2015-11-05 / Opinion

Bustling Times


If you live along or near West Main Road (also known as R.I. Rte. 114) in Middletown, or routinely travel north or south on that road, you don’t need devotees of the late Mister Rogers to tell you that these are busy days in the neighborhood.

The same is true in Newport if you live or travel on or near Broadway, the main travel route that picks up where West Main Road leaves off and takes motorists, bikers and pedestrians downtown.

While Newporters still have another year or so to deal with the temporary inconveniences of road reconstruction and underground utility improvements, you can already see the future that will come with a new road surface and expanded, more attractive sidewalks. Colorful plantings, we are promised, will also be added soon enough.

Broadway in Newport will never have looked better. Thank you to all who are making it happen.

For Middletown, though, much of what’s going on along West Main Road remains to be seen—or not, as the case may be.

The Town Council has postponed for at least two weeks a public hearing on a temporary moratorium (to be set aside next spring) on new buildings that exceed footprints of 35,000 square feet ("big boxes” some people call them.) Of course, that stretch of the road is already home to most of Aquidneck Island’s large retail establishments.

After a Superior Court hearing, all sides apparently agreed that a previously submitted application to build a new shopping center on 71 farmland acres located on West Main Road across from Forest Avenue will be exempt from any moratorium—should one be formally enacted.

At the same time, the town’s Comprehensive Community Plan, adopted by the council last March, still requires some tweaks to satisfy statewide planning directives. Some of these proposed revisions involve language pertaining to affordable housing in the town.

In Rhode Island, communities are required by law to strive to have 10 percent of their housing stock qualify as “affordable housing.” But from the sounds of things, many communities, Middletown included, fall considerably below that 10 percent goal.

From where we sit, it’s difficult to see how turning this unused farmland into a high end shopping district is going to help Middletown reach the 10 percent affordable housing goal.

Should the Vanicek family, which owns the land in question, eventually sell and, one way or another, help to turn the property into yet another shopping kingdom, they are said to want to name such a development “Old Farm.”

And those who’ve lived in these parts long enough to remember when those acres were, indeed, farmland, will shed a tear for the old neighborhood.

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