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Town Council Approves Smaller Wickford Junction Development Zone

It passes on a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Maloney and Welch voting no.

Some comments from the Dec. 9 Town Council hearing on the Wickford Junction TOD.
Some comments from the Dec. 9 Town Council hearing on the Wickford Junction TOD.

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.

CompassCarrier December 11, 2013 at 10:26 AM
Reiner doesn't live in town, what does he care.....???
NKResident1 December 11, 2013 at 11:40 AM
Valid point Compass Carrier, Jon Reiner is one of the majority in our Planning Dept. that does not live in Town. Interesting that Jon Reiner could not or would not answer the difficult questions presented by Councilman Maloney and Councilman Welch further exposing that Jon Reiner was pushing through an amendment prior to having all of the facts. Why? Then again what’s a 50% increase of nitrates in our drinking water among friends? I also found it interesting that the 2 residents that do not live in this area sat with being coached by the Wickford Junction developer prior to commenting that they were in favor of the TOD proposal. Perhaps a red flag of things to come and who will actually benefit from this TOD amendment. The Town Council approved the TOD proposal by a 3-2 vote ignoring the potential damage to the source of our water. It is unfortunate that 3 of the 5 members of our Town Council ignored both the facts and resident’s objection’s preferring to push through an agenda that is obviously not in the best interest of resident’s. Does anyone know why?
Proud Resident December 11, 2013 at 03:33 PM
NK is a dying town. Taxes will continue to rise. More businesses will continue to close. The only businesses that open as of late are just moving from one spot to another. We need business in this town, and that's the area to do it. It's too bad Quaker Ln got cut out.
NKResident1 December 11, 2013 at 04:08 PM
@ Proud Resident, well thought out development is fine most everywhere, curious as to why you write that this is the area of town that should be developed? Do you feel that this area should be developed in such a way to jeopardize our water source? Are you concerned about our water resource?
Rebecca Moniz December 11, 2013 at 04:24 PM
I think Councilman Maloney had a great idea gathering public input from a survey. The council should be able to find a way to incorporate those results into a meeting or at least take it into consideration. It is often times difficult for parents of young families to come to the council meetings. I find it difficult myself to get there. I applaud his effort for to get the community involved in the process.
CompassCarrier December 11, 2013 at 05:50 PM
I though Maloney's idea of using surveymonkey was terrific! Dolan and Hueston probably have no idea what it even is.
underwhelmed December 11, 2013 at 06:01 PM
The concept of developing walking villages is so "today" , its the wave of the future. BULL!!! We all know that that is not going to be the result of this foolishness. Go to the internet and look up the consequences of compact villages etc in other states, you will see the future of NK. In RI everyone drives one block to buy a gallon of milk! So let's not kid ourselves when coupled with the other development at the RT2/Exeter line this area will be a fiasco. It currently is now at certain times it will only get worse! We now have our own facsimile of the Warwick Rt2 shopping gauntlet. What wonderful planning by our esteemed TC and the planning dept. There is no widening the Ten Rod Rd area into Wickford, it is the small end of the funnel. This is already a bottle neck and will only get worse with this insider decision. I actually would like to see this TC and Mr. Reiner standing next to the edge of the road as the folly of their ideas unfolds. Rotten fruit comes to mind. Sorry, Mr. Reiner doesn't live in town. He doesn't have to live with his imported ideas and concepts from other states that have no place here in NK. As usual the taxpayers are not heard by this TC and the planning dept. what else is new? @Rebecca--nice try but this TC is not, has not and will not listen to any taxpayer input. They have their agenda and they are and have implemented that agenda. The voters put these people back in, now we all pay the price. They will be gone and the town will be hamstrung with their terrible decisions. The taxpayers should pay close attention who the players are in the "development" of this area. It is the same old broken record where the insiders get the goodies and the taxpayers get to pay for the goodies as usual. @Proud Resident--you are correct and sadly it has long been a time when NK is a place to leave. Read the police beat in the local papers, look at the influx of people who are on the dole and are just sucking us dry. All brought to you by this and previous Republican TCs. It's really sad that this TC and previous ones had so little regard for NK that they chose a path of destruction instead of reconstruction.
NKResident1 December 11, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Elizabeth, when I click on the "results of the survey"article link I am directed to a Patch login page, can you post the survey results or tell me how I can how can I view them? Thanks!
Pam December 11, 2013 at 08:40 PM
What we really need is a few more 450 ft. tall windmills in that area.. no reason to actually bring development that could help with the excessive tax burden that residents face in this town.. compare the success (especially at night) of E. Greenwich and Wickford and see how the desire to remain a village stuck in a 100 year old time warp has worked out ..the water issue here is a red herring used to redirect the discussion..
Catamount December 11, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Church st. Burlington VT check it out, maybe a good model for what would work.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) December 11, 2013 at 09:38 PM
NKResident1, you're right. Sorry about that. I will post it separately. Thanks.
NKResident1 December 11, 2013 at 10:13 PM
@ Pam, please explain your comment that the water issue here is a red herring used to redirect the discussion.
Pam December 11, 2013 at 10:48 PM
The water issue is being used as the rational to control the density of development and to force developers to pay for additional land to be acquired such that it can not be developed.. In commercial development, typically multi story (other than office) rarely is desirable, so this density increase points to making housing the desired effect, rather than commercial (especially limiting to significant retail development).
Jeff Crawford December 12, 2013 at 07:34 AM
@catamount- I was thinking more along the lines of Main street in Bennington, VT during the moose festival. Instead of colorful moose statues all around the Town, we could have statues of the Town Council members and allow residents to express them selves. As for a redirection of topic, seems the WAA proposal for their new gallery is not an important topic today. I have a suggestion for the WAA, buy the old theater and seek out historical restoration money from elsewhere. I would rather see a Wickford Weenie shop in that building by the beach.
NKResident1 December 12, 2013 at 07:42 AM
@ Pam, not sure why you would focus on development over the quality of our water including multiple health concerns when drinking water with high levels of nitrates or nitrites. The first health concern is with infants being at risk for “blue baby syndrome”, also called methemoglobinemia: - Poisoning can occur when infants drink formula made with nitrate or nitrite- contaminated tap water. - The infant’s blood is less able to carry oxygen due to the poisoning. - Affected infants develop a blue-grey color and need emergency medical help immediately. - Infants under six months of age are more susceptible.
Jeff Crawford December 12, 2013 at 08:30 AM
Something just struck me as I read through the comments. If I am not mistaken, and I maybe, even though the area of Wickford Junction and the surroundings are within the Town Aquifer designated area, the water supply comes in from pumping wells down along Oak Hill Road (approximately 1 mile south) Bellville Pond and Secret Lake. There maybe a pumping well nearby, but I am not aware of it. Enlighten me.
Ed Renehan December 12, 2013 at 10:01 AM
In my view, the most important issue is groundwater. It seems to me that this proposal plays Russian Roulette with the town's most vital resource. The rule of 5 milligrams of nitrate per liter of drinking water was not randomly established, and was codified after careful analysis of THIS PARTICULAR aquifer, given this particular geology and hydrology. The EPA figure of 10 milligrams is a MAXIMUM threshold for communities nationwide on average. The more nitrates the more risk. No debate. This is a zero-sum game. Simple math. And I'm afraid in this game of Russian Roulette the six-shooter is loaded with five bullets. One other comment: As much as I hate to agree with Liz Dolan, and as much as I respect Mr. Maloney, I'm afraid Dolan has a point re: questioning Mr. Maloney's survey results. I have much experience doing product development surveys as the quantitative factor in market research that involves composite quantitative and qualitative aspects. The flaw in the general schematic of SurveyMonkey and similar online tools is the self-selecting universe of responders. In order to render results that are actually indicative of something meaningful, a survey must hit a pre-qualified universe of people identified by carefully defined attributes, such as a carefully quantified and representative universe of adults over 18 residing within the target neighborhood. This is why when you hear political surveys cited on television, you will always hear the commentator note that the survey is one of "likely voters below age 30," and so forth. In the software tools product development I've done, the qualifying universes have been in the manner of "programmers using C++ in the development of object-oriented databases." Anyway, you get the drift.
Proud Resident December 12, 2013 at 10:53 AM
How about a casino and resort the size of Foxwoods in Quonset?
Jeff Crawford December 12, 2013 at 11:05 AM
FYI- If you go to the Town web site and pull up the Water Department, there is a posted water quality analysis of the Town's 10 Drinking Water Pumping Wells from 2012. Based upon the report, nitrates or nitrites concentrations are not even close to the State/Federal MCL for Drinking Water concentration so these compounds do not appear to be an issue.
CompassCarrier December 12, 2013 at 12:20 PM
@JeffCrawford: "I have a suggestion for the WAA, buy the old theater and seek out historical restoration money from elsewhere. I would rather see a Wickford Weenie shop in that building by the beach." Now THAT is funny! (and the theater suggestion is a good idea, too!)
NKResident1 December 12, 2013 at 01:03 PM
@ Jeff Crawford, great point and today many currently enjoy drinking, cooking with etc. town water. The issue that you are overlooking is that many prefer to ensure the quality of town water today and beyond. Increasing acceptable Nitrate level loading by 50% = 25% from what is considered borderline to unsafe nitrate levels. There is a chance that as is, with future build out the few are striving for in this area we could exceed State/Federal MCL. It would seem that we should err on the side of caution building out and expanding in a responsible fashion ensuring the quality of our water. In the event that for any reason there is an increase of nitrates to an unacceptable level, who will suffer? Do you think that any and all developers would sign onto a business and personal agreement to pay any and all damages in the event of unacceptable levels? Do we plow forward ignoring the risks or do we proceed with caution.
Jeff Crawford December 12, 2013 at 02:35 PM
@NKResident1-You bring up good points and I did not say I was necessarily supportive of this change. However, maybe someone from the Water Department could provide a map of all of the well locations in the Town which are sampled and then we can see if any of the locations are in proximity to developed areas and make some kind of determination as to whether the surrounding developments are a potential source of identified contamination. Can't say I have read anywhere from the Water Department that Nitrate levels in a particular area of the Town are a problem. It could be that some of the problem your concerned about are from historic farming rather than current development.
NKResident1 December 12, 2013 at 03:56 PM
@ Jeff Crawford, you are not understanding that residents are fine with the quality of our town water. Many are concerned with irresponsible actions and decisions that could result in situations that could harm our water source - aquifers which supply our well locations.
Jeff Crawford December 12, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Actually, I am very understanding to the people of this Town and all the other Towns and Cities of the State. And I do have concerns about irresponsible actions and decisions that could result in situations that could harm our water source-aquifers which supply our well locations. I have been dealing with known contamination sites for over 25 years in both drinking water aquifers and non-drinking water aquifers. But here there seems to be alot of concerns about what if, when there are existing sites already within which have not grabbed much attention.
Ed Renehan December 12, 2013 at 04:49 PM
@ Jeff --- re: "not even close to the State/Federal MCL for Drinking Water concentration" - yes, and many of us want it to stay that way.

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