Avoiding unintended consequences

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 8:45pm

Residents on Block Island pay attention to their land. Not only land they own, but public space as well. This is why the topic of proposed changes to the definition of developable land as written in the town’s development regulations has drawn so much attention and scrutiny.

The Planning Board was right, after a well-attended public hearing, to delay any ruling on proposed changes to the regulations for three months so that the matter could be further studied and to do a thorough inventory of any and all conservation easements that may be impacted by the change in definition. This was the position taken by three of the major conservation groups on the island: The Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and the Block Island Conservancy.

The issue is whether or not conservation and open space easements should be considered in the calculation of developable land within the town’s subdivision regulations. Due to changes in the regulations at the state level that counted wetlands as part of developable lands, the town needed to change its own regulations. Last January, the Town Council approved amending the town’s zoning ordinances to reflect that change, and also included open space easements into the mix. As a result, however, the town’s zoning ordinances and its own subdivision regulations were not in alignment. The Planning Board was advised that the two must be consistent.

Hence, the ensuing dialogue. Planning Board Chair Margie Comings said she received a flood of emails on the topic, more than she had seen on any other topic. Attendance at the hearing this past week also indicated people have a vested interest in this matter. Therefore it was right not to be too speedy, and to thoroughly understand the intended and unintended consequences to any changes to the town’s ordinances impacting conserved land.