Council considers infrastructure pressures

Thu, 06/10/2021 - 4:15pm

The New Shoreham Town Council had a discussion on infrastructure at its work session meeting on June 2. Town Manager Maryanne Crawford discussed the impacts she anticipates on the island’s infrastructure and discussed her objective to ensure that the island’s infrastructure is best prepared for continued development on Block Island.
Crawford expects to “start seeing more folks staying here beyond the shoulder seasons,” she explained, saying she thought the island would become a “nine month community as opposed to a six month community.” She anticipates this having a major impact on the island’s water, sewer, roads, bridges, power, emergency services, and fire department.
There has already been thought and planning put into these essential services and various town infrastructures, as the capital budget includes money for town road paving in 2023 at a cost of $1,000,000, and sidewalk improvements on Beach Avenue, Chapel Street, and Corn Neck Road also scheduled for 2023 totaling $1,250,000. The capital budget also has line items for the construction of a salt shed and a highway garage, although the $2,000,000 for these projects will be provided by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation rather than the town. There is also $2,000,000 projected for the construction of a transfer station facility in 2025, and $12,767,000 projected for Fire and Rescue over the next nine years, as fire trucks, engines, and rescue vehicles are slated for replacement. The bulk of the $12,767,000 is $8,000,000 for a public safety complex, in the works for 2023. And there is an additional $2,500,000 for a Public Safety Complex in 2026, listed under Public Safety on the capital budget. Earlier in the meeting, during the agenda item for a presentation by Rhode Island Airport Corporation, First Warden Andre Boudreau even floated the idea of the town leasing some space from RIAC up by the airport for the new fire station. So, infrastructure improvements have definitely been on the
collective town leadership mind.
But the increasing development on Block Island necessitates an even closer look at infrastructure.

Crawford submitted a brief that described the increase in development on Block Island. On the commercial side she mentioned three major developers now operating on Block Island: Lark Hotels, which oversees Gables, the Surf Hotel, and Surfside; Peregrine Group, which runs the Boat Basin; and Procaccianti, which owns Champlin’s. She also mentioned a major hotel expansion proposed at the Manisses.

On the residential side of development, the brief pointed to larger building footprints, and an increase in special use permits. The brief also suggested the town has the opportunity to “review/update” zoning regulations. Council member Keith Stover said the rise in special use permits over the past year or so indicated that there is either something that zoning is not addressing, or “the lines aren’t bright enough.”
Council member Martha Ball brought up that while “we’ve changed pieces here and there,” the zoning ordinances have not been “overhauled” since 1989. The Town Council has set a hearing date of June 23, 2021 to amend some of these pieces of the zoning ordinances, specifically related to the size and massing of residential structures. Ball also said that in addition to zoning, the tax structure needed a long look too, as some island businesses “make an awful lot of money in the summer time that don’t pay any more taxes than a big personal residence out here.”
Second Warden Sven Risom said he agreed with Ball, zoning and tax structures needed to be addressed in addition to the infrastructure, but he did not think they could all be put into one report.
Crawford proposed looking at the past five years of data to address growth and development issues, such as if the town will have enough water in the coming years as we see more people staying longer on the island. She mentioned voting registrations and the number of year-round patients at the Medical Center as possible sources of data.
Crawford said she wants to collect data, review it, and make a report to the council using a proposed working group of Crawford, Town Planner Allison Ring, one Town Council member, one Planning Board member, Land Use Administrative Officer Jenn Brady, Town Engineer Jim Geremia, and Water Superintendent John Breunig. She said they would also like to get specialized assistance and guidance when needed, from other town departments and committees. One objective of the report would be to analyze, review, and identify potential actions to support appropriate development on Block Island.
Ring joined the meeting, saying there has been talk of “increased development pressure” and “potential water constraints.” She discussed the need to determine what trends are actually developing and potential options to address these trends if they are in fact “concerning.” She agreed with Crawford, that from this report they could identify exactly what is happening as the town grows, and make amendments to the Comprehensive Plan if need be.
Stover said it was important to look at other small communities to see if they have come up with “anything innovative we haven’t thought of,” saying “when solutions come from the grassroots they are the best solutions.” He also asked if other towns are “drawing bright lines around zoning ordinances” to prevent the need to “ask land use offices and land use boards to consistently make judgment calls.”

Council Member Mark Emmanuelle cautioned the council to “keep in mind what our limitations are,” further stating, “you can’t put ten pounds of flour in a five pound bag.”

This sentiment was shared by Sean McGarry, who called in to point out that “our infrastructure dictates our capacity. We need to regulate our capacity to match our infrastructure.”

Crawford ended the discussion by saying she would begin working on putting it all together, and would keep the council posted, although it might be six to nine months of work before anything was ready to present.