2015-01-15 / Around Town

Comprehensive Plan Almost Ready for Town Council

MIDDLETOWN COUNCIL
By James Merolla

A six-hour public workshop for town officials and residents to propose revisions and suggestions to the final draft of the Middletown Comprehensive Plan was a tale of two halves.

The first three-hour half was dominated by proponents and opponents of the proposed recreation complex and adjacent athletic fields on 62 acres of townowned land on Mitchell’s Lane. The ongoing dispute between most abutters who don’t want open space touched and youth sports supporters who want more fields for children to play on, continues to divide the town and dominate public discussion.

Town Council President Robert Sylvia and other council members once again insisted that no decision has been made and that the issue will be carefully weighed before the fields plan is formally presented.

This is just one of many issues on which the town seeks guidance and direction. For two years, town officials, the Planning Board and a volunteer group have reviewed the once-per-decade comprehensive plan for the Town Council that must soon adopt it. The final draft may be made public as early as late February.

Six of seven council members attended the workshop, with only Vice President Robert Kempenaar absent.

The plan document, though shortened from 400-plus pages to about 200, continues to cover virtually every aspect of town life.

Highlights of the second three hours, with minimal public input, included:

Cultural and Historic Resources

. Seek historic restoration with a specific zoning ordinance to regulate how to protect resources.

. Protect and preserve open space, greenways, agricultural land, and scenic vistas as part of any developmental process, while preserving the town’s historic landscapes, including farms.

. Preserve and promote cultural events important to the town.

. Define and inventory environmentally sensitive areas.

. Consider a “dark sky” amendment. Town Planner Ronald M. Wolanski, who read highlights of the plan with assistant planner Allison Ring, told the council that other communities want to maintain a dimly-lit evening environment so that residents can enjoy the night sky.

“Any outdoor lighting must be in conjunction with any existing standards. Any [new] fixtures must meet dark sky compliance to preserve the dark skies,” said Wolanski.

“The lights at Gaudet Field are crazy bright,” said Councilor Barbara VonVillas. “Has the town or the school department determined how long those lights can stay on?”

“That’s the amount of light that is required to be safe to play,” said Town Administrator Shawn Brown.

“I agree with you. Those lights are far too bright and they are on too long,” added Councilor Paul Rodrigues.

Wolanski said that new lights in the Town Hall parking lot are LED lights and meet this requirement.

Natural and Ecological Resources

. Establish a wastewater management district and remain in compliance with federal and state mandates to manage stormwater drainage systems.

. Work with other Aquidneck Island communities to preserve and protect clean drinking water.

. Protect and rehabilitate sand dune systems with specific zoning language.

. Protect native wildlife and native plant species, especially endangered species.

. Protect existing and establish new forested areas. Also, increase the town’s tree canopy.

. Identify properties vulnerable to sea level rise and educate property owners of the risk.

. Conduct energy audits of town facilities and look at incentives for renewable energy use.

Recreation

. Relocate the West Main Road recreation complex while looking for opportunities to develop appropriate recreational land for fields.

. Improve networks of trails; improve pedestrian connections between parks.

. Promote economic growth and job creation for graduates, especially for those in the technical, defense and homeland security sectors.

. Alleviate congestion caused by regional traffic patterns.

. Establish better communication and coordination between state and local agencies and utilities during development site plan reviews and Rhode Island Department of Transportation permitting.

. Encourage bike transportation and expanded bike lanes whenever possible.

. Expand and improve public transit system services and ensure that the system meets mobility needs of all citizens.

Housing

. Expand affordable housing and special needs housing through community development block programs.

. Encourage developments for elderly and special needs housing with easy access to town facilities.

. Establish an Affordable Housing Committee to implement this plan.

Facilities and Services

. Continue to develop an ETown Hall where residents can “visit” Town Hall to do online permitting, among other services.

. Reduce solid waste and improve recycling.

Council member Theresa Santos proposed that town officials meet this way quarterly throughout the year in a similar kind of public forum.

. "A public awareness (meeting) every quarter is fantastic. I think some wrinkles got ironed out today. I think it helps us a lot,” said Sylvia. “In the end, we want to do what the people of Middletown want.”

Town residents still have until Monday, Jan. 19, to provide input to proposed amendments to the Middletown Comprehensive Plan. Either drop off comments in the town’s planning office at Town Hall or go to middletownri.com.

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