SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The effects of climate change, such as sea level rise and more frequent storms, are part of three key modifications South Kingstown is working on for its updated Comprehensive Community Plan.
The plan’s changes also would guide the town toward more renewable energy use and provide greater data about the town’s residents and its community profile.
The Town Council reviewed those changes at a public hearing held Monday during a marathon regular meeting that lasted more than seven hours.
“The important part of this element was to assess the vulnerability of South Kingstown to storm events and natural hazards, anticipating increased precipitation, sea-level rise and also the fact that storms are becoming more intense and more frequent,” South Kingstown Planning Director James Rabbitt said.
Every municipality is required by law to adopt a comprehensive plan. It is a key document that guides the goals and policies of a city or town.
“Its purpose is to guide local decision-making on important topics,” Zarnetske told the Town Council. The plan also forms a foundation to local zoning ordinances and policies, Zarnetske said.
South Kingstown has spent the last several years working on replacing a plan approved by the state in 2014. Plans get updated at least once every 10 years.
The town conducted a series of public meetings, workshops, open houses, and discussions with the Planning Board between late 2016 and summer 2018.
“The transition from the 2014 plan to the 2021 plan added three new sections,” Rabbitt said.
Those new sections are “Citizens,” “Natural Hazards and Climate,” and “Energy,” Rabbitt said.
Each new element contains a vision statement, goals and guiding principles. It also explores the current practices and provides baseline information, lists needs and opportunities, outlines policies and contains a plan of action.
The plan also better defines the categories of Natural Resources and Open Space and Cultural and Historical Resources. It also gives Recreation its own category.
The Energy component takes a look at South Kingstown’s energy use in an effort to reduce overall energy consumption and use more sustainable energy sources.
“The vision was for responsible, well-planned energy generation and use through renewable energy systems,” Rabbitt said.
The Citizens component would incorporate data from the latest 2020 census about South Kingstown.
“We do know by the demographics that the population is aging, but the employment rates are relatively stable, devoid of the discussion of COVID-19, and that the median income of the community is significantly higher than Rhode Island as a whole and slightly higher than the surrounding Washington County towns,” Rabbitt said.
The Future Land Use Map of the town also would see some changes, such as acknowledging and encouraging a diverse use of industrial mixed-use areas for manufacturing, recreation and offices.
“These are already occurring in the district and it’s aligning the map to what’s actually occurring,” Rabbitt said. The map also would establish a Gateway Special Management District at the intersection of Routes 1 and 138.
Drafting the updated plan has taken several years and involved many people, Rabbitt said.
“There was an extensive public participation process. There were over 13 public meetings, over 240 people subscribing to updates on our web page. There were over 250 people involved in the public meetings associated with the preparation of this plan, which has been ongoing since 2017,” Rabbitt said.
However, some residents, including Roberta Mulholland, said the comprehensive plan — a major, 441-page document — needs more time for public review, including another hearing before the council adopts it.
“It’s basically a brand-new document,” she said. “Two weeks is not enough time for the community to go through it.”
The plan’s focus on high quality village development is also very important, she said.
“It is something South Kingstown is known for,” she said. “As many New England towns are known for.”
Resident Susan Marcus has studied the plan since 2014, and said the new draft includes substantive changes.
“This document is very difficult to read. It’s very long and has been re-worked substantially,” she said, but applauded the addition of the three new sections on citizens, natural resources and energy.
“Those were missing before and I’m glad to see them in here. But I don’t feel there has been public discussion of the insertion of those.”
Officials responded to the concerns by agreeing to organize a community meeting to further discuss the plan and respond to questions and concerns from the community. A date of May 24 was chosen for the event.
“There’s still some questions left in the community,” Council President Abel Collins said. “People just need to be refreshed on what’s in the comp plan and to feel comfortable with it.”
The plan is viewable online at www.southkingstownri.com/1025/2021-Comprehensive-Community-Plan