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Are Revitalized Villages Key to North Kingstown's Future?

Villages that are healthy for residents might also be healthy for the town, but no clear diagnosis or prescriptions have emerged

Judging by the red dots, Bauhaus-style architecture does not belong in any North Kingstown village. Beyond that, no consensus about the future of village life developed at the Dec. 15 North Kingstown Village Forum at Hamilton Elementary School.

The handful of attendees accepted organizers' offer to use colored dots to "rate" pictures of other village developments by how well their style and architecture might fit into Allenton, Hamilton, Lafayette or Wickford Junction.

Planners view those neighborhoods as areas that might benefit from more intensive development built around walkable, bikable designs that have transformed some other towns – and that many residents said during the "Healthy Places by Design" initiative they would welcome here.

Red dots basically indicated no way, no how, and they appeared most often on pictures of modern, geometric buildings.

Attendees also had questions about how viable and desirable revitalized villages would prove.

Is there a demand for village-style housing?

Will the economy support new housing and commercial redevelopment?

Would attractive village shops attract new retailers, or the usual chain vendors?

And, because many existing villages were built in water-sensitive areas, how can developers mitigate the effects of more intensive redevelopment on groundwater and wetlands?

"Those are great questions," said Peter Flinker, principal at Dodson Associates Ltd. and one of the planners advising the Town of North Kingstown on possible changes to the comprehensive plan.

Another firm, Horsley Witten Group, has been exploring whether the town should use the Transfer of Development Rights mechanism to focus growth on villages, as well in the Post Road corridor.

Nathan Kelly of Horsley Witten gave a presentation on how that process might work for villages. But as local resident Colin O'Sullivan pointed out, TDR has not yet sparked redevelopment along Post Road. Incentives for adding more low- and moderate-income housing appear more appealing for developers there, O'Sullivan said.

The master plan for the development in the Post Road corridor, approved in November by the Planning Commission, features affordable housing rather than TDR, as does the redeveloped complex.

Meanwhile, proposals for new developments in open space, such as the recently approved and the on-hold , continue to come before planners.

North Kingstown Planning Director Jon Reiner, JReiner@northkingstown.org, said that he hopes to coordinate with a working group on the future of villages, existing and proposed. He welcomes input from interested residents on possible changes to zoning laws and the comprehensive plan.

Villages, and that would affect village development, will be on the Town Council agenda Jan. 23, 2012.

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