This month the Rhode Island Division of Planning’s Statewide Planning Program will host a series of six workshops to get feedback from citizens on community growth, with one scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Buttonwoods Community Center starting at 5 p.m.
The workshops represent the last step in the four-part Great Places workshop series, which was one part of Governor Lincoln Chafee’s RhodeMap RI planning process. The three previous workshop series featured the identification, mapping and intersection of green resources, economic resources and social resources.
“The Great Places workshops are one part of RhodeMap RI’s comprehensive effort to strengthen the state’s economy, create vibrant neighborhoods and prepare for future growth,” stated Director of Administration Richard Licht. “Input from participants will be critical to the development of the strategic plans the state is creating to address these issues.”
All of the previous workshops have built up to this one. “We’ve had three rounds; this is kind of the culmination,” explained Kevin Flynn, director of the Department of Administration’s Division of Planning. He said these workshops would review previous information and present new findings. “I don’t want people to think if they went to the other ones, it’s not worth it to come to this one.”
This final series, which starts on Jan. 8 in North Smithfield, will look to bring together all of the information collected and create a comprehensive look at both conservation and development opportunities across the state.
“It’s part of the larger macro view of the state,” said Warwick City Planner Bill DePasquale. DePasquale explained that his office has been represented throughout the stages of this process, and that the City is working to create multiple growth centers. “The city has a lot to offer,” he said.
Flynn explained that the Great Places workshops have been trying to identify areas in the state that should be conserved, such as agricultural land, ground water resources, forest areas, etc., as well as high priority areas for development or further development.
“Where do we have infrastructure or where have communities already made efforts,” explained Flynn. He went on to say that previous workshops were used to make maps and identify these various areas throughout the state.
“This round is to take those maps and analysis and put together strategies for conservation and development,” said Flynn.
Could lead to new policies
Feedback from the workshops could lead to new state policies for economic development, housing, environmental protection and land use, on a broader, statewide scale.
“These workshops are a great opportunity for everyone to participate and contribute to a vision for the future of Rhode Island,” Chafee said in a press release. “When we work together, our communities can strengthen and thrive.”
DePasquale explained that his department has been looking at plans for development and plans for conservation for some time. “We’d like to conserve the open space that already exists,” said DePasquale.
He said the city plans to concentrate development on those areas that are already developed. To name an example, DePasquale explained that it would be more beneficial to leave an open field as it is and update an older or abandoned development instead.
“What we’re doing in Warwick is just that,” said DePasquale.
The most obviously example of that is the redevelopment of the Warwick Station District, now known as City Centre Warwick. DePasquale said in the 1960s the area was mostly used for manufacturing, an industry that is no longer present in the state. The area is now being re-established around the transportation hub in the hopes of building up the area once again.
DePasquale said the goal is really to re-develop in a dense area instead of continuing to build out. “They are large concepts, but the concept is to redevelop the areas we already have,” said DePasquale.
Another opportunity for development DePasquale mentioned is returning the villages of Apponaug and Conimicut to their previous, walkable nature.
“That compact, mixed use development,” said DePasquale. “Someone could walk to get a cup of coffee or pizza or another service … The City of Warwick has been pretty proactive in looking at this kind of development.”
As for conservation of open space, DePasquale believes that the future plans for Rocky Point Park are a good example of what Warwick can do to maintain open space. “In preserving that open space, that really solves the problem of conserving,” he explained.
Another strategy that Flynn hopes will come from this workshop is to have communities look at underutilized areas such as older strip malls. “How can we develop something to help communities look at an area like that and make it better?” said Flynn.
Overall, DePasquale believes that this Great Places initiative will benefit the state. “This is a great initiative. It forces us to think locally and macro-ly,” he said. “It’s really getting everyone together and getting everyone to look at Rhode Island as a whole.”
He also knows that if any decision is made to expand developments across town lines, there are challenges that would have to be faced. However, he hopes this process will help to build stronger relationships with neighboring communities.
Flynn believes it is important to garner feedback from the public to provide a different perspective. “We can provide consultants working on mapping but they’re not perfect,” said Flynn, who explained the maps are based on a variety of tools including aerial photography. “It’s good to know from the local perspective.”
Flynn said that by working with the general public to create this plan, his department might be alerted to areas that they didn’t know about because they are not in the community on a regular basis.
All workshops will begin at 5 p.m. with a presentation, followed by an interactive session for attendees to give input. Attendees will learn about potential growth centers, key transportation networks and Green networks, as well as the economic role of each center, potential future growth and how centers in particular cities and towns could fit into the regional economy. The effect of local conservation priorities, and hazards due to storms and flooding on the future growth of cities and towns, as well as infrastructure grants will also be topics of discussion.
Registration is not necessary and the workshops are open to the public. Although each workshop focuses on a specific region of the state, the issues are statewide and interested parties are welcome to attend whatever workshop is most convenient.
The workshops are as follows:
• Blackstone Valley: Wednesday, Jan. 8 at The Meadows North Smithfield (2 Village Way, North Smithfield) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• Southern Rhode Island: Thursday, Jan. 9 at Richmond-Carolina Fire District H.L. Arnold Fire and Safety Complex (208 Richmond Townhouse Road, Richmond) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• Newport County: Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the Ramada Inn (425 East Main Road, Middletown) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• Greater Providence: Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Buttonwoods Community Center (3027 Shore Road, Warwick) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• East Bay: Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Barrington Town Council Chamber (283 County Road, Barrington) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
• Northwestern Rhode Island: Thursday, Jan. 23 at Smith Library (100 Tinkham Lane, Harrisville) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Following the conclusion of this workshop series, Flynn and his department will compile all of the information collected from experts and the public through hearings to create one final report that will provide strategies for conservation and development that individual communities will be able to take and apply however they see fit.
“We are not trying to tell cities and towns where to have growth centers. We’re trying to provide them with the tools to make that decision,” said Flynn.
The overall goal of the workshops has been to help cities and town make good decision about their future land use.
“Land use is constantly changing,” said Flynn. “How do we go forward trying to conserve those areas that are important to conserve and how to we develop those other areas differently?”
And that land use will vary in Flynn’s opinion. Some cities may be looking for ways to make more walkable areas, while others may be looking to increase their use of public transportation.
One example Flynn could deliver was Warwick’s new City Centre Warwick. He explained that the new area is an example of a growth center, but it is not the same strategy that would likely be applied to further develop Apponaug Village.
“Even within a community like Warwick, you’re going to see a lot of different growth centers,” said Flynn. The same will be seen across different cities and towns.
DePasquale added that this project has shown the benefits of re-developing current areas while maintaining green space. “You really see the need to stop the urban sprawl,” he said, explaining that developing open space also requires roads to access the area, along with the need to maintain it. “The more you extend roads, extend the infrastructure, the more costly it is to maintain it,” he said.
Flynn also sees the danger of expanding the urban sprawl. “If we just keep developing as the state has, with low-density residential sprawl, we’ll be out of land,” said Flynn. “We don’t have the land available to just keep building out and out. We aren’t Iowa; we aren’t Texas.” This final report should help communities learn to grow, while still maintaining the current landscape that makes Rhode Island unique.
Results from previous workshops were presented in February 2012 in the “Economy Rhode Island” and “An Equity Profile of Rhode Island” reports. Those reports, which analyzed state demographics, business climate and economic competitiveness, can be found on www.
rhodemapri.org. Flynn explained that The Division of Planning hopes to have the comprehensive report from this final series complete this year; they were tasked to have the report completed by February 2015, as per the grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.