Town Council approvals and updates

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 8:00am

The New Shoreham Town Council approved the sale of alcohol at The Barn restaurant when The Spring House Hotel is closed, and a zoning ordinance amendment that would make physical fitness and yoga classes a permitted use outdoors in the town’s commercial zones. The Town Council also received updates from the Town Manager and the Block Island Power Company Transition Team regarding various issues.

Less than a month after receiving approval from the Zoning Board to operate The Barn year-round, with stipulations, owner Frank DiBiase was granted unanimous approval to serve alcohol in The Barn when The Spring House Hotel, and its restaurant are either closed for the season, or closed for an event.

During a public hearing regarding an amendment to the zoning ordinance requested by the Draper family, Lacoste said that the amendment involved adding a new definition to allow physical fitness and yoga classes to be held outdoors, as a permanent, permitted use in the commercial zones.

Attorney Joe Priestley, representing the Draper family, said, “The purpose of this is to allow physical fitness classes to continue.” Priestley noted that the request was in response to the Planning Board having interest in changing the language to only permit indoor physical fitness activities led by an instructor.

In explaining the Planning Board’s position, member Socha Cohen said, “Certain sports can be noisy for neighbors, and this was meant to protect the neighbors.” In response, Seth Draper said, “I believe that everyone comes to Block Island to be outdoors — to enjoy being outside.” He also said that physical fitness and yoga classes would produce “minimal noise.”

Town Councilor Martha Ball quipped, “Those noisy yoga people,” which elicited laughter. The Council voted unanimously in favor of amending the ordinance.

At the behest of Tourism Director Jessica Willi, with Councilor Chris Willi recused, the Town Council agreed to draft a resolution to be sent to the state legislature requesting that Regional Tourism Districts maintain their funding at 47 percent of the five percent hotel tax. Per a state law enacted in 2015, titled “Tourism and Development — Distribution of tax,” the hotel tax would drop from 47 percent to 42 percent on July 1, 2017.

“I’m coming to you to back us up,” said Jessica Willi, who noted that the reduction would equate to roughly a 10 percent drop in budget, or about $30,000 in lost tourism revenue for the town in 2017. “All of the regions are trying to keep our funding intact.”

In the Town Manager’s report, Interim Town Manager Shirlyne Gobern brought the Town Council up to speed on a few projects. 

Gobern said the Department of Environmental Management conducted an infrared flyover survey on March 6 and 7, and calculated that while 272 deer were culled, a population of 630 deer remains on the island.

Gobern said the town, and engineer Jim Geremia, are awaiting sign-off by the Narragansett Tribe on a Memorandum of Understanding concerning the West Beach revetment project that would allow the work to proceed. She also said that Highways Supervisor Mike Shea and Traffic Safety Expert Al Davis took a ride around the island to review the installed street signage, and will be submitting a report based on their findings soon.

The BIPCo Transition Team informed the Council that it has asked the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission for a declaratory judgment on whether the costs of the National Grid interconnection facilities, linking BIPCo to the wind farm, and including the substation and the lines, should be socialized across all National Grid and BIPCo customers.

Team Chair Barbara MacMullan said BIPCo maintains that “according to initial legislation creating the Deepwater Wind project, all costs should be socialized. National Grid maintains that costs of the interconnection should be solely borne by BIPCo’s customers. A hearing on this is scheduled for Tuesday, May 30.”

In other news, the Town Council unanimously approved sponsorship of The Mary D. Ball on Aug. 5, 2017, meaning that the event will be exempt from having to obtain an entertainment license, or paying any fees associated with hosting such an event.