Economic Development Commission and Planning Board Meeting Update
for July 26th 2022
Board Considers Implications of Accessory Dwelling Unit Law
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
July 26th 2022
RICHMOND – Planning Board members, at their Tuesday meeting, discussed new state enabling legislation which will allow accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, to be built on residential lots.
Towns will be able to prohibit ADUs, but not those that are intended for family members of the property owner.
The objective of the new law is to “provide a consistent, statewide framework and efficient process” for the approval of ADUs, which will now be permitted, by right, on all properties with single family or two-family structures.
In addition, ADUs can be counted as affordable housing, helping towns move closer to achieving the state-mandated 10% affordable housing goal.
The new law defines an accessory dwelling unit as a single, independent dwelling with its own eating, sleeping, cooking and sanitation facilities. The unit, which can be detached or attached to the main house, can be occupied by one or more members of the property owner’s family, or rented, if the principal home is occupied by the property owner.
Board members considered the implications of the new law, which requires towns to amend their zoning ordinances to redefine accessory dwelling units.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth told board members that Richmond will be required to allow ADUs, up to 75% of the size of the principal dwelling, to be built for members of property-owners’ families.
A lengthy discussion ensued, with board members expressing concerns about the possible proliferation of accessory dwellings and “tiny homes,” the impacts of the secondary structures on well water and septic systems, a possible lack of buffers between the ADUs and neighboring homes, and the additional work that the permitting and reporting processes will create for building and zoning officials.
Board member Dan Madnick acknowledged the need for more housing, but he said he also understood how a proliferation of accessory dwellings could negatively impact the character of the town.
“We definitely need more housing stock, he said. “That’s a big problem. Whether it’s affordable or not, we need more housing. There’s only so much land you can build on in Rhode Island. But, I also see the drawbacks, in Richmond.”
Board Chair Philip Damicis was especially vocal about his concerns.
“I’m playing devil’s advocate,” he said. “I see the benefits but I’m sitting here thinking ‘what’s the worst case?’ and I’m also thinking about our zoning and building officials.”
Board members agreed that they would need more time to consider the ramifications of the legislation and talked about possibly holding a workshop in September to solicit input from the Town Council.
Board, EDC mull Wyoming district
Before the regular Planning Board meeting took place, a joint workshop of the Planning Board and the Economic Development Commission, held at the request of the EDC, came close to being canceled when none of the EDC members were present at the 6:30 starting time.
The meeting was able to proceed when two members, Commission Clerk David Woodmansee and later, commission Chair William McIntosh IV arrived.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey went over some of the provisions of the town’s 2021 Comprehensive Community Plan and explained the objective of the workshop.
“Tonight’s meeting was recommending that both the board and the EDC discuss some of the tasks they’ve been working on in the context of … Wyoming, and how best to support each other in meeting these responsibilities,” he said.
Most of the conversation centered on the need to revitalize the Wyoming section of town, on Route 138, in order to attract new businesses.
Damicis said he was hoping EDC members would tell him how the Planning Board could help the commission revitalize the Wyoming district.
“One of the things we’d like to know is, is there something about our planning regulations or zoning ordinance that are not working well with some of these developers?” he said.
Woodmansee said the commission had contacted Wyoming business owners to discuss ways to improve the appearance of the district.
“One of the things we have been doing is reaching out to some of the existing locations to kind of find out what they can do to help bring up the appearance, let’s say, of that corridor,” he said. “Some have been more responsive than others and some have said ‘yes’ and then not done anything that they discussed.”
Woodmansee told the board that the commission had set a goal of increasing the town’s commercial tax base by 1 to 2% per year by attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand.
“Our goal is, shift the tax burden from home owners,” he said.
When McIntosh joined the meeting, Damicis asked him if he had any insights as to why the Wyoming corridor was languishing and whether there was anything the board could do to help.
McIntosh said he had contacted the company that manages the large, neglected property where the Stop and Shop and the shuttered Hess gas station are located. With tenants already in place, there appears to be no incentive to spend millions on upgrades.
“It’s not necessary for them to move forward, from what I see, anything further than what they have, because it’s rented by Stop and Shop, it’s rented by the YMCA, it’s rented by the Post Office and stores, so they haven’t had the need to upgrade that facility because it’s rented for the most part,” he said
The need for an urgent care facility, assisted living for elderly residents and a business park were also discussed.
McIntosh suggested the town choose several suitable parcels that could be marketed to potential businesses.
“The only way of doing it is taking existing parcels that the Planning Board feel and the Town Council feel would be the best locations for an urgent care, and then marketing those parcels to urgent care facilities,” he said.
Damicis said it would be unwise to re-zone a parcel before an appropriate buyer had been found.
“If we do the re-zoning ahead of time, there’s no guarantee what would go in there,” he said.
The meeting concluded with a reminder from Damicis that residents who provided input on the comprehensive plan had made it clear that they want to preserve the rural character of the town and preferred that commercial development be concentrated along Route 3, near Interstate 95.
Beaver River Valley Community Association
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