Beer cans buried in fallen leaves. Knocked-over campaign lawn signs, weeks after the election. Used water bottles littering the side of the road.
These are some examples of what Kingston residents call “breathtaking amounts of garbage,” they want the University of Rhode Island and town to clean up. Officials said the residents have agreed to host a seasonal cleanup of the neighborhood, but organizer Tamara Valentine-Garcia of Kingston said that is not enough.
In a letter to URI President David Dooley and South Kingstown Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred, Valentine-Garcia expressed frustration with garbage left around the neighborhood. She said Kingston residents plan to ask the university and town to install garbage receptacles.
“The residents of Kingston take great pride in the village and spend an enormous amount of time and money maintaining the character and integrity of this historically significant area of our state,” Valentine-Garcia wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to the officials. “We have long tolerated, not to mention maintained and repaired, the persistent influx of property damage and unbelievable tonnage of garbage left by the students, faculty and staff of URI.
“The residents will be holding a meeting to petition the university and town to construct and maintain period appropriate receptacles for the students to relieve themselves of their waste in a manner that maintains the historic character of the village,” Valentine-Garcia continued.
“We’re not going to provide barrels along the roadside, because that would require us to do it in every village,” Alfred said in an interview. “There’s 64 square miles in this town. In fact, when you look at Main Street [in Wakefield] there are barrels serviced by the business community. I think that [Valentine-Garcia’s] expectations are unrealistic, and I think that her feeling that Kingston is different from the rest of the town is also probably not well-founded.”
The town does not have municipal trash pickup; residents contract individually with a town-licensed hauler or take their own trash and recyclables to Rose Hill Regional Transfer Station on Rose Hill Road.
Dooley and Alfred responded to Valentine-Garcia in a joint letter.
“We are appreciative of you taking the time to bring your concerns to our attention,” they wrote. “Littering issues are unfortunately not singular to Kingston village or the campus environs. While most people properly dispose of trash and recyclables, littering issues do remain and are resultant from poor behavior of a small group of people.
“Nonetheless, as an initial means to help address this issue, URI and the town are coordinating a clean-up on Route 138 from Keaney Road easterly through Kingston village back to Route 108,” they wrote. “Further, the town and URI are actively discussing formalizing such clean-up efforts on a biannual basis and considering various means to better educate the public about the need to properly dispose of unwanted items.”
The first cleanup was held Nov. 22, led by URI student volunteers and staff members. The town disposed of the collected trash and recyclables, and offered police presence to assist the participants as they worked along the state highway.
The day after the event, Valentine-Garcia photographed some remaining trash, including bottles still buried in leaves and in the brush. She said she plans to host a meeting of local residents within the next few weeks to address the issue and she plans to circulate a petition.
“Obviously this is neither an honest reply or acceptable solution,” Valentine-Garcia wrote in an email to Dooley and Alfred Monday, which was also sent to the Independent. “It is our contention [that] it is both the university’s and town’s responsibility to maintain on a regular basis the safety and cleanliness of their property and abide by the same standards as the residents of the historical district. The concerns regarding impacts on residents’ property, property values and safety have been an ongoing issue. The trash, primarily food container and alcohol container waste as well as discarded food items, attracts rodents and wildlife and severely impacts the value of our properties.”
In her initial letter to Dooley and Alfred, Valentine-Garcia referenced both the environmental mission of the university, as well as the town’s guidelines for the Kingston Historical District.
The Kingston Historical District was established in 1959 as a response to the expansion of URI and other commercial development at that time. Since then, the area has been regulated by the town Historical District Commission, a volunteer board whose members are appointed by the Town Council. The commission reviews project designs proposed in the district for historical and architectural qualities. According to a 2013 homeowners guidebook, there are guidelines for character-defining features on homes, such as woodwork, porches and chimneys. There also are standards for landscaping, setbacks, new construction and demolition.
“As residents living within the historic district, we are bound by extremely rigorous zoning and building guidelines, not to mention expectations of upkeep and maintenance outlined by the town,” Valentine-Garcia wrote. “It is entirely baffling, and has become totally unacceptable to the residents, that the town and university are not living under the same responsibilities.”
“There is no neighborhood in any town, that I’m aware of, that does not see the accumulation of debris along the roadside,” Alfred said in an interview. “Kingston is no different than any other of our villages. Each of our villages are attempting to keep their areas clean by having voluntary clean-ups.”