the list of car storage criteria. If the amendment was passed, it would be unlawful to store outside any motor vehicles that are inoperative, unregistered, and/or uninspected for more than 30 days.
“It already says ‘inoperable’ and ‘unregistered,’” Gaffett said. “I think this is complete overkill.”
The council decided not to pursue the amendment because more discussion and language clarification was needed.
“I think we as a town council have kicked way too many cans down the road,” Councilman Chris Warfel said. “We’re always referring back to the solicitor. I’m opposed to us not being able to solve this right now.”
Council Norris Pike said to Warfel, “There’s an old political saying: ‘Better to do nothing than the wrong thing.’”
An item that was tabled at the May 21 meeting regarding Warfel’s request that action be taken to solve some of the island’s utility issues was discussed at length. Warfel said that he believes the Block Island Power Company’s (BIPCo) metering policy is unlawful and discriminatory. With him were summer residents Frank and Carolyn Carbone, who said that BIPCo has been treating them unfairly for the past few months. BIPCo billed the Carbones for electricity during the winter months when the house was inactive and could not have accumulated power costs. After Carolyn Carbone refused to pay these bills, BIPCo removed the meter, which the Carbones said never worked properly, from their property.
“Net metering is a fiasco,” Frank Carbone said. “It’s a monopoly. You can’t control it.”
The Carbones requested that the town write a letter of support to BIPCo and/or the state. Warfel wanted to take legal action. According to Merolla, the only action that can be taken is to pursue declaratory judgment action through the Public Utilities Committee, and Gaffett said she was hesitant to spend the money doing so when BIPCO is not required by law to have a net metering policy. After more discussion, Town Manager Nancy Dodge suggested sending a letter to BIPCO and setting a meeting for next week, requesting their presence. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 25 at 7 p.m.
Second Warden Ken Lacoste voiced concerns about the slow responses to fire and rescue calls over the past few months. He said that while he appreciates all of the volunteers’ dedication to the cause, the fact that it takes two or three pages for a call to be answered is troubling, and needs to be addressed in the future.
Resident Chris Blane said that while people seemed to be utilizing beach access paths to go to the beach, they were climbing over the dunes in order to leave. He requested that signs be posted on the beach, and Dodge said that she would make sure the issue is addressed.
The council passed a motion to amend the Town of New Shoreham Zoning Ordinances Article 2-Definitions, Section 202-Definitions, Power Generator; Article 4-Criteria for Special Use Permits, Section 426-Power Generators Greater than 20kW Rated Capacity. The Planning Board and Building Official Mark Tillson supported this amendment. As Planning Board Member Sam Bird said, generators over 20kW, which are mainly used for backup power, are not going to be prohibited on the island. Rather, a special use permit must be obtained and the generator will be subject to review. This will not apply to existing generators, or necessary generators such as those at the Sewer Plant or Block Island Medical Center.
In addition, the council passed a motion to allow waterfowl hunting on Plat 1, Lot 16, which is town land. This ordinance change was prompted by a request on behalf of Blane, who said that an exception had been granted in recent years to allow deer hunting on town land. That exception had prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow deer hunting on its property, which lies adjacent to the town’s Plat 1, Lot 16. Blane said that the agency might follow suit and allow waterfowl hunting as well. The motion passed, though Gaffett was opposed because the land is set aside for wildlife.
Extensions for picking up Hawkers and Peddlers licenses were granted to André Boudreau and Ben Edwards, who are waiting to receive Health Department inspections.
The council authorized submittal of a Community Development Block Grant for the repair of West Beach Road erosion, as well as the formation of a School Building Committee per the request of Superintendent Robert Hicks. Merolla reported that a Public Utilities Commission conference for the RI Fast Ferry had been scheduled at a June 18 meeting.
Game license applications were granted to Captain Nick’s, Yellow Kittens, Champlin’s, Trader Vic’s, Club Soda and Old Island Pub. Applications for Aldo’s are still pending.
Blane brought up his concerns about the fact that firework laws were not being enforced. Any type of firework that leaves the ground or launches a projectile is illegal in the state. Permits for firework displays must be obtained from the State Fire Marshal. Blane said he didn’t believe this was happening, and that this lack of enforcement is dangerous.
“I just can’t believe that there is no entity in this town that doesn’t enforce this,” he said.
New Shoreham Police Chief Vin Carlone responded that this was not the case and that anyone without the proper permitting is arrested. Concerns can be called in, Carlone said, and the police will investigate.
Gaffett reminded those in attendance that the U.S. Small Business Administration’s annual “Walking Tour” and meeting of the island businesses will take place next Wednesday, June 25. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, as well as R.I. Director of Tourism Mark Brodeur, will be attending the walk. The meeting will be held at the 1661 House on Spring Street at 11 a.m.