NARRAGANSETT—With Horsley Witten Group about to put the final touches on the baseline report, a document which holds the most current data of the town, from land use and housing to economic development and public services, the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update comes closer into focus. The professional and environmental services firm based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has been in continuous discussions with town officials and the public to create a better informed Plan, and met again last Tuesday with the Planning Board to address the finalization of the baseline report.
“We’ve had quite a bit of discussion on the content of formative issues,” said Nate Kelly of Horsley and Witten Group. “We had asked folks on the board if they would take a look through the formative issues that we had created and prepped to add or change anything, or make any further observations before we finalize this.”
“We should now take the really critical things we’ve pulled out of the discussions with staff, board, and the public, and mesh them together,” he added.
Kelly provided board members a list of formative issues which have been identified by the town and the public to be included in upcoming Comprehensive Plan. Topics included ideas for the improvement of transportation and traffic circulation, citing congestion problems in the Pier area and those associated with the summer population increase.
Board members particularly discussed the state of bicycle traffic and accessibility in town, a debate which has raged in Narragansett during the past number of months while plans for a bike path through Canonchet Farm remain unfinished.
“Easily accessible crosswalks are so important, such as around the schools,” said planning board member John Hodnett.
“There are ways we could make it more inviting for bikers to use our roads,” said vice-chair Dr. Joseph O’Neill. “One is cleaning.”
Another point of debate revolved around how economic development should be best directed through the Comprehensive Plan, citing demographic, housing and land use issues.
“I think people in this town short change the expansion of the historic districts and the impact it has on tourism,” said chair Terence Fleming. “My wife and I don’t ever travel someplace unless there is something historical or architectural sign, and people are nay-saying that.”
“When people talk about tourism and economic development, they short change the historical aspect,” he added.
“When you look at Gazebo Park and think about how little that is used, it would be great if there was a plan to do something,” said Hodnett. “Go down on a Sunday in July and there is nobody in that park. That place is a dead zone and it is right next to the beach.”
The town’s issues with student and summer rentals, and the problems associated with them, were also discussed, alongside the need for affordable housing in Narragansett where there is little room for new construction.
“My philosophy is a diverse community is a healthy community that can get through economic downturns and other disasters in a more healthy way,” said Director of Community Development Michael DeLuca. “If we go in the direction we have in the last six years, and we continue in that way, we will become ft. Lauderdale.”
“We will be an old community with no youth base and no one of working age that lives in our community anymore,” he added. “The working age group is gone. I don’t think that is where I want to go.”
“My concern is if we tilt the scales, things will change, such as taxes will go up,” said Fleming. “I look at the rentals and there is a portion that is a problem, but the bulk is not. [Students rentals] don’t use services and put money into the town.”
“I wonder if sometimes we have to be careful for what we wish for,” he added. “It is a very difficult question and it is not as simple as people look at it.”
After the baseline report is finalized, Horsley Witten Group will continue their communication with town officials throughout the upcoming months, ultimately forming a ‘road map’ and an action plan, which respectively outlines the long-term goals of the town and how to best implement them.
DeLuca has stressed that the Comprehensive Plan will ultimately reflect a compromise of the desires and necessities outlined by town officials, and that no one idea will ever be able to come to its full fruition without sacrificing against another.
“When you start looking at the totality of the Plan and the range of it, there is give and take that has to happen,” said DeLuca in September. “There is no perfect way to have the prefect pedestrian community and then the perfect tourist community, and in the end, what we get out of that is compromising on multiple levels.”
“We get what is reflective of what we think our town ought to be,” he added. “There won’t be a perfect plan.”
Rhode Island requires its municipalities to submit a Comprehensive Plan every 10 years, a change which was made from five years in 2011. The state will also pass the completed Comprehensive Plan to concerned organizations for review and insight prior to the state’s approval, although it is not mandated that state approval will deny municipality’s adoption of their Plan.
“Rhode Island has a strong statute concerning how comprehensive plans must address certain topics,” said Kelly in May. “Rhode Island Department of Transportation and Department of Housing will review the plan, and provide state-level feedback, which is important.”
“The entire review can take anywhere from a few months to a year depending on the depth of information the state feels is missing,” he added. “The document has to be distributed among state agencies, so it usually takes three to six months to get through that process.”
The entire process, from Horsley Witten Group’s baseline research to the Comprehensive Plan’s actual writing, is expected to take approximately between 10 to 12 months and next February has been set as a tentative date for the document’s completion.