SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Dozens showed up Wednesday to an open house at the Recreation Center, where the planning department held its workshop on the Comprehensive Community Plan before it wraps up its process updating it.
“This is a document that helps the community plan for change,” explained Jeff Davis, a project planner at the Horsley Witten Group, hired by the town in 2016 to help with the plan’s update.
“We know change is going to happen,” Davis continued, “but the goal of the comprehensive plan is for the municipality to get out in front of it, to plan for it and to make it look the way you want it to look.”
The plan looks ahead over the coming two decades to establish long-term goals for South Kingstown, to create a foundation for adopting regulations and policies and to protect those resources the community holds dear.
“And finally, every comprehensive plan is anchored by an implementation section,” David added, “so it isn’t a plan that sits on the shelf, but is full of actionable items you can actually work on as a community.”
This update to the comprehensive plan began with a workshop in January, 2017. And while the plan typically receives an update every decade—its most recent overhaul was in 2014—the current update comes in response to a change in state regulations which requires that municipalities address topics like natural hazards and energy conservation.
The purpose of Wednesday’s gathering, Davis explained, was to present what’s been done so far and to gather input during one final public workshop.
“We’re really here to ask you, did we hit the mark?” he said. “We’re here to make sure we are in fact on target.”
Principal planner Kaela Gray said last week the goal is to have a full draft compiled and presented to the town council for public comment by the end of the summer.
Displayed around one of the Recreation Center’s community rooms were several posters, each depicting the highlights of one of nearly a dozen elements to the comprehensive plan
Visitors to the workshop moseyed about, taking time to read over posters on topics like economic development, natural and cultural resources, services and facilities, open space and recreation, and the University of Rhode Island. Planning board members were available to answer questions, and community members were invited to write their ideas onto the posters.
Visitors’ comments and suggestions were varied, as they took pen to poster with their thoughts.
On a poster on the topic of circulation, suggestions of new sidewalks and traffic-slowing measures—particularly on North and South roads—were jotted down; an open space and natural resources poster boasted questions regarding funding for partnership projects and about the impact on local industry on air quality.
For Conservation Commission President David Flanders, the natural resources element was of particular interest.
When the planning department held its open house last year, Flanders had suggested the town add regulations for planting new trees in town.
So far, the updated plan doesn’t quite meet that recommendation, he said Wednesday. While a draft of the plan does recognize as a goal the protection, preservation and maintenance of natural resource areas, he said he would like to see a policy specifically addressing the maintenance of the community forest.
“Planting new trees, culling old ones—it’s a cycle,” Flanders said. “It’s a maintenance plan, it’s a 20-year plan, it’s a big deal.”
It’s a big deal, he continued, for several reasons. First, the community forest is important for carbon sequestration.
It’s also key to attracting tourism.
“We rely on tourist dollars,” Flanders said. “This is the invisible asset. Ten years from now, with nothing changing, there are streets in town you won’t recognize.”
Another hot topic throughout the process of updating the comprehensive plan has been affordable housing.
Gray said last week the planning department has aimed in the plan’s update to not only reach the state-mandated goal of 10 percent affordable housing, but also to take steps to ensure South Kingstown stays affordable in general. She said it would be important to come up with innovative solutions to the topic of affordable housing.
As she perused highlights of the affordable housing element, South Kingstown resident Cindy Opaluch said Wednesday she wanted to hear more about affordable housing for the town’s elderly population.
“Are they going to look at housing that allows for many different options, such as individuals living together in a supported environment?” Opaluch asked. “And I’m wondering would the zoning regulations and other regulations support that rather than undermine it.”
Checking out some of the comments scribbled onto the posters, Davis said he was encouraged by the enthusiastic participation by members of the community.
“It’s always exciting to see how people take these big picture concepts and zero in on very specific things,” he added. “And some of those things—great, we can put a policy into the comprehensive plan.”
Still, some of the suggestions he said were perhaps too specific for inclusion in the comprehensive plan. He said though that those thoughts could be passed on to the various commissions within the town.
“That’s one thing I appreciate about South Kingstown,” Davis added. “I’ve found the communication among the different boards and commissions and the town council is really strong. I get excited knowing that what’s been talked about here today, even if it doesn’t make it into the comp plan, it’s going to find its way to the right people.”
Town council president Meg Healy added Wednesday she’s appreciated the planning department’s efforts to keep the community involved in the process of updating the comprehensive plan.
“There’s been a lot of outreach and it’s great to see that,” Healy said. “From a council perspective, it’s great to see the public informed.”