SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The town of South Kingstown has received a $40,000 grant from the state for the planning of West Kingston Village, Vincent Murray, the town’s director of planning, announced Tuesday.
Members of the South Kingstown community convened at West Kingston Elementary School Tuesday for the West Kingston Village Study, during which experts presented a village study and residents provided input on their community.
Murray led the meeting, while Nate Kelly and Craig Pereira, of the Horsley Witten Group, gave a presentation of the study. The town has hired Horsley Witten, based in East Greenwich, for its consulting services.
Among the 50 or so people in attendance, were several members of the planning board, the town council, as well as South Kingstown’s representatives in the General Assembly.
Murray explained that the meeting would be as much about the Horsley Witten presentation as it would be to hear feedback from the real experts – the residents of West Kingston.
A brief history of West Kingston was delivered, explaining that it exists as it has existed for two centuries because of the train station, the university and the nearby fairgrounds. “Villages strengthen South Kingstown…they define our community and our identity,” Murray said. However, he continued that “the way industry works now…is apples and elephants,” so some updates to zoning and regulations may be necessary.
The Horsley Witten presentation began with the explanation of the main goals of the project: community engagement, economic development and viability, infill opportunities (the space between existing structures), and defining an appropriate “village scale.” The village scale would be the resulting character and unique feel of West Kingston, differentiating it from other villages of South Kingstown and from other parts of Rhode Island.
The Horsley Witten team explained that the village layout has changed very little since the 1800s, and the plan does not intend to make any huge adjustments.
Twenty percent of the state’s most significant rare species and natural communities exist in South Kingstown, as well as 265 acres of turf farms. Thus, the environment remains a serious concern, along with residential, commercial and economic development of the village.
The enumerated defining issues were protecting and enforcing groundwater overlay, connectivity, the potential loss of land in agricultural use for residential use, expansion of commuter rail service and future development at the University of Rhode Island.
All parties acknowledged that it often takes years to get anything done, but seemed to generally be in agreement for goals for West Kingston.
The biggest hopes were the construction of crosswalks and sidewalks along the commercial areas of Route 138, as one way to spur economic growth, and the improvement of the train station in ways such as expanded parking, commuter rail service, and internal improvements. Murray mentioned that URI President David M. Dooley wants the commuter rail to extend to Kingston, but because it has not been hugely popular to T.F. Green and Wickford, this is unlikely in the short term.
West Kingston residents hope to see far greater economic development in their community. Board members of the Courthouse CenterStage spoke of hopes that the area would be developed enough that people could get dinner, watch a show and then get coffee or a drink all within walking distance – a very attractive vision for West Kingston.
They agreed that they do not wish to see an influx of chain stores popping up. One resident brought up the point that Bristol has several restrictions in place in order to preserve the traditional feel, while still spurring economic growth and job creation.
There are several vacated lots in the area, such as a gas station and church, that people would like those become something. The owner of one of these properties was present, and raised the point that although she and her family would also love to see the plots developed into something nicer, it is far too costly. She said the various costs, burdens and regulations, at this point, make it cheaper for them to leave the property as is – a concern she hopes the town or state can address.
All parties present at the meeting said they hope to make West Kingston a great place to live and work, but also one that can draw people to come enjoy the community, spurring economic growth and job creation, as well as enhancing the beauty of the village.
The Horsley Witten plan can be seen in its entirety at horsleywitten.com/skingstownvillagestudy. Once the plan is finalized, it must be approved by the planning board, endorsed by the town council and then becomes a part of the town’s overall comprehensive plan.