WESTERLY — The Town Council will begin reviewing a draft version of the revised Comprehensive Plan later this month and hopes to complete its work, including public hearings, by Election Day in early November.
The revision project, which started in February 2015, was initially intended to be a less intense update of the plan, but it grew in scope to a full rewrite to accommodate new standards adopted by the Statewide Planning Council.
Council President Christopher Duhamel encouraged the council to complete its work before the Nov. 3 election.
"It's going to be difficult to go beyond the election. If it does, it's going to start all over again," Duhamel said during the council's meeting on Monday.
On Monday the council agreed to schedule work sessions for Aug. 13, 19, and 24 and to schedule a public hearing for Sept. 21.
Officials said multiple public hearings would be conducted or the first one would be recessed and continued to different days to allow multiple opportunities for residents and others to comment. Some councilors said they were hesitant to commit to a public hearing date until the council started its work, but Duhamel said the council would benefit from early public input.
"If there's something egregious that is going to effect their property, I want to hear about it," Duhamel said.
Councilor Sharon Ahern recommended a deliberate process, starting the council's review process, and then scheduling additional meetings. The nine-section plan and accompanying maps set out the town's preservation and development goals and serve as the foundation for planning, zoning and other ordinances.
"This is going to be a big dig … each meeting could end up being long," Ahern said.
Councilor William Aiello said the council should consider conducting public information meetings as a means to solicit additional input from residents and others. He noted the council used the same approach when working on the municipal Harbor Management Plan.
James Hall IV, Planning Board chairman, discussed the process that led to the plan being ready for review by the Town Council. The Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee conducted 24 meetings on the plan in 2015 and 18 meetings in 2016, he said. The Planning Board conducted 34 meetings on the plan from 2016-2019, including separate three-hour-long meetings on resiliency and economics. In 2019, the board conducted three additional work sessions and three public hearings on the plan, Hall said. The board also received more than 100 written submissions on the plan, he said.
"This is not a competed document that I offer but it is a substantial document that is going in the right direction," Hall said.
Once the council signs off on the plan it must be submitted to the state Division of Statewide Planning for approval. The town's current plan, which was adopted in 2010, expired in 2016.