Just how binding is a town's Comprehensive Plan? That was the main question at a meeting Monday with the Town Council and the Planning Board. The Comp Plan (as it is known) was drawn up over the past two years and addresses every aspect of life in East Greenwich – natural resources, open space and recreation, cultural resources, housing, economic development, community services, transportation, natural hazards, and land use.
Not surprisingly, the plan is big, just shy of 200 pages. The state – which must grant final approval – has looked at the draft plan and submitted its comments. The Town Council, which has met with the Planning Board from time to time over the past two years to discuss the plan’s progress, was looking at a completed draft for the first time.
“There are some elements here that, I would just say, I would not vote for as an ordinance presented to the town,” said Town Council President Michael Isaacs. In particular, Isaacs said he did not like the idea of allowing “tax treaties” for area businesses. (The plan does not call for tax treaties specifically, but does suggest they are one way to support local businesses.)
Councilor Brad Bishop, chair of the Planning Board through most of the work on this most recent Comp Plan, said the plan was meant to pose this question: “Where does the town see itself going over the next two decades?”
Planning Director Lisa Bourbonnais added, "The role of the Comp Plan is as a broad policy document. The Planning Board did not at all try to pre-suppose the content of a future ordinance."
That said, she acknowledged there are timelines to follow. "The state does sort of mandate between 18 months and 2 years adoption of all the specific zoning recommendations and other regulatory actions," she said.
"So happens if we have in there that we’ll consider a particular ordinance, and the state thinks we’re going to adopt it and we decide, no, we’re not going to adopt it?" asked Isaacs.
"You amend the plan, you take out that part and you tell the state you tried but the public wasn’t behind it," Bourbonnais said.
"If we really think that philosophically it's expressing something that we don’t want, then I don’t think that should be in the plan," said Isaacs.
The Council decided to meet again with the Planning Board later this month in a workshop session, to review particulars of the plan, before holding another public hearing.