Richmond Planning Board Update for April 26, 2022
Planning Board Hears Development Assessment Report
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
April 26th 2022
RICHMOND — Members of the Richmond Planning Board heard a presentation at their April 26 meeting on the town’s “Low Impact Development Site Planning and Design Techniques Municipal Self-Assessment.”
Conducted by the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension with the Wood - Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council, the assessment looked at the town’s code of ordinances and land development and subdivision regulations to determine where low impact development or “LID” practices could be included in the development regulations.
The project was sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and supported by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
URI graduate student Hayden McDermott presented the findings of the assessment, and explained the three goals of LID, all of which are designed to mitigate stormwater runoff by preserving, whenever possible, the natural features of the land.
“LID has three-pronged approach that attempts to … lower impacts by preserving and protecting much of the natural site conditions as possible, reduce impacts by reducing the amount of impervious surfaces such as pavement,…[and] manage impacts by treating stormwater runoff as closely as possible to the point where it reaches the ground,” he said.
McDermott added that while the state granted municipalities the legal authority to implement LID practices more than a decade ago, the towns usually do not enforce them.
“Although developers are required by the state to apply LID practices, municipal ordinances often either prevent the use of LID or favor conventional practices, but because municipalities are in authority over land use, municipalities are responsible,” he said.
McDermott also had some interesting news for the board. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management asked municipalities to perform self-assessments, back in 2011, to determine how LID principles could be incorporated into their regulations, but Richmond is the first town in the state to have completed the assessment.
McDermott said the 66 questions in the assessment attempted to gauge how the town was progressing on the three LID goals.
“The areas in which Richmond’s protections were strongest were project review, installation and maintenance,” he said. “The areas in which the regulations had the most room for improvement were avoiding the impacts of development and minimizing impervious cover. Having strong regulations at reducing impervious cover are crucial in shaping future development projects.”
The town’s responses to the questions in the assessment resulted in the establishment of two priority goals: reducing impervious surfaces, such as pavement, and protecting vegetated areas, like woodlands.
Board Chair Philip Damicis noted that Planning Board members usually walk proposed development sites to determine which features should be preserved.
“Generally, there’s areas where there’s wetlands, maybe buffering a river or some body of water,” he said. “I think what we try to do is, we try to create contiguous open space, create greenways, so if we have existing open space, we try to link those together.”
Another tenet of LID is the reduction of areas devoted to lawns. Damicis said he expected to encounter resistance to a proposal to reduce lawns in residential subdivisions.
“It’s such a standard for a number of reasons,” he said. “I think private developers - it’s easier to plant the lawn, walk away from it, you’re done, rather than have to come up with some kind of landscaping.”
One way to make progress toward attaining the goals articulated in the assessment is a design concept already familiar to Richmond planners known as conservation development, which clusters buildings and protects at least half of the site as open space.
However, Damicis pointed out that another feature of conservation developments, where the lots were clustered and therefore, smaller, is lawns that usually continue all the way to the street.
“They basically take it right to the edge of the pavement,” he said.
While he recognized the benefits of conservation development, Damicis repeated his assertion that he did not believe a proposal to reduce the sizes of lawns would get a warm reception.
“We’d get too much pushback,” he said. “We’ve already taken these two-acre lots and said ‘you can only develop really a half acre’.’”
Board Vice Chair Nancy Hess suggested looking at public rights of way.
“We need to look at our right of way, our street profile design, what width of pavement are we requiring and then, within the right of way, what’s happening on the shoulders of the pavement that’s controlled by the town,” she said.
In other business, the board resumed a discussion, which began at the March 22 meeting, of amendments to the town’s Aquifer Protection Overlay District ordinance.
Members continued their consideration of “compliance, development standards and procedural requirements” as well as permitted activities within the district, which has been divided into two sub-districts: a groundwater and wellhead protection area and a second sub-district, which comprises the groundwater recharge zone.
Board members are going through the use table, considering each use and whether it should be permitted in one or both sub-districts, either by right or by special use permit. The discussion is expected to continue at the next meeting in May.
Beaver River Valley Community Association
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