y Deanualcal Planning Assistan
Dear Rhode Islander:
Rhode Island has many special places and the watersheds of Washington (South) County are no exception. Washington County provides habitat for 75% of all species found in Rhode Island, including the majority of the State's rare species. The EPA has designated all of Washington County as a sole source aquifer because it serves as the only source of drinking water for the residents. While 65% of the area is undeveloped, the county is the third fastest growing region in New England with a population increase of 20% in the last decade.
A University of Rhode Island survey determined that the top three priorities for South County local officials were 1. to protect public drinking water; 2. to more effectively plan for growth; and 3. to protect farmland and open space. To respond to these priority community goals, DEM, in partnership with the Rural Lands Coalition, the South County Planners, the Washington County Regional Planning Council and the South County Watershed Partnership, obtained a $100,000 EPA Grant to assist the Washington County communities in exploring more creative land use techniques to accommodate growth while minimizing impacts to the environment and community character. This project was a community-based effort where the scope of work and the hiring of consultants were done in consultation with local officials.
The land use techniques studied addressed issues such as: creating new growth centers to avoid sprawl, encouraging village revitalization and infill development, transferring development rights, preserving meaningful open space, and preventing strip commercial development. Other topics studied included strategies to encourage the continuation of agriculture and forestry and how to more effectively evaluate the environmental impacts of development. The purpose of the project was not to stop or impede growth but to develop better growth planning options. Since there are always many more special natural, cultural, and recreational resources that communities wish to protect than they have the funds to purchase, a major emphasis of this project was to demonstrate how proactive planning, with more flexible land use techniques and careful site design can preserve the environment and the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders. Dodson Associates, the consultants for the project used planning scenarios to illustrate how parcels will look under conventional versus creative land use techniques to make it easier for local officials to determine which land use techniques are best for their community. Model ordinances were also developed that correspond to each planning scenario to allow communities to implement the techniques that they may choose to adopt.
With these techniques, local officials and developers can work together to guide growth where it is most suitable from the context of the individual site, community and watershed. This project is another significant tool, along with land acquisitions, brownfields cleanups and public education to assist Rhode Islanders to protect our natural resources and quality of life while growing efficiently in the future. The impressive results of this project are a tribute to working in partnerships where a broad based stakeholder group, comprised of community officials, planners, builders, realtors, farmers, landowners, watershed organizations, environmental groups and interested citizens collaborated to find solutions to concerns that were identified by the community. I commend the hard work and extra effort of the consultant team, EPA New England for their support, and the stakeholders of the project advisory committee who unselfishly volunteered their time to insure this project would be a success. I am pleased that DEM was able to assist and participate in this exciting effort that can be used by all Rhode Island communities to plan for growth to protect the environment and our quality of life.
Jan H. Reitsma