To the Editor;
The primary mission of the Aquidneck Land Trust (“ALT”) is land conservation on Aquidneck Island, which serves to protect open spaces for the purposes of recreation, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and climate resiliency. Although it may seem counterintuitive, our mission is not at odds with development per se. We recognize the need for adequate housing and services for those who live in our community and we join others who are concerned that the increasingly high cost of living on Aquidneck Island creates significant problems for local residents.
Three mixed-use developments are under consideration by the Middletown Town Council and Planning Board; two are proposed for West Main Road and one for Aquidneck Avenue. It is the Town’s responsibility to examine the viability of each proposal and ALT has no opinion as to the desirability or feasibility of these or other mixed-use proposals on any specific site. These discussions do provide an opportunity, however, for me to comment on ALT’s support of mixed-use developments in concept.
In 2019, with support from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, ALT commissioned a build-out analysis from Sasaki Associates, an international consulting firm based in Boston, MA. This study, posted on our website, analyzed the past thirty years of development and conservation trends on Aquidneck Island. It projected that if status quo trends continue, any open space not already conserved by 2050 would be developed. (The projected build out date could be sooner, due to increased development pressures related to the pandemic era.) The open spaces that could be lost provide important ecosystem services: This land protects our source drinking water, provides places for people of all ages to recreate, provides farmland to grow food on some of the best soils in the state, serves as habitat for our local and migratory species, and helps soak up stormwater from increasingly intense storms.
The Sasaki report offered an alternative model for the future, known as “Plan and Protect,” which conserves our important open spaces on the island while still allowing for growth and more housing stock. This ‘smart growth’ concept emphasizes the re-development of existing built areas as well as clustered developments that conserve land on the parcel. It supports the creation of more mixed-use developments and provides housing, commercial, and compatible uses in one pedestrian-friendly footprint. In addition to providing more housing stock, these developments provide far more tax revenue per acre than do subdivisions while taking up less open space. More efficient bus lines and other mass transit options benefit residents and retailers. The analysis clearly shows that increased conservation of our special places – and future development that satisfies housing needs – can be compatible goals, if done the right way.
Regardless of the decisions the Middletown Town Council and Planning Board make about the mixed-use proposals now under review, I voice ALT’s support for smart growth concepts that create town centers with a variety of housing stock while conserving key open spaces for the benefit of the community. I invite Islanders to learn more about these concepts on our website.
Charles B. Allott
Charles B. Allott, Esq.
Executive Director, ALT