Town will formally intervene in Deepwater/Grid hearing; adopts new substandard regs

Mon, 10/26/2009 - 4:00am
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10/24/09 - After the long session on the deer hunting Wednesday, the Town Council voted to formally become intervenors in the Public Utilities Commission hearing regarding the power purchase agreement between Deepwater Wind and National Grid.

The council agreed to hire Alan Mandl to assist Town Solicitor Katherine Merolla as well as consultant Richard La Capra.

First Warden Kim Gaffett acknowledged that it would be “an expensive process,” but that the town would seek reimbursement from Deepwater, which promised to cover the town’s consultant bills, regardless of what position the town takes. Becoming an intervenor “gives us a voice at the hearing,” said Gaffett, and allows the town to gather information.

From the audience, Sean McGarry asked when and if the town would take a position on the Deepwater proposal for a wind farm off Block Island.

“Will you take a referendum to decide what side you’re on? The bulk are against a wind farm and cable,” McGarry said.

Gaffett said information needed to be gathered before the town could establish its position.

New substandard standards

The Town Council Wednesday continued a public hearing on new dimensional standards for substandard lots.

As Planning Board Chair Margie Comings explained, “you make out better with this if you have a substandard lot.”

Planning Board member Rob Gilpin agreed, saying it was a “fairer” set of regulations that would take pressure off the Zoning Board from property owners seeking dimensional relief. The new rules will generally affect lots smaller than a half acre in the RA zone and a quarter acre in the RB zone.

Weidman walked the council and the Town Hall audience through the at times confusing calculus behind the new rules.

Weidman explained that a 600 square-foot-footprint, a relatively small home, would be allowed by right if there is no other coverage on the lot — an advantage for very small lots that would have trouble meeting this as a building limit even under the increased allowable building coverages.

The new standards as adopted by the Town Council, in the RA zone are:

• Lots with less than 25,000 square feet are allowed 5 percent building coverage

• Lots between 25,000 and 34,000 square feet are allowed 4 percent building coverage — the current limit.

• Lots 34,000 square feet and larger are allowed 3 percent coverage for the principal building, and 4 percent overall

In the RB zone:

• Lots less than 10,000 square feet are allowed 12 percent building coverage

• Lots between 10,000 and 12,500 square feet are allowed 10 percent building coverage

• Lots 12,500 square feet and larger will have 8 percent building coverage — the current limit.

For example, a 28,000-square-foot lot in the RA zone was allowed at total lot coverage of 1,120 SF (4 percent), but only 840 feet could be devoted to the house footprint (3 percent). Now a 1,000-square-foot house footprint would be allowed, but the total lot building coverage would be increased to 1,200 square feet.

The council considered and accepted additional adjustments to correct inherent problem of some larger lots having smaller allowable footprints due to the “matrix” approach of reducing percentages as lot sizes increase, Weidman explained.

North Light added to FTM

Despite hesitation on the part of both First Warden Kim Gaffett and Councilor Ken Lacoste, the council voted 3-2 to add Rob Gilpin’s request for $50,000 for the North Light to the Financial Town Meeting November 4.

The meeting was set to ask voters for an additional $1 million for the Old Harbor project, and Gaffett thought that issue should stand on its own.

Gilpin suggested that the council could “let the people decide.” He pointed out that the town has only had to contribute $100,000 to the $700,000 North Light restoration project. The $50,000 would be put toward making the historic light “watertight.”

Regional Planning Council

Representatives from the Washington County Regional Planning Council asked the council to pass two resolutions allowing it to negotiate with various Energy Service Companies on behalf of the 14 towns in Washington County.

It was explained that the ESCOs could be engaged to conduct energy audits of town buildings and then provide the work.

Both Bill Penn and Sean McGarry suggested from the audience that the town might be better off seeking out its own means — grants, etc. — to getting similar work done.

In the end, Councilor Peter Baute said that the town was not bound by the resolutions, and it couldn’t hurt to explore what the ESCOs offer. The council agreed and voted for the resolutions.

Miscellany

Bud Comeau read into the record a letter that faulted the town for issuing a certificate of occupancy to Seawinds condominiums before the affordable unit was occupied (see letters in this issue).