Planning Board carefully eyeing zoning language

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 6:00pm

At its most recent meeting the Planning Board continued its review of new zoning ordinance language that would impact development in the Old Harbor Commercial Zone. The language change, which has been proposed by Lark Hotels, would allow additional special use standards for hotels and inns, and would also allow accessory hotel rooms as a new use in that area. The proposal was reviewed on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Lark Hotels purchased and operates The Surf and the property known as The Grove. The accessory hotel use would allow new buildings on the Grove property.

In its application to amend the ordinance, the applicants wrote: “This proposal provides amended special use standards for hotels and inns constructed in the Old Harbor Commercial district, which will allow the potential construction of new and renovated hotels in this district. Under the existing zoning ordinance as interpreted under existing law by the Zoning Board, there is no realistic way to construct or enlarge an existing hotel or inn in this district.”

In the narrative submitted in support of zoning ordinance amendments by the Lark Hotels group, “The New Shoreham Zoning Ordinance as it is currently written and interpreted under existing law by the New Shoreham Zoning Board effectively prevents the construction or enlargement of hotels in the Old Harbor Commercial Zone, even on 20,000 square foot lots... The proposed amendment creates specific special use standards for hotels and inns in the Old Harbor Commercial Zone, which will allow, with very stringent size restrictions, the construction of new hotels or inns on lots of 20,000 square feet or larger and the expansion of existing hotels or inns on such lots. It also creates a new use, the Accessory Hotel Room, which will facilitate creative design of hotels and allow flexibility in the use of the limited land area available for their construction.”

The Lark Hotel petition also states that this kind of development is supported by the town’s Comprehensive Plan. The document states, “The New Shoreham Comprehensive Plan dated Nov. 16, 2016 established policies for Block Island’s future. Policy C instructs the town to ‘establish land use regulations... so that future development contributes to a more compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented community.’ It goes on to state that ‘protecting the island’s... landscape goes hand in hand with encouraging growth and compactness in the village...’ The proposed changes in the Ordinance are intended to and will allow more flexible development of hotels and inns within the Old Historic Commercial District, consistent with the terms of the Comprehensive Plan.”

The supporting document also states, “The amendments allow the owner or developer of hotels in the Old Harbor Commercial District to exercise flexibility in the design of additions to their hotels. It allows them to integrate smaller, historically appropriate structures with the larger, bulkier main hotel structures permitting the design of structures that appropriately fill in undeveloped land between existing buildings with structures that in scale and design are consistent with Block Island’s vernacular architecture.” It also states that “there is very limited land in the Old Harbor Commerical District where a business could build a new inn or hotel. The proposed amendments make it possible to use the larger remaining lots in the Old Harbor Commercial District in a manner consistent with the mix of the surrounding buildings and consistent with the island’s vernacular architecture.”

The Old Harbor Commercial District Zone includes the area of Old Harbor, and the six lots affected by the proposed amendment. The proposed amendment by OpCo, LLC would allow hotels and hotels with accessory hotel rooms on parcels of 30,000 square feet or more in the Old Harbor Commercial Zoning District.

Lark Hotels attorney Joe Priestley spoke on behalf of the project, proposing an updated amendment for the minimum lot size. “Our proposal would change the square footage in the Old Harbor zone... from 20,000 to 30,000 square feet.”

Priestley noted how crucial hotels are for the island, as “hotels create more use and gets people to stay on the island.”

The Planning Board motioned to have the discussion be continued, encouraging the applicant to make revisions and more restrictions for the January meeting. Chair Margie Comings asked if the applicant could provide “other alternatives we might all agree on... the more information you can give us, the better”.

Updating New Shoreham Zoning Ordinance for solar energy

An updated draft on the New Shoreham Zoning Ordinance with additional modifications was shared at the meeting, along with an application submitted by Chris Warfel to amend the Zoning Ordinance regarding the placement of solar arrays.

The Board agreed to amend the ordinance and definitions to make it clearer. Town Planner Alison Ring was asked to reword the proposed amendment and come back next month with recommended changes. 

Review of public safety and elevation

The board reviewed and acted on a Zoning Ordinance amendment and amendment to Chapter 11 Natural Resources Protection that requires, within Special Flood Hazard Areas, building height be measured from its base flood elevation. The board approved to forward the Zoning Ordinance change to the Town Council. (Base flood elevation is a flood that has a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year, which is also referred to as the "100-year flood." The base flood is the national standard used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and all Federal agencies for the purposes of requiring the purchase of flood insurance and regulating new development.)