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Legal issues hamper zoning for proposed turbine  

Credit:  BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN, The Jamestown Press, www.jamestownpress.com Dated 24 November 2011 ~~

The Town Council this week quickly decided on a contract for the purchase of electricity for the island’s schools and municipal buildings. But the red flags previously raised around the zoning change necessary to accommodate another source of electricity – the wind turbine proposed for Taylor Point – were even more numerous by end of the meeting.

The council met on Nov. 21. The zoning issue had already been flagged by the Conservation Commission, which has concerns about relinquishing the Open Space (OS) protections provided to the Taylor Point site selected for the turbine.

Currently, Jamestown requires a special permit for wind turbines, but they are flatly prohibited within OS-1 zoning districts. During the council meeting, Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki reiterated her support for wind energy, in general, but warned – as she has in the past – that “a spot [zoning] change could set a precedent for other changes down the road.”

Changing the zoning at the Taylor Point site, Trocki added, would “undermine the thoughtfulness that went into the [OS-1] designation. We ask you to ensure that the public is kept aware of any proposal for a change, as well as the impacts on the viewshed and access to the area.”

The zoning issue was not debated by the council because the councilors weren’t provided with background documents in their packets. However, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero apprised them of their options while reminding them that each of the options could spark appeals and other legal actions.

Any significant delays in the project could scuttle a $750,000 grant from the state, which – under the terms of Rhode Island grants for renewable energy initiatives – requires the projects to be launched (if not completed) by the end of March 2012. Pointing out that any decision on the OS-1 designation has to be “legally sustainable,” Ruggiero outlined the options that the council could consider.

Under the first option, the council could change the OS-1 text in the Zoning Ordinance, but “that would raise a lot of policy issues.” Under the second option, the council could expand Taylor within the park for residents to enjoy. The town has also surveyed resident preferences, with the most recent of those efforts being the May 19 charrette. Several council members have dismissed the results of that charrette – which was facilitated by Landworks – as unrepresentative because of what they describe as an “insignificant” turnout.

The 111 participants who qualified to vote (as Jamestown residents) strongly preferred the “open space and passive recreation” option for the park. However, during the council’s Nov. 7 meeting, Councilor Bob Bowen said that there was already a “consensus” among the councilors to preserve the RV campground with nearly all of its 88 seasonal camping sites intact.

During this week’s meeting, Mary Meagher – who chaired the most recent of the Fort Getty Master Plan Committees – expressed her “dismay” with the claim of “consensus,” pointing out that “there isn’t any public record” of a vote or any other action to establish a consensus. Bowen asserted that the “consensus” he referenced “came from the town administrator,” but Meagher responded by repeating her observation that the record doesn’t substantiate the claim.

Unable to attend this week’s meeting, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser could not be reached for comment on the “consensus” exchange. Meagher also took issue with the observation in which Keiser noted that the council was free to tell Landworks what percentage of the park would be reserved for the RV campground.

“That is a critical land-use allocation” that should be placed in the hands of people trained in land development, Meagher said, adding that she “wasn’t sure that such a critical initial decision” should be handled by Landworks, either. “They will be doing a financial analysis,” Meagher said, pointing out that the land-use decisions in the 2006 master plan were reached “after many, many meetings” held to examine the input from landscape architects.

Meagher, who has previously advised the council to respect the ecological frailty of the park – particularly the saltwater marsh – also urged the council to “think through very carefully” any proposal to weaken the regulatory safeguards for the waters around the boat ramp, which lies just north of the marsh.

The second of the Fort Getty milestones was tentatively set for Jan. 9, when Landworks will return to Jamestown for a “final” workshop with the council. But there will be some other Fort Getty issues for the council to address in parallel with its RV campground decisions. One of those will be a review of the fees paid by RV campers – particularly the seasonal fee, which stands at $3,700. Schnack told Parks and Recreation Director Bill Piva to bring forward a recommendation at the next meeting, if possible.

The subject of seasonal fees was mentioned briefly as part of a more extensive discussion on Fort Getty rules. The council had asked to see a list of them, said Schnack, because “the park is becoming a little unruly and we need to comment on the rules [in an effort to] take back some control.”

It quickly emerged that the rules raise many questions. For example, Schnack asked Piva, “What are ‘park models’ [noted in the prohibition against them]?” Piva said they are “portable [but not mobile] houses.” Bowen asked about reports of golf cart use at the RV campground. Piva replied, “We haven’t said we’d allow them and we can tell the campers not to bring any.” Councilor Bill Murphy, who said allowing the carts would likely prompt more and more of them to appear, also said the RV campers should be told that anything left in the ground, including flower and vegetable plantings, would be removed by the town – which would bill for the work.

His remark was prompted by a rule saying, “No holes shall be dug in the campground for any purpose.” A more serious issue, however, is the reported storage of boats (on trailers) within the campground. “We allow them to have their boats in there briefly,” Piva said, “but we don’t have 24/7 security there.”

The RV campground rule that will be the most difficult for the council to craft is a limit on visitor parking. Meagher noted that, in 2004, former rec director Matt Bolles “said that there was a limit of two cars per campsite, but our impression was that [the limit] had fallen by the wayside.” Consequently, said Schnack, visitors park their cars “all over the campground and there’s nothing in [the list of rules] about cars. It gets to a point where [local residents visiting the park] feel like they’re encroaching on the campground. There’s an area behind the bunkers available for a number of cars. If we put our heads together we can figure out where to put visitors’ cars.”

Councilor Ellen Winsor, however, said she was “concerned that we’re taking a piecemeal approach [to the suite of RV campground decisions]. We should use the work session we have coming up, and [Meagher’s] master plan, to inform what we do with the rules.”

Source:  BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN, The Jamestown Press, www.jamestownpress.com Dated 24 November 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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