Planning Board considers mixed use zone change

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 9:00am
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A proposal that would designate restaurants as an accessory use to hotels located within the town’s mixed use zone has been tabled for further discussion by the Planning Board. 

The combination residential/commercial zone includes The Manisses, the 1661, The Spring House, and possibly the Atlantic Inn. (Hotels have 11 rooms or more, inns have three to 10 rooms.) The Spring House, through attorney Elizabeth Noonan, has made the request for the zoning change, which would then allow The Barn restaurant to be open year-round.

The Barn is located on the same property as The Spring House Hotel.

Currently, The Barn operates under non-conforming use restrictions in that zone. The Barn is only open when the main hotel is closed, or when the hotel restaurant is closed for a private party.

During the first of two hearings on the zoning change, Noonan, who is a land use attorney, told the Board that she has looked at the town’s zoning ordinance and, in her opinion, a restaurant in that zone qualified “as an accessory use. You don’t need to go through the special permit use” process to operate the restaurant. “This is really a natural outgrowth” of the primary functions of hotels, Noonan argued. She said that a year-round restaurant on Block Island is a “public good, and is consistent with your Comprehensive Plan and economic growth.”

“I have no problem with The Barn being open year-round,” said Chair Margie Comings. But Comings said she wanted to make sure that if there was a change to the zoning ordinance that it impacts each of the businesses located within that zone in the same way.

Planning Board Attorney Donald Packer said that he also wanted to make sure that abutters would be notified about any change “so they can have their say” when the matter eventually goes to the Town Council.

Former Town Councilor Doug Michel, who was in attendance at the first hearing, said the mixed use zone was originally created to prevent the kind of diverse activity conducted in the business district on Water Street — restaurants, shops, hotels, inns — from gradually making its way up Spring Street.

The second hearing on the matter was a special meeting held on Tuesday, Jan. 16 in order to try to get the revised ordinance to the Town Council for a public hearing on Feb. 5. The draft ordinance was tabled after a lengthy discussion. Since the town has an obligation to consider the applicant’s proposed amendment, according to Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, the Council will still hold a public hearing on the matter on. Feb. 5. It is likely, however, that another hearing will also be scheduled. (The language is published in the legal notices on page 18.)

Member Socha Cohen had concerns about having two or more types of entertainment happening at the same time. “I don’t care if it’s the main building or the accessory building — to listen to two types of music at the same time would be too much for the neighbors,” she said.

“If it was inside it wouldn’t bother anybody,” said member Denny Heinz.

Member John Spier, who was chairing this part of the meeting due to the absence of Comings, said the job before the Planning Board was to send the proposed ordinance change to the Town Council as is, or to make amendments to the proposed changes. He said the intention of the Planning Board should be clear.

Member Sam Bird said he was concerned that there had been incremental changes to the hours The Barn is allowed to operate. Bird also said he was concerned that a split vote on the proposed changes might send a mixed message to the Council. Spier said that was the democratic process, adding, “Our obligation is to regulate what is helpful to the community and fair to the property owner.”

Noonan reiterated that business growth is consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, and that a year-round business would “keep the property functional and operating.” She also said that “the law does not like non-conforming uses, so let’s make it conform.”

“Nobody has opened a can of worms that this would be harmful to this district or to our village,” said Cohen.

“Drive around and see how many people there are here,” said Heinz. “There are more people every year.” 

But Noonan, after listening to the continuing concerns, requested that the hearing be continued so that additional amendments to the proposed ordinance could be made. 

The Planning Board hearing will be continued on Monday, Feb. 12.