There’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing creeping into Charlestown under the cloak of the seemingly benign and friendly title of a “Conservation Design” amendment to the zoning ordinance.” There will be a Public Hearing on this scheme on Monday, July 11, 2022 at 7:00 PM at the Charlestown Council Chambers.
Proposed by the Planning Commission, the long-standing cluster subdivision regulations (which also had problems) would be repealed and replaced. The following changes would be enacted:
From 50% to 70% (depending upon the zoning district) of a property owner’s developable property would be required to be set aside for “open space” owned by the Town, or a third party such as a non-profit. This is an increase from 40%, with no stated rationale. This land grab would be in addition to restrictions against development on “constrained lands” such as wetlands or slopes. So, if you have a property with 10% undevelopable land, you will be left with only 20% land that you can develop.
Of the land that will be required to be “open space” only 10% of the land could be used for active recreation. This is a reduction from thirty-five percent under the current regulation, with no stated rationale for the change. And, only 5% of the land in open space will be permitted to be impervious (think basketball courts or tennis courts) which is a decrease from 25% under current regulations. And, the type of recreation allowed will be determined by the Commission and may be disallowed if it finds the recreational uses “negatively impact the conservation values.” Again, no rationale for this change.
Land which the Planning Commission deems to be “environmentally disturbed or damaged” will not be accepted for a conservation development until the land has been “restored to a condition satisfactory to the Planning Commission. The term “environmentally disturbed or damaged” is not defined in the ordinance and could easily be interpreted by this Commission to mean land that has had some or all trees previously removed. Far too much “discretion” vested in the Commission will undoubtedly result in denial of rights.
Maximum lot coverage for 20,000 square foot lots will be 15%, whereas the same size lot in other areas of the town permit up to a 20% lot coverage. No reason provided for treating the same size lot differently.
The Planning Commission proposes that it retain the right to limit private ownership of the open space and reject a homeowners’ association “where necessary to contribute to a connecting greenway system or to provide public access to open space.” This is clearly a taking of private property for a public purpose, without compensation!
Only single family homes permitted, no duplexes.
These enumerated items are simply the “highlights” of this overt land grab. If you own land in Charlestown that you hoped to develop someday, you need to read this ordinance and take appropriate steps to protect your property rights.
Margaret L. (Maggie) Hogan Charlestown
This article appeared as a Letter to the Editor in The Westerly Sun on July 6, 2022.