WESTERLY — A working draft of the town's revised Comprehensive Plan is available for review and comments on it are being accepted.

Once adopted, it is anticipated that the plan will cover the period from 2020 to 2040. It will replace the current plan that was adopted in 2010. The working draft is available for review at www.westerlyri.gov/CP2020.

State law requires municipalities to maintain comprehensive plans to guide land use, development and preservation as well as transportation, housing, infrastructure and energy, economic vitality, recreation, natural resources, historic and cultural resources and resiliency.

"It's the most critical document for the town. By state law this has to be the basis for all of our ordinances and zoning," Town Council President Christopher Duhamel said Monday when an overview of the draft was presented to the council.

Work on the new version started in 2015, one year before the current version expired, and was originally intended to be an update of the plan. But the project grew in scope to what officials say is a full-scale rewrite because of new standards adopted by the Statewide Planning Council.

The 267-page draft contains four sections and a glossary. The first section is an introduction that reviews the plan's vision and strategies. The second section concerns implementation, or what the draft describes as "the process that turns strategies and plans into actions and outcomes."

"The second section also equates new suggested policies to what they were in the 2010, and hopefully from that section you can get a sense for how the document evolved since 2010," said Town Planner Nancy Letendre.

The third section is an inventory and analysis of how existing conditions in the town fit into planning. The fourth section consists of maps based on GIS data. 

The current public comment period is a prelude to the normal public hearing process, when the public will have additional opportunities to comment in separate hearings before the Planning Board and the Town Council. Prior to the public hearings, LeTendre said town staff members will present the Town Council with proposed zoning changes and amendments to the municipal zoning regulations. There are "very few and very limited" zone change proposals, she said.

The current public comment period is anticipated to remain open until 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 9. The comments will be assimilated into the plan before proposed final versions are submitted to the Planning Board and the Town Council after Jan. 1. The Planning Board will eventually issue an advisory opinion on the proposed new plan to the Town Council, which can accept or reject it. Assuming that the council approves the plan, it will be submitted to the Statewide Planning Office, which will review it and seek input from the state Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council.

Letendre offered to meet individually with members of the Town Council to answer questions, but one councilor said she favored a public process.

"I think that if councilors have substantive questions they shouldn't be going in and speaking with staff individually. I think those substantive questions should be heard by all of us and the public," said Councilor Sharon Ahern.

Councilor William Aiello asked Letendre to provide the council with a summary of proposed major changes.

The working draft is the product of work by a consultant, advisory commission, the Planning Board and municipal staff. The Planning Board sought input from citizens and land use lawyers as well as from the Zoning Board of Review, the Architectural Board of Review and the Economic Development Commission. The Planning Board also conducted a line-by-line reading of the plan, according to James Hall IV, Planning Board chairman.

"We didn't come up with new ideas unless it was based in something that was either required by the state or was something that was in the 2010 document that required some ongoing change," Hall said.

Several options are available to make public comments. Written comments can be presented to the Department of Development Services, Planning Office:

1. In person or by mail to Town of Westerly, Planning Office 45 Broad St., Westerly, RI 02891;

2. Via email to CompPlanFeedback@westerlyri.gov;

3. Online with the community online feedback tool available at www.westerlyri.gov/Feedback.

In addition, a work session open to the public will be held by the Planning Board on Nov. 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Town Hall. The Town Council work session will be Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

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