2014-02-07 / Front Page

Changes on Horizon for AIPC

By Tom Shevlin

Aquidneck Island’s main planning body is getting a remake.

The Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, which oversees and coordinates a variety of planning and development efforts between the island’s three communities, is being restructured to reflect its evolving role.

Tina Dolen, the group’s longtime executive director, recently described the changes to Newport’s City Council.

“With encouragement and funding from one of its foundation supporters, AIPC embarked on a comprehensive process to assess its role on the island, how to optimize its services to councils, and what kind of board structure would best address future challenges.”

In order to do that, Dolen did what the AIPC does best: she reached out to community stakeholders and got to work.

With the help of over 50 local businesses and municipal government and nonprofit leaders, the AIPC began evaluating its current structure and anticipating its future needs.

According to Dolen, “It was concluded that, though continued participation by local planning board representatives is critical, AIPC would benefit from strategic, intentional involvement from a wider scope of island residents.”

First established in 1985, the AIPC has played a central role in some of the island’s most significant planning efforts, from the eventual disposition of former Navy land on the island’s west side, to a regional traffic study aimed at easing congestion and making roads more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

Last year, the AIPC board unanimously voted to approve a request that would expand the board of directors to “meet the more complex and demanding challenges of 2014.”

The new plan recommends four directors from each community instead of two, and while it will make no changes to AIPC services or functioning, it is expected to have a significant impact on the organization’s capabilities.

It also creates two separate but equal committees: an executive committee and a planning committee. While each will be charged with slightly different tasks, they’ll vote as one board.

The planning committee, for example, would collaborate with community planners to assess regional needs and direct any relevant projects. It would be comprised of nine members, with representation from each island community as well as members with experience in the legal, engineering, architecture, planning, and development fields.

The executive committee would be smaller – made up of three members and a chamber of commerce director. Its role will be broader: to lead change while focusing on sustainability, staffing, and communications. Again, representatives from each of the island’s three communities would be required, with preference given to those with business, management, fundraising, or related experience.

Dolen emphasized to the council that the change would have no financial impact on the city, which currently contributes $18,000 to the group’s annual operating budget.

In fact, according to the AIPC, since 2004, the group has leveraged its total $54,000 stipend from Middletown, Portsmouth and Newport into more than $3 million in charitable grants that it has used primarily on professional services for the island’s three communities.

According to Dolen, the proposed changes will allow AIPC to “gain agility, an enhanced profile, diverse leadership, ability to tackle complex regional needs, financial sustainability and wide engagement from all stakeholders, including the public.”

In its next phase, Dolen is hoping that the AIPC will be able to build on its past efforts to integrate the island into new industry trends and implement new technology.

Among its immediate priorities is a proposal to hire an information technology consultant to help support island-wide IT efforts currently underway with the aim of bringing high-speed broadband Internet access to the island. The AIPC is also facilitating a new signage program for the state Department of Transportation to bring a “wayfinding” program to the island that would integrate pedestrian-oriented maps and additional street signs to area roadways.

Internally, the AIPC is currently working on a number of active projects, including the design and review process for the proposed Aquidneck Island Bikeway, and is engaged in a study to determine ways for the AIPC to become more financially stable.

Contributors to the proposed reorganization included representatives from each of the island’s three communities as well as private and nonprofit corporations such as the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Coastal Management Council, the Newport Harbor Corporation, New England Boatworks, and the Preservation Society of Newport County.

The van Beuren Charitable Foundation funded the strategic planning process to identify the new model.

Return to top