Internet woes at the HDC

Thu, 07/08/2021 - 4:00pm

The Historic District Commission is a valued counterbalance between the character of Block Island and the forces of modernity and development.
On Monday, modernity had its revenge.

The HDC met via Zoom, per the governor’s executive order, and it did not go well as the mischievous forces of the internet wreaked havoc on the meeting.
Right away, Chair Bill Penn was unable to get logged into the Zoom meeting, with the town official hosting the Zoom meeting reporting him as joining the
meeting, and then being dropped from the meeting. His internet connection, along with several others’ plagued the proceedings throughout.

Eventually Vice-Chair Martha Ball got things rolling once a quorum was established, with members Bill Koch, Arlene Tunney, and Kay McManus joining Ball.

In the first agenda item, the sign for Charlene Tripler’s new shop Katchet was approved, even though it had only been updated with critical photos of the sign bracket hardware that morning. Penn’s internet allowed him into the meeting long enough to say such late submissions were “unacceptable.”
McManus said she thought it was fine since the bulk of the application had been in for quite some time. Ball concurred, saying she was “trying to work with someone whose trying to work with us.”

Connectivity problems persisted throughout the remaining sign applications, save the last one, in which Sands Payne called in from his hospital bed in
Newport, where the internet seemed to be working fine. Payne reported to be on the mend and hoped to see everyone soon, after receiving approval of new signage at Payne’s Dock that will incorporate the new restaurant, Fox on the Dock.
The first agenda item in the Preliminary section involved the Hygeia House renovation. The application is for renovations to porches, windows, and doors. Penn’s internet cooperated long enough for him to start to remind everyone of something quite important and historical, before he was unceremoniously cut off yet again.

Koch’s internet started to fade out on him as well, which threatened the maintenance of a quorum, although it had been suggested early on that he might need to recuse from this item anyway.

Ball told everyone that she did not believe a building project of this magnitude could be discussed “on a Zoom call that’s not working right.”
The other board members agreed, and the item was tabled for a future date, possibly as a special meeting. The governor’s order to conduct town meetings via Zoom has been extended until July 23, but it  is unknown whether it will really expire and allow for meetings getting back to normal or not. The idea was floated that if Zoom is still required, they could all set up in Town Hall and at least use Town Hall’s internet from different rooms.
The HDC tried one more time to carry on, with the next agenda item regarding renovations at Champlin’s movie theater, including new windows, deck, and doors. The internet connection deteriorated again, disrupting the connection of the applicant while she was trying to extract answers from Koch regarding windows she said he had told her to use. It was the opinion of several commission members that they were the wrong windows. Koch’s internet did not cooperate either and he was not able to give coherent answers.
At this point, several people suggested calling the meeting off. Everyone agreed, although it wasn’t clear who was even still there at that point.

The HDC will reschedule the remaining items, including the Hygeia House and Champlin’s, hopefully for an in-person meeting.