Planning Board to send zoning ordinance amendments to council

Fri, 04/09/2021 - 10:45am
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The Planning Board is taking both a near-term and long-term approach to rein in the size of new homes being built on Block Island with the realization that some changes may be easily achieved while others will require much more discussion. It’s a subject they’ve been discussing for a while, and on Tuesday, March 30, they held a special meeting to discuss proposed revisions to the zoning ordinances that they had drafted on March 3.

Town Planner Alison Ring said she “did take a look” at other housing currently in existence on the island to “try to get an idea of our figures versus what is on the ground.”

“I found there were five lots that had over 6,000 square feet of [total] living area,” said Ring. “I pulled 18 structures on the island that are above 4,500 square feet” for a living floor area.

Some sections of the zoning ordinances are more general, and some apply to specific zones. General prohibitions, (Section 111) do not allow a building footprint in excess of 5,000 square feet currently. That number would be reduced to 3,500 square feet if revised as proposed. Overall building volume allowed would be reduced to 65,000 cubic feet from 80,000, and a sentence will be added prohibiting “a living floor area in excess of 4,500 square feet.”

Section 514-C is specific to zones RA and RB, but the language changes are much the same as included above in the general prohibitions. 

Chair Margie Comings added she saw the discussion of the zoning ordinance amendments as a “two-fold process” for addressing immediate changes and longterm changes.

“It’s going to take a number of meetings,” said Comings. “We are talking six months to a year, talking about something that is presentable to the Town Council. [We can] slow huge houses from being built” in the meantime.

“The intent was to make some minor changes to the current amendment, something that could move more quickly. Some of the larger changes might take more meetings. We are trying to move fairly quickly with some potential amendments to restrict the size and scale of homes,” said Ring.

Member Christine Grele made a motion to accept the changes to Section 111-5 A to E, Section 514-C numbers 1 through 6, and to have the changes be sent to the Town Council. Member Mary Anderson seconded the motion, and the motion carried 5-2.

“This is an important step in the right direction,” said Comings, asking for Ring to put together the document for the Town Council.

New market in New Harbor commercial zone

Owner of Dead Eye Dick’s Jessica Wronowski had submitted a request for a waiver from Development Plan Review for a change of use from an inn use to commercial/residential use for a new market in the New Harbor Commercial zone (Plat 5, Lot 66).

She explained her intent in a letter to the Planning Board dated March 11:

“The applicant/owner of Dead Eye Dick’s seeks to abandon its special use permit granted September 27, 2017 designating the secondary building on Lot 66 as an inn, and move to a commercial/ residential mixed use allowed by right in the New Harbor Commercial zone. The building will continue to have residential space on the second floor and the applicant proposes to change the use of the first floor to a retail/market/takeout space. The mixed use is in keeping with the surrounding buildings; both Dead Eye Dick’s main building and Block Island Maritime Institute on the adjacent lot have residential units above commercial space.”

Wronowski stated there will be no exterior construction or improvements to the building with the new change.

“Because there are no changes, we are hoping to receive a waiver from the Planning Board,” said Wronowski.

Member Sam Bird asked Wronowski to clarify the parking space availability on the lot.

“Is some of the parking that is assigned to Dead Eye’s being reallocated to this building? What does the reduction in Dead Eye’s parking mean?” asked Bird.

“There is no reduction on parking,” said Wronowski. “[The 12 parking spaces], that’s the parking that has existed for quite a long time for Dead Eye’s. Those 12 spaces continue to exist. We do have this back area that is underutilized, used for staging and delivery. We are going to take that space and mark it off as parking and allow this to be used for this new use.”

“You can still handle space for deliveries?” asked Comings.

“Yes,” said Wronowski.

Comings questioned if there would be an overlap of the clientele arriving for the market versus for Dead Eye Dick’s.

“Your store will operate during the day, and the restaurant [will be] busy at night, [which] could have an overlap. Other than that, serving two different groups at two different times of the day,” said Comings.

“The market will be open earlier than Dead Eye’s,” said Wronowski .“The market [will close] around 7 p.m. when Dead Eye’s gets busy. I do think there is flexibility in the parking.”

Anderson added that while there were no physical changes to the building, “there are use changes.”

“With the change in use, I would be sure that that shared parking is also where you are doing pick-up and drop-off with food,” said Anderson. “It’s getting busier with [Block Island Maritime Institute] expanding and parking getting congested on that road.”

“We will certainly clarify with the building inspector,” said Wronowski.

“I did drive by there this weekend, and there is quite a lot of space behind Dead Eye Dick’s,” said Comings.

Comings made a motion to approve the waiver request for Development Plan Review to change the use from an inn to commercial/residential. Grele seconded the motion, and the motion carried 6 to 0.