Planning Board approves Community Services zone

For developing town housing initiative
Tue, 11/20/2018 - 7:00pm

The Town of New Shoreham is one step away from approval of the creation of a Community Services Zoning District to facilitate development of a town employee-housing zone. The zone would involve utilization of the Thomas and Faulkner properties for construction of dwellings, and include the Block Island School and the Medical Center campus.

The Planning Board voted unanimously (6-0) at its meeting on Nov. 14 to approve sending a new ordinance, under section 300 of the zoning ordinance, to establish a Community Services Zoning District to the Town Council for a public hearing and approval. Planning Board Chair Margie Comings made the motion that was seconded by Socha Cohen.

The action is part of the Town Council’s plan aimed at addressing the need for town-employee and affordable housing on Block Island. The town was granted authorization by voters at the Financial Town Meeting in May to utilize the Thomas property at a cost of $1.5 million, to construct a dwelling for a senior town employee, and four rental units for town employees within the footprint of the existing duplex.

During the Nov. 14 meeting, the Planning Board conducted a final review of amendments to the zoning ordinance. Land Use Administrator Jennifer Brady, an abutter to the new Community Services zone, recused herself from the discussion.  

Town Planner/GIS Specialist Alison Ring, who will be drafting the final language for the ordinance, said, “We reviewed this ordinance last month, and there were a few minor changes to the draft.”

Those changes included not adding a food service vendor within the district; only renting to people who reside on island year-round in the event housing is not needed for town employee purposes; and maximum building height should be 32 feet for a main structure and 25 feet for an accessory structure.  The ordinance will also allow, per special use permit, for structures exceeding the maximum permitted of 32 feet, but no more than 50 feet.  

After deliberating whether operation of a “food service vendor” would be permissible within the new zone, the Planning Board decided to scrap the idea thinking that it might encumber the housing initiative moving forward. The discussion involved consideration of the operation of a small coffee shop within the modified duplex.

Comings said, “It would be an area where people could sit and talk and have a cup of coffee or grab a quick lunch. Also, if there was a sports banquet, or something like that, you could have a catered event there.”

“Why not allow, for example, two people to have a little business like that?” asked Vice Chair Sven Risom. “My question is: why not?”

“My concern is that it would be in a residential neighborhood,” said board member John Spier. “I think putting something like this in the residential zone is asking for trouble. I’m looking down the road — all of a sudden we might have a lobster roll concession. You’ll have traffic, with people driving up to it.”

“I don’t have a problem with the use,” said Spier.

Risom said the issue could be “abuse” by those who misinterpret the ordinance and attempt to operate a food service business within the district.

Board member Sam Bird, who is also the town’s Facilities Manager, said, “There’s nothing to prevent a structure, like a community center, from having a kitchen. There’s one in the Community Center now, which is used for particular functions.”

After debating how the language might be drafted to accommodate a food service vendor, the board decided not to pursue it at this time.

The next Planning Board meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.