Portsmouth Town Council Notes

First solar ordinance being sought for Portsmouth

Specific uses need to be addressed individually, attorney argues

By Jim McGaw
Posted 7/9/19

PORTSMOUTH — The town has taken the first step in amending the zoning ordinance to include a new section regulating solar projects.

Attorney Cort B. Chappell made the request, explaining …

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Portsmouth Town Council Notes

First solar ordinance being sought for Portsmouth

Specific uses need to be addressed individually, attorney argues

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The town has taken the first step in amending the zoning ordinance to include a new section regulating solar projects.

Attorney Cort B. Chappell made the request, explaining that recent Superior Court decisions have held that specific uses such as solar farms need to be addressed individually and be included in a town’s zoning ordinance in order to be considered by building inspectors and town boards through the application process. 

“Because of the nature and complexity of various ordinances recently adopted in many towns throughout our state, it is my recommendation that this draft be sent to our zoning officials, town solicitor and the Planning Board for review and comments, and then returned to the council for advertising and public hearing,” Mr. Chappell stated in a June 28 letter to the town.

Mr. Chappell, who said he has clients looking to bring various solar projects to town, told the council “the issue is whether these are allowed as a matter or right (or) by special use as approved by the zoning board.”

Other municipalities sending drafts of similar ordinances to planning and zoning officials for their opinions, he said, adding the “blood and guts” of the ordinance would come back to the council for approval.

Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa said her only concern was that a model solar ordinance developed in February, and different from the one Mr. Chappell was proposing, shouldn’t be pushed aside.

“There’s not a 100-percent match,” she said.

Mr. Chappell said about “85 percent” of his proposed ordinance is included in the model, which he will make sure is also in the hands of the zoning and planning boards if they don’t already have copies.

The council voted 7-0 to forward the draft ordinance to zoning and planning officials. The matter will be placed back on the council’s agenda at a later date.

DOT: They’re not ‘dirt strips’

In other business, the council learned the state has no plans to change the design or appearance of the so-called “dirt strips” on either side of East Main Road in the north end of town.

Back in April, the council approved a resolution asking the R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to redesign the 18-inch strips, which are located between the curbing and new sidewalks along both sides of some portions of East Main Road, north of Village Way. 

They were installed as part of a redesign by RIDOT in late 2017, according to local resident John Vitkevich, who complained to the council. Mr. Vitkevich is the property manager for one of the impacted areas: 3255 East Main Road, across from Aquidneck Pools & Spas.

The new dirt strips, which are intended to grow grass, were apparently installed for water quality control measures as they collect surface water between the curb and sidewalk. However, Mr. Vitkevich said they’re unsightly and will grow weeds and collect trash. He suggested RIDOT fill in the strips with crushed red brick culled from the old police station’s demolition.

RIDOT replied to the town’s resolution in the form of a June 20 letter from David W. Fish, administrator of project management, to Town Council President Kevin Aguiar. 

“The 18-inch area between the curb and the sidewalk is not a dirt strip,” Mr. Fish stated, adding that the areas have been loaded and seeded to grow grass. “This green grass area blends into and matches the majority of the areas that continue past the back of the sidewalks throughout the project and helps to maker an aesthetically pleasing appearance on East Main Road.

The grassy areas also serve to treat stormwater runoff, he said, meeting regulations put forth by both the R.I. Department of Environmental Management and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“This is part of an overall effort to improve the water quality of nearby bodies of water as well as the Narragansett Bay and Sakonnet River for the benefit of the community, as well as the entire state,” Mr. Fish stated.

He added that replacing the area with crushed brick or other similar material would result in less stormwater being treated and therefore more pollutants entering nearby bodies of water. The brick also would not alleviate any trash issues and could pose a safety issue to motorists, he added.

Coggeshall building closed

The former Coggeshall School building on East Main Road in the south end of town has been temporarily closed due to poor air quality tests recently conducted, according to Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. 

Mr. Rainer said the tests, administered in the town-owned building on June 17, showed high concentrations of airborne mold. The building inspector has issued an occupancy ban on the building until the problem is mitigated, he said.

The building was most recently used for exercise classes hosted by the Common Fence Point Improvement Association. The organization’s community hall on Anthony Road is still being renovated and is expected to open next month.

4 Bridges Ride

The council received notice that the seventh annual 4 Bridges Ride that passes through town will take place on Sunday, Sept. 15.

The charitable bike ride, run by the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority and promoted by Gray Matter Marketing in Portsmouth, benefits Save The Bay. It begins in North Kingstown at 7 a.m. 

In Portsmouth, riders will utilize Stringham Road, West Main Road, Route 24, Hummocks Avenue, Anthony Road and Boyds Lane, before heading over the Mt. Hope Bridge into Bristol.

Riders are expected to travel through Portsmouth by 9:30 or 10 a.m.

Resignation/appointment

The council accepted, with regret, the resignation of Justin B. Perry from the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee (PEDC), effective July 11. 

In a letter to the council, Mr. Perry said he will soon be moving to Washington, D.C., to pursue a master’s degree at Georgetown University.

The council also appointed Nancy Howard, of 16 Dianne Ave., to fill one of the eight vacancies on the PEDC. 

Future meetings

The Town Council will next meet on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and again on Aug. 26 and Sept. 9, both Mondays. All meetings begin at 7 p.m.

The meeting originally scheduled for July 22 has been canceled.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.