2016-09-15 / Opinion


Don’t Jump to Conclusions

We have all seen things from time to time that made us stop and wonder: What’s this all about? Perhaps a longstanding line of trees is suddenly eliminated along a roadway, with only stumps and sawdust remaining. Or maybe an oversized building suddenly takes shape in your neighborhood.

How was that allowed to happen, we might ask.

It’s probably safe to say that changes that seem dramatic at first sight did not happen without a lot of planning and forethought. Municipalities undertake road projects to protect the health, safety, and convenience of residents, and building projects are guided by a city’s long-range comprehensive land use plan and zoning laws. But sometimes pleasing everyone can be tricky.

For example, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has launched an ambitious project in Middletown to improve Two Mile Corner. The price for the project, which includes upgrades to the intersections, new traffic signals, roadway improvements, and ADA-compliant sidewalks will approach $13.7 million.

But the price of these improvements isn’t simply measured in dollars. A line of stately old trees along West Main Road was removed to make way for the upgraded sidewalks. We lament their demise, and we’re certain that there are many who were taken aback by the changed landscape when the trees first came down.

At the same time, though, we understand the need. As a RIDOT spokesman told us, “This is an important commercial district to the island. These improvements will make it safer and easier for people to get where they’re going.”

Similarly, new, perhaps oversized, houses going up in established neighborhoods may also ruffle feathers, but this does not happen in a vacuum. The city’s comprehensive land use plan and zoning ordinance establish the parameters of the types of construction allowed. Newport and Middletown have a planning board, a zoning board of review, and, in Newport’s case, a Historic District Commission, whose volunteer members are tasked with applying the city’s laws.

As Ross Cann, AIA, a Newport architect, historian, and educator writes in this issue of Newport This Week, zoning ordinances are “the means by which communities try to balance the rights of individual property owners with those of property owners nearby.”

We appreciate the ongoing efforts of the citizens who serve on these panels. They spend a great deal of time poring over documents and other materials pertaining to petitions that come to them, and work to enforce the city’s zoning ordinance.

So the next time you see change, do not judge it hastily, but try to remember that a lot of consideration has been given to the matter by a lot of well-intentioned and knowledgeable municipal staff and volunteers, too.

As Cann also states, “No place can stay the same forever, but every place must maintain a degree of consistency over time or it will cease to be what it once was.”

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