By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN—Monday’s meeting of the North Kingstown Town Council saw the Rt 2-102 stakeholder group submitting a 101-page document detailing its visioning process research, findings and recommendations for moving forward with the Rt. 2-102 intersection project.
Presented by Planning Director Jon Reiner, the stakeholder report, a collaboration of work between several agencies including the Town Planning Department, its consultants, the Horsley Witten Group, the Consensus Building Institute and Dodson & Flinker Architects, chronicles the establishment and process taken by a 16-member stakeholder group in vetting the visioning process for the Rt. 2-102 intersection.
The stakeholder group, comprised of interest group members from North Kingstown and its abutting neighbor Exeter, presented its report compiled over four months’ time. Meeting five times as a group and in three public workshops, the group reached a consensus on the future of the intersection.
In a hurried process, due to the pending general election and resultant seating of a new council in December, the group met twice in November to vote on recommendations and present a final draft report. The report was also submitted to the Planning Commission for review as it considered the pending applications of Mark L. Hawkins, owner and developer of Rolling Greens, requesting amendment to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
Also on the Council agenda for approval, the two items were tabled due to the development’s
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Master Plan not reaching commission approval at the Nov. 14 meeting due to time constraints. The development’s consideration and direct impact on the Visioning process were discussed at length by the Council and Reiner in vetting the recommendations made by the stakeholder group.
Ona Ferguson, Senior Associate at the Consensus Building Institute, who worked closely with the group in reaching consensus, presented a more detailed picture of the visioning process. Noting that the stakeholder group represented several interest groups in both residential and business concerns, in addition to approximately 143 citizens participating at meetings and online, Ferguson gave a consolidated report on the group’s overall decisions.
A key focus for the group was the importance of maintaining the area’s rural character and limiting buildings to two-story structures.
Three parcels under consideration by the group were the Schartner Farms property, the Rolling Greens Development and the Bald Hill Nursery/Corner Tavern property. The properties, all having different primary make-up, created a concern for the stakeholder group in considering a change in zoning from General Business (GB) to Compact Village Development (CVD). Of particular concern was the Bald Hill and Corner Tavern property that would suffer a potential downgrade in zoning and property rights.
Outgoing council members, Mike Bestwick and Charles Stamm questioned the potential diminishment or revocation of property rights.
“I don’t agree with the change from GB to CVD. It should remain GB, with an option for CVD,” Bestwick said. “You are taking away their rights. It’s wrong.”
Re-elected Council President, Elizabeth Dolan took a stronger stance on the issue. “If I were a landowner, I would rush right down next week with an application for something under the preexisting zoning - before it’s changed.”
Bestwick also questioned a contingency issue voted on by the stakeholders. “Is this going to be voted on in one package or separately?,” he asked. Why “is Rolling Greens approval contingent on Schartner being approved?”
Ferguson addressed the Council questions as to why the three parcels are contingent upon the resolution of the Schartner issue.
“Ideally, from my perspective, the whole thing would have been one package,” she said. ”I was hoping to get to that point, but we didn’t get to that point.”
Explaining the voting process, it was revealed that there was no true consensus, as the same criteria had not been applied to all parcels.
The stakeholder group specifically requested the test based on contingency. When voting commenced, however, the full outcome was not determined, as the group did not apply the test with all three parcels per Ferguson.
Several members of the stakeholder group testified, including Frank DiGregorio, representing the Town of Exeter and its planning commission. DiGregorio was not a voting member, but attended and gave testimony at several meetings. Testifying before the Council, the seasoned commission member expressed his concerns with the elimination of Mark Hawkins and the Bald Hill property owners, municipalities and State of Rhode Island as stakeholders.
Also of concern for the Exeter representative was the apparent rush to get the project through the process prior to change in the Council makeup.
“The fact that the process was being rushed so the current council could vote and decide what happens in the area,” he said. “[And] the fact that the dates for the meetings have been very [rushed], I am wondering if it was intentional.”
The report and proposed changes to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance are scheduled to be heard at a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and Council to be held on Nov. 29.