In 2021 the Narragansett Town Council passed a durable, legally supportable version of the “no more than three students per household” ordinance originally passed by the prior council in 2020, but overturned on a procedural technicality.  Residents who fought for this for twenty–five years were finally rewarded.  Now enforcement is the emphasis.

While critical and long overdue, this ordinance is only a first-step in stabilizing Narragansett as a residential community.  New census data revealed that Narragansett’s residential population shrunk by 8.4 percent over the last decade, as evidenced by the Town’s steadily shrinking school population. How much more can school populations shrink and still remain competitive? While this made big news, it sparked little to no action. Narragansett needs a robust action plan to support a rebirth of family growth, as its Comprehensive Plan actually calls for.

Beyond limiting student household densities, the other benefit of the “no more than three-students” ordinance is reducing the financial attractiveness of student rentals. Curbing the steady loss of families in Narragansett requires attracting more families than landlords. Adoption of the two-tier residential tax rate specified by RI General Law 44-5-11.8 will enable the town to tax rental properties at a higher rate than lived in seasonal or year-round residences. Rental properties are investment businesses and should be taxed as such. By doing so the Town could give residents a lower tax rate than their current homestead exemption, simply by making up the difference on the rental property rates.

Combining this allowable two-tier tax rate with strictly enforced three-student and four unrealated’s ordinances are the two most effective tools available to lower the attractiveness of converting family homes to rental properties in Narragansett. But reducing the investment attractiveness of rental properties is not enough. Bringing families back requires parallel efforts to enhance Narragansett’s attractiveness as a place to live and do business. Fortunately, the “work from home” trend resulting from the pandemic has already brought new families to Narragansett. But to truly control its future destiny, the Town needs an action plan with vision aimed at attracting entrepreneurs and new high-tech businesses with professional salaries.

Long an eyesore, the Narragansett Industrial Park is underdeveloped and poorly utilized. It sits adjacent to other private land and most notably to the Bay Campus that houses the URI Graduate School Of Oceanography, one of the premier Oceanographic institutions in the country, NOAA Fisheries Narragansett Laboratory and the EPA Office of Research and Development that includes the Atlantic Coastal Environmental Sciences Division (ACESD) Laboratory.    

Last January NOAA released its Blue Economy Strategic Plan for 2021-2025. Its introduction points out that in 2018 the American Blue Economy contributed $373 Billion to GDP, supported 2.3 million jobs and grew faster than the nation’s economy as a whole. In the US 127 million people live in coastal counties. Were these counties an individual country, it would rank third in the world in GDP, behind only the US and China. The nations prosperity is predicated on the understanding, health and sustainable use  of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes.

Accordingly, NOAA has launched agency wide initiatives in Marine Transportation, Ocean Exploration, Seafood Competitiveness, Tourism and Recreation and Coastal resilience, all of which Narragansett and Rhode Island engage in every day.  NOAA is leveraging public-private partnerships in innovation and STEM education to promote a sustainable blue economy consisting of Providers ( sensors, measuring devices, equipment, observations), Intermediaries (research and value-added products) and End Users (government, private sector, emergency managers and planners).

Cities and towns nationwide are competing to  engage in the Blue Economy. In 2015, the Port of San Diego established the Aquaculture & Blue Technology Program, recognizing the growth opportunities of the Blue Economy sector and its strategic position within one of the world’s leading Blue Technology clusters. In 2016 Governor Raimondo got a $20 Million bond fund approved to fund innovation campuses. In December 2020 Portsmouth announced the formation of one such innovation center in Portsmouth; a collaborative center to attract entrepreneurs, researchers and manufacturers to build on Rhode Island’s strengths in textiles, advanced materials, marine products and Navy technology. Its purpose is development of new products and technologies that create new businesses and good jobs.  

So where are Narragansett’s efforts in this regard! We have the very agencies soliciting new Blue Economy business within our boundaries and adjacent to an underutilized and haphazardly developed industrial park. We have the port of  Galilee for which thankfully, Councilwoman Ewa Dzwierzynski has spearhead the Town’s submission of a bold plan to redevelop the parcels now left to decay by its current leaseholder, PRI-X.  While Ewa deserves great credit for her leadership on this issue, where is the rest of Town government? One year ago, the TC appointed a new EDC Committee that, except  for Paul Zonfrillo who tried to promote a Blue Economy agenda, is devoid of business skill and economic leadership. In fact, they just removed Paul as its Chairman based on political trivia. Sadly, it is a committee of political cronyism appointments.

Meanwhile, opportunities to attract new businesses and entrepreneurs who bring good jobs and families back to Narragansett go unnoticed and unaddressed.  Given our pedigree at the Bay Campus regarding the Blue Economy, such apathy is negligent. If Narragansett is serious about the family tenants of its Comprehensive Plan, it needs continued work on neighborhood improvement while simultaneously pursing new business. And the two-tier residential tax can also be used to lower commercial taxes with only slight increases to rental taxes, if doing so helps attract entrepreneurs and businesses who want to locate and live here. Mostly, we need an ingredient that has been scarce in Narragansett; vision.

Harold Schofield

Narragansett

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