The Town Council voted 3-2 Monday night in favor of changing the town's Comprehensive Plan to include a Wickford Junction transit-oriented development zone. Councilors Kevin Maloney and Dick Welch cast the dissenting votes.
The Comprehensive Plan is the town's guiding document. The creation of a Wickford Junction TOD is an attempt by the town to more closely direct the type of development that can take place. No developments are yet planned. Rather, according to Town Planner Jon Reiner, the TOD is meant to anticipate the development that will certainly come.
"We have an opportunity now to change the way we develop, getting back to some of our more historical ways of developing – compact, denser areas –
and we can do that by protecting land … revitalize our villages," he told the Council during his presentation Monday. "It tells us to concentrate our growth in our growth centers. This area is a growth center."
The Planning Commission voted 5-1 Nov. 5 to recommend the TOD changes to the Comprehensive Plan.
The initial proposal spanned from the train station at Wickford Junction west on along Ten Rod Road to Route 2 and north on Route 2 to Stony Lane. Much of this area was already zoned commercial. The big change to the zoning would be in the density – the number of residences or businesses – allowed in the area. Under the change recommended by the Planning Commission, developers could build more intensively (more residential units per acre, for instance) than had been allowed – as long as they balanced that development with the purchase of other land nearby that would remain undeveloped.
At issue is the delicate nature of North Kingstown's groundwater supply. North Kingstown allows 5 milligrams of nitrates per liter for drinking water. The federal EPA guidelines allow 10 milligrams of nitrates per liter. The proposed Comp Plan change would allow developers to build more intensively in one area – increasing the nitrate level to as much as 7.5 milligrams per liter – as long as they offset that development elsewhere by acquiring nearby land to preserve in perpetuity.
"Now what we're saying is, a developer can have 50 acres in Groundwater [area] 2 … and right across the street [the same developer] had 50 acres in Groundwater 1. That 50 acres [in Groundwater 1] would have to be permanently protected with a deed restriction, the same as if we the town bought development rights to it, preventing any development in the future," said Reiner. "Then, and only then, would you be allowed to have that extra density on the first 50-acre piece."
Councilman Maloney was not convinced.
"Just a few years ago, the science was having houses one or two per acre was the way to go," he said. "You're still, at the source, putting 7.5 milligrams per liter. Water is the number one resource. It's gold."
Maloney had sought input from residents via a survey linked to from a letter to the editor on NK Patch. Results of that survey were split between no change to zoning in the area and some smaller degree of change but Town Council President Liz Dolan discounted those results, saying the origin of the sample was unknown and some of the questions were leading.
Maloney backed Welch's proposal to shrink the area of the proposed TOD, eliminating the section along Route 2 up to Stony Lane. That amendment passed, 5-0. Maloney's subsequent amendment, requiring the TOD to retain the straight 5 milligrams per liter allowance without offsets (TDRs – transfers of development rights) failed. Councilors then voted on the smaller TOD, passing it 3-2.
For Welch, it was a partial victory.
"I didn't see any reason we had to run before we walk," said Welch, explaining his desire to shrink the TOD area.
The video attached presents comments from two residents as well as comments from Town Council President Dolan.