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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The South Kingstown Town Council voted Monday to forward an application to the state Department of Environmental Management that seeks to give part of Town Farm Park to South County Health for use as a hospital parking area, in exchange for keeping a portion of the land as a park.

The move came after hours of discussion and testimony about the proposal, with four of five council members voting to move the application along to DEM.

The hospital would receive part of the eight-acre park and add it to an existing parking area it leases from the town.

The town would keep a parcel along Dobson Road for use as a playground. It also would receive a 1.3-acre wedge of undeveloped land along the Saugatucket River and to the west of the hospital.

South Kingstown would also keep title rights for a 12-foot wide linear park along Route 1 and through the entire western portion of the parcel, with improved vistas and sitting areas. An easement on hospital property would provide access to Kenyon Road.

“It would become a passive recreation linear park designed for walking, bird watching by the wetlands and Point Judith Pond overlook on the southern side of the park,” Town Manager Rob Zarnetske said.  

The application as presented also includes the town gaining a 35-acre parcel of woodland off Glen Rock Road for recreation use.

However, the Recreation Commission on Jan. 21 rejected the proposed Glen Rock property exchange as equivalent active recreational value and market value as the Town Farm Park property, which is appraised at $180,000.

The commission recommended that other options be explored, with a preference to see a neighborhood park recreated in the same population center or a parcel that would abut an existing active recreation park.

Separately, the commission passed a measure recommending that if the application for land conversion is approved, that South County Hospital assume financial responsibility for the development of the linear park. It also would pay for fence replacement and development or enhancement of an existing athletic field and development of the proposed new Glen Rock property.

The swap would allow South County Health to expand its on-site parking at the hospital, which supporters have said is woefully inadequate at current levels.

Ultimately, federal and state approvals are needed yet for any swap, including from the National Park Service, because of funding restrictions the town accepted with a 1976 grant. It required that the town keep the land for recreational use in perpetuity.

In 1983, the town transferred four of the eight acres of Town farm Park to the hospital for parking needs in exchange for land at Tuckertown Road.

The state, as applicant of the 1976 grant, must ask the federal government’s park service to ease the restriction on the existing park, as long as an equivalent piece of land is available for a park elsewhere.

“Equivalency is a judgment call,” Zarnetske said. “The regulations the National Park Service will make its judgment around have a preference for like-kind exchanges. If it’s an active park going out, they prefer you have an active park coming into the inventory.”

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