Plenty of finger-pointing for delays in revision of town’s Comprehensive Plan

Plenty of finger-pointing for delays in revision of town’s Comprehensive Plan

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — The Planning Board received a 90-minute-long explanation Thursday of why it is taking so long to revise the Comprehensive Plan, the document that establishes municipal development and preservation goals and priorities. The explanation came from a member of the citizens advisory committee working on the project, who also read a statement from the panel’s chairwoman, and from Nancy LeTendre, a consultant hired to assist on the project who is now the town’s planning and zoning lawyer.

The committee was appointed in February 2015. According to committee chairwoman Gail Mallard’s statement, which was read by Joseph MacAndrew, a member of the committee, after meeting for about six months as both subcommittees and as a full committee, the group did not meet for about six months. Leading up to the dormancy period the committee had very little input into the revision, which was being worked on by Mason & Associates Inc., a North Scituate-based firm. During the inactive period about half of the committee members resigned, according to Mallard’s statement.

Last fall, what remained of the committee received a draft version of the plan from Mason & Associates. According to Mallard’s statement, there were dozens of instances of missing material in the draft. In other cases, she said, the material was outdated.

The committee is nearing completion of a review of the plan’s appendices and then plans a final review of the entire document. The plan itself is 103 pages. Its appendices total 174 pages.

Ultimately, according to Mallard’s statement, the committee will not propose significant changes to the plan. The plan should be “clear and internally consistent...with a vision and action plans that we believe will generate community support,” the statement said.

Like the current plan, the proposed version will call for protecting the environment, providing for safe and affordable housing, and economic development, Mallard’s statement says. One significant proposed change calls for an increase in allowable housing density in the town’s “urban core” to allow for more affordable housing.

State law requires a full-scale comprehensive plan revision every 10 years and a less intensive review every five years. The current project is a five-year review, but advisory committee member MacAndrew said the scope of the work is significant. “We were told this was just an is a complete and total was way more than expected,” he said. MacAndrew also serves as chairman of the town’s Conservation Commission.

The committee was hindered, MacAndrew said, by an initial order not to elect officers and by the delay in receiving a draft of the plan from Mason & Associates. MacAndrew also pushed back on recent statements accusing the committee of lacking a sense of urgency. “That is absolutely inaccurate ... we are dedicated and we know this is important,” he said.

Jack Armstrong, Planning Board chairman, who had commented on the matter of urgency, said his board “knows you guys are working very hard.”

LeTendre, who worked on the plan for Mason& Associates, said the firm was initially hired only to advise the committee and to facilitate public meetings intended to get input from residents. Rewriting duties initially were to be handled by the town staff, she said. As time went on the firm was asked to take over those duties and LeTendre became the project manager.

The process has taken longer than some anticipated for several reasons, LeTendre said. Primarily, she said, the state legislature acted in 2011 to have municipalities incorporate comprehensive plans as local ordinances. As a result, Westerly’s plan had to be rewritten to remove language that would cause problems if legally challenged. She also acknowledged that the draft her firm submitted was incomplete but said in many instances the firm left sections open for the committee to complete by providing the type of local input only residents could provide. She also said her firm’s work was stymied by a lack of input and assistance from the town staff. “I was trying to get direction but it wasn’t coming,” she said.

The housing section of the plan had to be rewritten to reflect a requirement that plans include strategic steps for meeting the requirements of state affordable housing laws. Strategy for economic development must also be included, LeTendre said.

This story was edited at 2:37 p.m. on Oct. 7 to correct references to Joseph MacAndrew, a member of the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Commission, whose last name was incorrect in some references in an earlier version.


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