Keeping the ocean in view

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 9:15am
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The New Shoreham Town Council, on the recommendation of the Planning Board, has sent a resolution to the Rhode Island General Assembly in opposition to a Senate bill that would allow building height to be increased for properties built along the coastline. The Town Council voted unanimously (5-0) at a recent meeting to send the letter to the Rhode Island legislature.

The resolution asserts that Senate Bill 2413, an act relating to the zoning ordinance for cities and towns, and introduced in the General Assembly on Feb. 15, 2018, “would alter the state definition of building height” and allow for “structures of progressively greater height to be constructed closer to the coastline, resulting in bulking, massing and walling off our coastline.” (The bill has been held for further study in the Senate by the Housing and Municipal Government Committee since March 14, 2018. The link for the bill is: https://legiscan.com/RI/bill/S2413/2018.)

The bill, introduced by Sens. Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick) and Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) states that “for any property or structure located in a special flood hazard area, building height shall be measured from base flood elevation, and where freeboard is being utilized... not to exceed five-feet, shall be excluded from the building height calculation.”

The Planning Board is arguing that — “while the Act requires that building height be measured from base flood elevation, the exclusion of up to five (5) feet of freeboard is still included in the definition, meaning that the actual height will be measured from base flood elevation plus freeboard” — resulting in larger structures, as is noted in the Town Council’s resolution.

The Council’s resolution also notes that in addition to a possible obstruction of the island’s view-shed, “the increase in the height of the structures will result in an increase in wind loads on the structures making them more susceptible to damage during high wind events.”

The Planning Board sent a memo to the Town Council on May 10 stating that, “The Planning Board voted during its meeting on May 9, 2018 to recommend that the Town Council voice opposition to the (Senate Bill) amending the definition of building height. Enclosed is a draft resolution for your consideration. The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association is opposed to this legislation, which will allow buildings to be measured from base flood elevation rather than average grade.” 

“The Planning Board doesn’t think it is a good idea to have taller houses along the water,” said Planning Board Vice Chair Sven Risom at the Town Council’s meeting on May 16. Risom is also an appointed member of the Town Council. “We don’t think it’s good for the island.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste put it simply: “It’s a concern.”