Town Council debating penalty for dune ordinance

Meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.
Thu, 11/15/2018 - 5:15pm

The New Shoreham Town Council is wrestling with what penalty should be assessed for a violation of a proposed dune protection ordinance. On Monday, the council will hold a regular meeting and continue the item from its Oct. 17 meeting. The Town Council will debate whether a violation should be a general penalty, which is a criminal offense and misdemeanor charge punishable by jail time, and/or a fine; or a civil violation that would amount to a court summons and a fine. The Town Council is adding the dune protection ordinance for stricter enforcement of the island’s fragile dunes.

Town Manager Ed Roberge told The Times that, “The council is going to talk about how the general penalty applies to the proposed dune protection ordinance.” At the Oct. 17 meeting, Roberge said Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla recommended that a violation be punishable by a general penalty. Merolla said a general penalty would equate to a “fine not exceeding $200, and imprisonment not exceeding three months, which under state law constitutes a petty misdemeanor.” Roberge said he felt the police would  be flexible and use their discretion when enforcing the ordinance.

Former Police Chief Bill McCombe, who was in attendance at the meeting, explained that a misdemeanor charge is affixed permanently to a person’s record and could lead to negative hiring implications. Police officer Paul Dean agreed with McCombe and said he doesn’t think it’s the council’s intention to impose a criminal penalty. 

That narrative will be revisited during a public hearing scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

The item is noted on the council’s agenda as a discussion of a proposed amendment to the town’s general ordinances for adding a section 11-1 titled “Protection of Dunes on Public Property.” Council meetings are open to the public.

The Town Council will also hold a public hearing to take action, deliberate, and revisit the amendment it adopted on March 5 regarding the definition of developable land in the town’s zoning ordinance. The council discussed the topic at its Oct. 17 meeting when it voted 4-1, with Councilor Sven Risom dissenting, to set a public hearing date for Nov. 19. The Town Council noted that it needed to consult with Land Use Solicitor Don Packer regarding the ordinance before taking action.

The Planning Board proposed several amendments to bring the town’s zoning ordinance into conformance with state law. Some council members felt the Planning Board misrepresented at least one of the amendments: the one related to developable land. Councilor Martha Ball told The Times after the meeting that the Planning Board needed “to explain its rationale for proposing the changes to the ordinance.”

With regard to the public hearing, Roberge said, “This is the action phase for that item,” which was originally drafted by the Planning Board. That could mean voting to allow the ordinance to remain as presented, or to revise its language.

The council will also take action on a request from the Harbor Church to increase its water and sewer allocation that will be needed for the four affordable rental housing units that are being constructed at the church. 

“It’s an administrative procedure,” said Roberge. “The Harbor Church needs to make the request to the Town Council” for approval to be afforded the increase in allocation.

Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick said other items include appointing a Land Use Attorney selection committee, setting deer hunting dates, and reviewing offers to serve on the Deer Task Force, Recreation Board, Shellfish Commission, and Hodge Management Committee. The Town Housing Initiative and Rhode Island Fast Ferry case may be in closed session.