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Planning Board gives busy council draft regulations

March 26, 2012

Special to the Standard

EXETER – After 10 months of intensive work, last week the Exeter planning board presented the town council a working draft of regulatory changes that will be needed before the village concept introduced in “A Vision for Exeter” proceeds.
The council received the proposal – including updates of rules pertaining to zoning, land use and future development rights – at a joint work session and while voicing appreciation for the board's hard work, said there's no time right now to study or act on the recommended updates.
“I think they did an excellent job,” says council president Arline Hicks. “But we have to wait until we’re done with the budget. That’s our priority between now and May” when the financial town meeting will be held.
“We won’t do anything more [with the planning board’s proposal] until the budget work is done. Then we’ll sit down and things can go forward.”
Town Planner David W. Schweib is disappointed but is putting a positive spin on the council's response.
“It would be nice to get the [required] public hearings going but that probably won’t happen all that quickly because they have an overwhelming amount” of other tasks.
“We can take advantage of the slow period. It's a really good time to sit back and think about [what will happen] when development begins to grow,” he adds. “What do we want it to look like?”
At present, the two areas being contemplated for village development, a concept that controls development while preserving farms and open space, are Route 2 at Exeter Road and the intersection of Rts. 3 and 102, in the far western end of town.
Under the “Vision for Exeter” – a blueprint derived from the larger Borderlands Village Innovation Project – developers would take the initiative in approaching the planning board for approval to build under the new regulations.
“The draft [changes] would require a zone change to the overlay” of the existing zoning map,” Schweib explains. Once the change is okayed, a developer “gets the right to build a village.”
A sticking point is the issue of granting permission to pay a fee in lieu of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR).
This system is another way in which controlled density in a village is offset with conserved open space. It's also an incentive to builders who otherwise might not be interested in the village concept.
According to Schweib, payments are based on the number of units. If a permit is issued to build one unit per four acres and the developer wants an increase – from 25 units to 100, for instance – he has to either contribute more money per housing unit or buy development rights from someone else.
Schweib says the TDR payments “would go into a fund to be used to purchase open space including farms or forested land.”
Planning board member Bill Haas is strongly opposed to the payment system and town councilman Dan Patterson, a former member of both the planning and zoning panels, agrees.
”It’s going to be a tough sell,” he predicts. “There’s a lot o density there [at the Exeter Road-Route 2 site]. “Fees in lieu of buying development rights is going to create another layer of bureaucracy. It will drive the cost of housing up.
“They’ve got their work cut out for them” to gain public support.
Schweib agrees that establishing a private land trust as has been done in other municipalities such as South Kingstown “is preferable.”
He adds, “It's something we probably would do. It seems unlikely in the current economic climate that we’ll have someone knocking on the door wanting to build a village” anytime soon.

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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