alewis@ricentral.com

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — After searching for other alternatives, Town Manager Robert Zarnetske informed the town council on Monday night that Glen Rock remains the best option for a possible land swap.

The land swap, if accepted by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and sent on their behalf to the National Park Service for final approval, would allow South County Health to expand its parking into the adjacent Town Farm Park, in exchange for another parcel of land somewhere else in town. 

The 35-acre parcel of passive recreation space in the northwest corner of town, known as Glen Rock, could offer residents more opportunities for hiking, birdwatching and fishing. Members of the recreation commission and multiple members of the public stated that they do not see this exchange as “like-kind,” however, and had hoped that other properties be considered. 

The long, extensive process of a land swap, is due to the fact that the park space next to the hospital comes with an easement from the National Park Service. The easement is not easily reversed and transferring it to another similar property is much easier said than done.

The town had previously attempted to swap land in the past, allowing the hospital to expand into part of Town Farm Park. The critical error back then, according to Zarnetske, was that money has been swapped rather than deeds — despite the fact that those funds had been used to purchase Tuckertown Park. Roughly two decades later, the issue has never been properly remedied. 

In January, the council voted in favor of moving forward with the application but made an amendment that town and hospital administrators continue searching for other possible options.

“We’ve run those to the ground,” Zarnetske told members of the council on Monday night, during his official report. “We have not found any properties that are one, on the market and available to us, and two, that actually seem to be more appropriate or better parcels for the development of a community park.”

Recreation commission and community members made multiple suggestions at the most recent public hearing—one of which was purchasing Potter’s Field, land currently under the management and protection of the Kingston Improvement Association.

The hope had been that purchasing the more active recreation space would not only strengthen the application request, but that funds from the purchase could help the non-profit’s fundraising efforts. 

“They expressed no interest in doing a swap,” Zarnetske said. 

When the council gave a green light to the application process last month, with the caveat that a search for other possible options continue, South County Health President and CEO Aaron Robinson expressed a willingness to find the best possible approach. 

“Our intent is to find the most positive, supported approach from the majority of members in this community,” Robinson said on Jan. 27. “If there’s an alternative that has even more support than this does, that is even more positive, we’re willing to explore it.”

Although another option has not been found, Robinson had already expressed faith in the current application last month, believing that it will not only be accepted by DEM but the National Park Service as well. 

Since Glen Rock remains the best possible option available at this time, according to Zarnetske, the application to DEM will likely be sent in the next week or two. As part of the application, the town must summarize each public comment and respond to residents before it can be sent off. 

This process, Zarnetske said, has been time-consuming. 

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