Council floats ideas to keep inspection station on island

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 5:30pm
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On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the Town Council held its Town Manager Work Session, and reviewed a diverse list of agenda items: final revisions to the Harbor Management Plan, the Visitors Center, potential recreation facility, and taxi ordinances.

Next steps for local inspection station

The lack of a certified car inspection station on Block Island was on the minds of the Town Council members. Rob Murphy of Murphy’s Auto said late last year that he was no longer inspecting most residential vehicles, although he is still inspecting town vehicles and larger trucks.

Second Warden André Boudreau began the discussion on the loss of a local inspection station, and possible next steps on getting a new one.

Boudreau estimated there are about 800 registered cars on Block Island.

“Robbie had made suggestions for inspections on the island... Robbie has a space issue for car inspections, and in the springtime cops are on the lookout for inspection stickers. He doesn’t get paid enough to do it all — it takes two hours for inspection, another two hours for the waiver paperwork. His suggestion would be he could provide the mechanics to inspect cars. I think he would be willing to run an inspection station, without having to run inspections himself,” said Boudreau.

“The real reason is because of the money. He can’t charge higher to clients because” the fee is mandated by state law, said councilor Chris Willi.

For Boudreau, the question was, “What do we want to do about this? The normal attitude we have received from the state” is it’s an island situation, he added.

“I think that we have to look, maybe there is another place that can be zoned for this,” said Councilor Martha Ball.

Boudreau said that Murphy has the appropriate car inspection equipment at his Ocean Avenue shop. “if we can find a home for the machine” the next step would be to find “a place to keep our inspection.”

“Robbie generally feels bad, but it’s a lot for him. Everyone is going to him for inspections,” said Boudreau.

No motion was made for this discussion. Town Manager Jim Kern said he will be looking further into the next steps in this process.

A town fitness center

“It has come up quite frequently since 1997, and since 1997 I think there have been three surveys. Top of the list of the surveys was to have a recreation facility,” said Willi, who is also the Chair of the Recreation Board.

Willi stated the need for a community fitness center has been a high priority within the Recreation Department for many years.

“The school gymnasium was going to be the recreation facility that would fill the niche. During the planning period, it was determined it wouldn’t suffice,” added Willi.

“What the Recreation Board wants to do is start the long-term planning for a community fitness and recreation facility. I’m the first to say, I don’t want to see any new buildings built. But for long-term planning... we want to, as the Recreation Board, to first identify a location... to use that space for community needs. [The Recreation Board] would establish a timeline, phases of the project, aggregate all the data that would be needed, and the funding needed. The Recreation Board just wants a blessing to move forward... to explore this idea,” said Willi.

Recreation Director Dave Sniffen was present at the meeting, and shared his thoughts on the need for a recreation facility.

“Obviously there is a need in the community for a recreation center. It’s what people are always asking for. There is a need for a facility that allows people to go some place to work out, especially this time of year. There’s a place that is needed — a weight room, treadmills, exercise bikes, spaces for classes, yoga. There’s obviously a need, and we know it. It’s not anything new.”

Willi said the school gym was once considered as a short-term option, but that wasn’t practical.

“We can’t even start legitimate adult programming at this time of the year because the school occupies all the gym time [during the week]. Sundays are booked. Back in the day we had adult volleyball, now it’s all high school sports,” said Willi, noting there are also fitness classes on the island. “There are people that do classes right now, but that’s a private space. We want to start long-term planning to start looking at more in depth. I don’t want to go down the road of just doing it on our own, and not get any traction or anything from the council or from the town. We have a recreation director who is going to be working with us, with the Recreation Board. This is a discussion we have been having for a long time. We want this project on the horizon.”

“I think this is a really good way to get focused, a lot of groups talking about this. I would be in support, but let’s look into it,” said Councilor Sven Risom.

“The idea is, if the council can have an open mind about the locations, trying to find locations for it,” said Sniffen.

“We just want to move forward and have this on the long-term vision,” added Willi.

Sniffen asked for and received a blessing from Town Council to consider looking into a recreation facility.

Final revisions on Harbor   Management Plan

The Council acted on final revisions to the New Shoreham Harbor Management Plan and Ordinance. Interim Harbormaster Kate McConville presented to the council the recent changes to the Harbor Management Plan.

The council approved the Harbor Management Plan with the final round of edits, as well as the inclusion of ordinances that the Harbors Department must enforce.

“Ordinances are all approved, with all the edits,” said Councilor Chris Willi.

Boudreau made a motion to approve the final revisions, and to forward the document to R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council for review.

The CRMC will send the document back to the Town Council, which will set a public hearing for public discussion.

“This has been a gigantic document on our time, and thank you Kate for all you have done,” said Boudreau.

Update on Visitor Center

The council moved on to the Town Manager’s report on the Visitor Center regarding its lease, bathrooms and locker conditions, and payroll costs.

Kern stated it was an ongoing discussion, and he would continue to “look around the physical facility to survey what is there. [Block Island Chamber Director] Cindy [Lasser], [Tourism Director] Jessica [Willi], Sven, and I met earlier in the week to strategize an approach: how can we best use our time and how to move forward.” The Chamber currently occupies the building, but its lease ended in January. The Chamber has suggested staffing the building with two “tourism ambassadors” during the summer to help answer questions from island visitors about where to go and what to do.

Kern said he would work with Lasser or a representative from the Tourism Council to “try to put together a coherent request, and how to support that through town funds, Chamber funds, and Tourism Council funds.”

Recommendations on taxi ordinances

At a previous Town Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 3, the council reviewed recommendations from the Motor Vehicles for Hire Commission on the number of drivers allowed per vehicle and the hours taxis would be required to operate. The goal of the MVFH is to ensure there are as many cabs as possible on the roads during the summer.

The two proposed changes for the license requirements section in the MVFH memo read: “Remove the restriction on a maximum number of drivers, and require taxi owners to notify the town within 24 hours via phone call, e-mail or in person at the Town Clerk’s office when drivers are added or removed from the Current Drivers List.”

The recommended changes on the revocation of a taxi license section included ”any taxi license when the taxi so licensed does not operate a taxi for at least 40 hours per week from July 1 to Labor Day.” The previous number of operating hours was 35 per week.

MVFH Chair Brad Marthens said there was a need to have “taxis on the road more frequently.”

“We just want to get your approval to make these changes,” said Marthens.

The Council also discussed if it was necessary for Town Hall to be notified when there were new drivers hired by the taxi owners.

“Can I ask why the town has added this? Why does the town need to know who is driving a cab? It just seems like a hindrance on your business. Will these proposed changes to your taxi ordinance make life easier for you?” asked Boudreau.

“It will make it a lot easier for the license holders, to get more drivers on the road,” said Marthens.

The council approved a motion to send the proposed changes to the Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla for review.