WESTERLY — The public comment period on the working draft of the revised Comprehensive Plan has been extended a second time.
The comment period started in early November and had previously been extended once. It was extended again at the request of the Economic Development Commission to the Planning Board during the board's Dec. 17 meeting, according to Lisa Pellegrini, director of the town's Department of Development Services. The board extended the comment period, which was set to expire on Dec. 19, by six weeks.
Pellegrini, on Monday, told the Town Council that the extended comment period would allow the Economic Development Commission and the local business community to continue providing input on the plan, which has been under revision since early 2015. Additionally, the commission is scheduled to appear before the Planning Board during the board's Jan. 21 meeting to discuss the commission's proposed format changes. The board is scheduled to discuss the plan's proposed form-based code initiative during the same meeting. Form-based code is a land development regulation intended to foster predictable results by using physical form rather than separation of uses.
Pellegrini and her staff are working to incorporate the comments into a "red-line" version of the draft to make the comments available to town officials, residents and others as the revision process continues.
"We are very happy to have received a wealth of positive feedback from a very engaged community," Pellegrini said.
Many comments have related to the working draft's categorization of golf courses into an open space category on the plan's future land use map. While the golf courses would not be rezoned, their owners have raised concerns that the open space designation would impede their ability to add new facilities as if they had been rezoned.
Pellegrini said the open space category was intended to include open space in several zone,s including commercial, recreation, and open space/recreation. In response to the concerns, Pellegrini said, town officials are proposing the implementation of three new open space categories (agriculture, conservation, and recreation) on the future land use map. "That is coming. We've listened to what we have heard," she said.
Planning Board Chairman James Hall IV said the open space category was not intended as a rezone or to change land owners' current rights. Hall, a lawyer, encouraged the EDC and business owners to attend Planning Board meetings and contribute to the work on the plan. "This has been one of the most wonderful democratic processes that I've been involved with as an attorney or as a person involved in our town," he said.
In response to other comments, Pellegrini said officials plan to condense and categorize the plan's action items. Some feedback on the revisions has suggested that the 201 action items are too many. There were 57 action items in the current plan, which was adopted in 2010.
The longer comment period will allow for incorporating feedback from the state Division of Statewide Planning into the plan draft as well as new maps, Pellegrini said. Under the new revision schedule, the Planning Board should receive a new revised working draft on Feb. 20. The revised working draft will be posted on the municipal website on Feb. 24 and hard copies will be available at Town Hall for a fee.
Additional comments on the plan will be accepted when the Planning Board opens a public hearing on March 24. The hearing is expected to be continued to March 31. An additional hearing date of April 7 is being reserved in case it is needed. Once the public hearing is complete, the Planning Board will consider the comments it has received and will eventually consider a recommendation on the plan to the Town Council, which will also conduct a public hearing on the plan.
Once the Town Council approves the plan it will be submitted to the Division of Statewide Planning for final consideration.