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NARRAGANSETT - On Tuesday evening, The Historic District Commission (HDC) discussed its role in the ongoing process of updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Representatives from Horsley and Witten Group, a professional and environmental services firm based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, have been meeting with numerous department heads and members of the town’s Boards and Commissions in order to research what they feel needs to be addressed in a new Comprehensive Plan.
HDC Chair Keith Lescarbeau led the discussion about how the needs and functions of the Commission will be outlined in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan.
“Regarding the HDC aspect, we discussed the importance of enlarging our districts to include more properties than the 150 out of 9,00o we have now,” said Lescarbeau. “We stress the importance of being a resource to guide and help [homeowners] with restoration efforts.”
Lescarbeau also spoke about the number of projects that have been completed under the guidance of the HDC, as well as the need for its service as a reference for future projects as well.
“There is work coming up, such as the lentils of [the Town Hall], which are coming of as we speak,” said Lescarbeau. “There has been great progress in the last 10 years at places like The Towers, Kinney Bungalow, and the Sunset Farm house.”
“Essentially, if that continued for anoher five to 10 years, the town infrastructure would be in pretty good shape,” he added.
Director of Community Development Michael DeLuca has been the contact between the Boards and Commissions and Horsley and Witten Groups representatives throughout the spring and fall, providing insight to both sides in order to ultimately accomplish a well-informed and useful Comprehensive Plan.
“[The Boards and Commissions] are using the same verbs, but when you maintain the assets you have, you enhance the quality of life in town,” said DeLuca. “We have the added value of being a tourist attraction, and all of these things add up subliminally to why people come her instead of Newport or somewhere else,”
“Our historic district is attached to the beach area, for example, and not too many communities have that,” he added. “Those types of things add up.”
HDC members also discussed the process through which they have been apprised of the Comprehensive Plan update, holding a meeting with other Boards and Commissions members in recent months in order to assess mutual concerns and reflections about the town’s operation.
“I think what became obvious and what really came forth right from the beginning is that even though we are all dealing with different parts of the town, there is a lot of common ground between these groups,” said Lescarbeau. “We care about the town and have very specific ideas as to how it can be better, and some of the things you want to avoid.”
“I was really impressed with what people had to say, like the work on the bird sanctuary off the Escape Road,” said HDC member David Presbrey. “I had no idea that that had been worked on, and the way it sounded is that it is a tremendous success and a clean sanctuary. I was so impressed with that discussion.”
Another topic that was touched upon at the Boards and Commissions meeting was the importance of reinvigorating the Narragansett population, and the need for the upcoming Comprehensive Plan to outline potential opportunities for young families to live in town permanently.
“One of the things that we realize is that our school age population has been diminishing over the past 10 years and our elderly population has been increasing,” said DeLuca. “We have to prepare for the next generation of families to live here, and if the young people in town [can’t] afford a home, we are really not doing well by our current inhabitants.”
“Our problem is getting people into the reasonably priced homes,” he added. “The rest of it works pretty well. The taxes take care of themselves and we have a school system into which parents are comfortable to place their children.”
Lescarbeau added to DeLuca’s comments, stating that the ratio of seasonal units to longer-term rentals needs to be brought into a better balance throughout the town.
“I made a point that the town could incentivize homeowners renting homes to do it for one-year rentals,” said Lescarbeau. “There is a big difference between a family in a home or five to six individuals who don’t take ownership, or those on a vacation with friends showing up for a week.”
“If you crunch the numbers between renting seasonally and those on a full-term lease, there is no a lot of difference,” he added. “If somehow this abundance of rental property we have could become yearly leases, we would now have families that would bring in young people, require less policing, and quiet the neighborhoods down.”
DeLuca noted that such a change in mindset would not even have to be drastic, and that the Comprehensive Plan should guide the town in the future should it make plans to address housing issues.
“In the vein of the Comprehensive Plan, we have to have the discussion about the tension between seasonal versus full time housing and set a reasonable goal, thinking about implementation,” said DeLuca. “We probably don’t need a huge incentive to get 300 to 400 people to switch to full-term rentals.”
“I think we have to have that conversation and identify workable, innovative incentives, not pie in the sky stuff that we can’t do and things that don’t fit the town,” he added. “We are talking about recharging the base of the community.”