Not surprisingly, the tax rate ranks as one of the most important issues facing the city’s future. But equally important, according to a survey conducted by the city Planning Department, are job growth and improving the overall neighborhood quality of life.
All three issues were deemed “very important” by more than 70 percent of the 694 respondents to a survey that will help set a course for the city over the next 20 years. More than 60 percent of the respondents ranked improved education and improving the appearance of major roads and commercial corridors as very important.
The lengthy survey, that could be completed online and in hard copy, also rated the city’s desirable characteristics; whether neighborhood conditions are worsening or improving; major neighborhood issues and factors impacting the decision to live here and what they would like to see in the future.
There were also direct yes and no questions. A total of 433 respondents said the city should have more public access and parking to open space properties and 493 agreed that the state should purchase the remaining land at Rocky Point.
Interestingly, once the park is purchased, about 50 percent favored using the land as a place for community gatherings like events and activities such as concerts and, to lesser degrees, favored a mixed use of active and passive recreation, open space preservation with a mix of active recreation and commercial business, such as a restaurant.
Survey results will serve as a backdrop to an “open house” and meeting Nov. 15 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Buttonwoods Community Center. At the session, people will have the opportunity to review and comment on the drafted goals and policies of the comprehensive land use plan, said senior planner Dan Geagan.
The process of drafting the plan was made possible with an $80,000 grant from Statewide Planning and has involved a series of workshops where people were invited to share what they like, dislike and would like to improve in their neighborhoods. Common themes reflected in the survey were the location and convenience to goods, services and shopping, low crime rate and parks, recreation and open space as desirable city attributes.
“I feel like it’s a country setting in a city with small hamlets connected to each other. Very few cities are like it in this country,” writes one respondent to what they like best about Warwick.
Other positive comments name “a sense of belonging,” central location and proximity to the bay, shopping, the airport, educational facilities and Kent Hospital.
“I also feel that it is a safe place to live,” writes one respondent.
On the negative side, the biggest issues facing residential neighborhoods were the number of foreclosed and abandoned houses; property maintenance; and enforcement of minimum housing codes. Some mentioned airport noise as a problem.
Looking forward, City Planner William DePasquale finds that one of the city’s best assets is its diverse tax base.
“It is no different than investments in a 401k,” he said, explaining that, just as it is risky to invest one’s personal assets in one or two securities, it would be a mistake to overweight one form of land use. He wants to see the preservation of light industrial land that he fears could be lost to retail use without revisions to the zoning laws, which is of concern particularly in the Warwick Station Development District and its environs.
DePasquale wants the city to have the opportunity to house manufacturing, which he sees as making a comeback. Also, he is concerned about existing light industrial space, such as the Leviton property, being converted into “big box” retail that would have an adverse impact on the “smaller intimate scale” of retail development in the station district.
“We don’t want area poaching,” DePasquale said. Changes in the law, which he is proposing, would require review before light industrial land is converted to retail use.
As for the city’s retail, DePasquale finds the Route 2 corridor can be improved with measures aimed at enhancing traffic flow. He takes into account those survey results showing more people favor neighborhood retail development over single-family homes that are ahead of mixed-use development, industrial office and condominiums. A preponderance of survey respondents were neutral, disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “I do not support revitalization” of village areas.
The survey also conducted an appraisal of current land uses and whether people thought there was either too much, not enough or about enough land devoted to that particular use. A total of 68 percent found the city has about the right amount of single-family homes while 65 percent said they would like to see more boating and waterfront development. There was also a high demand for more small village mixed land use, natural areas and wildlife habitat and recreational facilities. Retail shopping at 26 percent received the highest ranking of being “too much.”
Complete survey results are available on warwickcomplan.com. The site also provides a meeting schedule and people are able to sign up for email updates, said Geagan.