‘Gold Forest’ purchase up for reconsideration

‘Gold Forest’ purchase up for reconsideration

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Town Council is once again considering purchasing the “Gold Forest,” a wooded property off Douglas Pike featuring hiking trails and pond access. The proposed purchase would add 144 acres to the town’s overall dedicated open space.

The property is located between Mattity Road and Tarkiln Pond and includes access to Tarkiln Pond as well as a number of historic and environmental features, including a railroad bed, a historic cemetery, a large field and a former pig farm.

Carol Ayala, secretary of the North Smithfield Conservation Commission and a proponent of the sale, said the property is ready to be used for outdoor recreation with minimal changes required by the town.

“There’s trails, it’s ready to go,” she said. “It’s a turnkey park.”

The Town Council considered the purchase Monday evening during a closed meeting with property representatives that also included a discussion of “The Belair Property,” a nearby property in the area of Lake Bel Air. While a discussion of the potential sale was listed on the council’s regular agenda for the evening, councilors said little on the topic except to indicate that they were still discussing the offer with the property owners.

“We had a long discussion about this in executive session and it’s on the agenda for if anybody had any public comments on it,” Council President John Beauregard said during the public meeting.

“That would not put us in a very good position if we made the appraisal public at this time,” he added.

While councilors did not reveal the asking price for the property, an email from landowners David and Marcia Gold to The Valley Breeze in February indicated that at the time, the property owners were still seeking $1.95 million for the land, the same price asked when the family discussed a potential sale with town councilors last fall. Since then, the town has applied for and received a $400,000 Department of Environmental Management grant to be used toward open space purchases, potentially knocking the price down to a $1.55 million cost to taxpayers.

In addition, proponents of the sale point out the town still has access to most of a $3 million open space bond approved by voters in 2006, only a small portion of which has been spent. Ayala pointed out the town’s effort at setting aside dedicated open space are lagging behind those of neighboring towns.

“Our overall town profile would increase by having more open space open to the public,” she said.

According to data compiled by Paul Soares, chairman of the Conservation Commission, North Smithfield contains about 1,640 acres of open space, about 10.5 percent of the town’s total land area, while Smithfield has about 2,900 acres, or 15 percent, Lincoln contains 3,000 acres, or 25 percent, and Burrillville has 7,400 acres, or 24.5 percent. The cost of purchasing the property, about $13,000 per acre prior to the DEM grant, would be reduced to $10,333 per acre with the additional $400,000 in state funds, he said.

“It doesn’t need anything. You don’t have to go in there and do any work,” he said.

In 2008, a previous Town Council negotiated a deal to purchase the “Gold Forest” property for $2.8 million, with $250,000 of the total cost funded by a DEM grant. Following the election, an incoming Town Council halted the deal before it went through.

According to Beauregard, councilors are still considering the offer and will meet at least once more in executive session prior to making a decision on the property. He and Council Vice President Paul Zwolenski recently toured the property along with the landowners, and arrangements are being made for the other three councilors to tour the property prior to the next discussion.

“If the price is right, I really want to see it happen,” he told The Breeze following the meeting.

Beauregard said a potential source of funds to offset the cost of the open space bond could be new income from the Green Development solar farm, a controversial project with zoning requirements clearing the Town Council after much debate and a large public turnout in May. The company still needs to appear before the Town Council for final approval before breaking ground on another forested area, a privately owned property off Iron Mine Hill Road.

Comments

Our town will never be fiscally responsible while we spend money that is anticipated in the future. Our elected officials are not listening to residents. People are to busy to attend meetings because of work and family obligations.

Does anyone else find it laughable that the person who led the Council effort to allow the clear-cutting of 200 acres without proper Town review and approval is now leading the charge to spend $1.95 million of taxpayer money to purchase 144 acres in the name of conservation??

The Town council and it's President will DO WHATEVER they want REGARDLESS of what the Towns people want ! We the people that voted these members in should be voting them OUT !!!! ASAP !!!!!!

Radar you are VERY astute! Thank you for seeing through what is being proposed as good for our town. Oh and a quick correction, the solar area could clear cut as much as 400 acres and be the largest in the STATE. SO Radar, we agree,the council wants to decimate 400 acres ( that adds to our carbon footprint) to gain 144. I can barely contain my laughter. Shouldn't we be voting on these things?

No matter how many times I read this article I can't find anywhere that I am leading the charge to spend $1.95 million of tax payer money to purchase the Gold property. But yes as I said if the "price is right" I think it would be great for our Town to acquire this beautiful property. There are fields, cleared walking and hiking trails, water front access, the remains of historic buildings, and room for parking. If you have not seen it how can you be against it "if the price was right"? If the price is not right we simply walk away having lost nothing. But why not try and see if we can acquire this for a price that works for our Town? As far as not listening to the people the reason I am supporting this is because I am listening to the people, all the people. And Tom Ficca I would rather be voted out for trying than get reelected because I played it safe and never made any waves.

If anyone would like to send me an email with any questions or comments on any issue please do so at johnbforns@yahoo.com. The only condition is you have to use your real name.

Respectfully,

John A. Beauregard
Town Council President

Everybody i talk to in town want lower taxes and frugal spending.A tiny town can't afford big city government and our town is blue collar hardworking residents. We don't want tax increases every year.

The two paragraphs below appeared in the October 4, 2017 Valley Breeze article entitled “Council considering purchase of the 140 acre “Gold Forest”:

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Beauregard also voiced concerns that the town might not be in the financial position to make the purchase, pointing to upcoming bond debt and the need for infrastructure improvements to everything from roadways to wells.

“In an ideal situation we should scarf this right up,” he said. “If you have a family that is not doing well the first thing you tell them is stop going out to eat and going on vacation. This is going out to eat and going on vacation if you ask me.”
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Well I guess some people believe there will be a minimal tax increase next year and it's time we go "out to eat" and "on a vacation". Personally, I think next year’s tax increase has an excellent chance of being a record breaker, and not in a good way. Also, despite the claims people tend to make in an election year, the Town’s infrastructure issues are far from being resolved. The tab for road repaving alone will be huge.

I also find it laughable that the Town Council would vote to decimate 400 acres bypassing zoning because it would not have been allowed to go forward, but as a replacement buy their way out of that decision, for the people of the Town. And the Council feels that it should not inform the townspeople of the purchase price. A little lacking in transparency, wouldn't you say? This is idiocy in action and many should consider their choices in the upcoming election.

With the current financial condition we are in no price is right at this time to be purchasing open space. Having lived here my entire life and growing up in that section of town I'm very familiar with that property. Mr Gold has been marketing this land for many years, unsuccessfully. Why? Because there is no market for this property, that's why. Thus the reason for his relentless efforts to convince the town to purchase it. His efforts are being backed by the conservation commission, no surprise. Ask them about the statistics on use of current open space. I doubt they will want to discuss that since it tells us that virtually no one is using it. Sorry guys but it's not the time. We have much more important things to be spending our very limited tax dollars on.

As someone who enjoys an active lifestyle, I think it is well within reason that we entertain this idea. My wife and I moved this town for many reasons, but it still lags well behind other towns and cities in certain areas, as the articles mentions. The town itself is not particularly walkable. There are few public spaces to recreate. Our neighboring communities believe investing in public space is a worthwhile investment. Why don't we?

If you want people to move here, buy property here, and raise families (and stay) here, you need to invest in attractive features. Spend money on school, infrastructure, and improving our quality of life. Slatersville Plaza is basically empty. Why would businesses invest in North Smithfield if we don't?

I don't know if Gold Forest is a sound investment--but it sounds like an interesting proposition. I certainly see no well-reasoned objection against it. The previous comments also don't add any clarity around the issue. My family is hard-working and blue collar, and we fully respect the role of local government and its use of our money. The idea that this is some big government misuse or neglect of its stewardship is misleading or outright false.

This is an idea worth considering, and I certainly hope all do.

In the very same agenda for August 6th, the town planner is asking for an appraisal of 3 town owned "playgrounds" that are so rarely used, one can only surmise that the purpose of an appraisal is to list them for sale. Where is the conservation commission's objection to this? No where. http://sos.ri.gov/documents/publicinfo/omdocs/notices/4540/2018/240576.p...

The Milton Ave Property is in Union Village (where I lived for 14 years) and my son and I utilized that playground once in a while (back when it had equipment). It's current use is as a school bus stop only and it stands empty.

If the town is actively looking to sell properties it owns to raise money (and increase density), how is now the right time to be purchasing any size parcel for conservation.

Frankly, I live near St Paul Church. How often do you think I'll drive across town to go walking? That's right...never. I have a beautiful bike path in Blackstone to use. One that the previous NS Town Council so spitefully used as a bargaining chip...that's why there is a gap between the Blackstone and Woonsocket bike paths.

Purchase of any open space should be put to the voters. As should disposal of any town properties. Do the right thing here and put it to a referendum if you are going to consider it. Otherwise, stop trying to spend my money and raising taxes!

Art Bassett

There is plenty of open space already in town, if you took the time to find it all. Statements are not misleading ,the people in town want lower taxes and frugal government.Taxes and salary increases are not equal today and have not been for some time.

Those concerned about the cost of the acquisition should consider two facts:

1. It's entirely possible that most, if not all, of the funding could come from the 2006 open space bond and the recent DEM grant. This would depress costs to the future taxpayer significantly.

2. Even if grants weren't used toward the funding, a purchase of that size would amount to a barely noticeable increase in taxes.

The austerity arguments being presented inflate the financial impact on North Smithfield residents. The two points undercut any austerity argument. I see no reason why their propositions should be seriously entertained.

Chase, how about using your full name as it appears on the tax rolls? People are less skeptical when reading comments made for or against spending taxpayer dollars when they are assured the writer is indeed a North Smithfield taxpayer. In addition, sometimes people who comment in favor or against a particular issue, do so under a pseudonym just to support the position of a political ally. Your comments will have a greater impact if you allow readers to know your identity.

I will add some info addressing concerns made in a couple of these comments. The Conservation Commission has nothing to do with the Parks & Recreation facilities mentioned in some of these comments. Concerns about the Waterford, Bushee and Union Village town-owned parks should be addressed by the Parks & Recreation Department, and not the Conservation Commission:

https://www.nsmithfieldri.org/parks-recreation-department

The question of putting the purchase of Open Space before the voters was already done and approved via the 2006 Open Space bond, Mr. Bassett:

AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE TOWN OF NORTH SMITHFIELD TO FINANCE THE ACQUISITION AND PRESERVATION IN PERPETUITY OF OPEN SPACE AND/OR THE PURCHASE OF DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS TO OPEN SPACE IN THE TOWN BY THE ISSUANCE OF NOT MORE THAN $3,000,000 OF BONDS AND/OR NOTES.

http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/PublicLaws/law06/law06415.htm

As far as statistics concerning current open space use in town which is maintained by the Conservation Commission, which property or properties are you referring to, Mr. Mingolla? We don't have turnstiles in the two properties that the Conservation Commission maintains, that is Monica's Garden and Cedar Swamp, so please be more specific.

For thoses who need clarification as to what the Conservation Commission does:

​The North Smithfield Conservation Commission aims to be a vital asset to the Town and its citizenry by advocating for sound environmental and conservation issues that impact the Town and its future.

​By conducting research and study of environmental impacts to natural resources such as wetlands, woodlands, open areas, and streams, the Commission seeks to be an active agent in the municipal planning process as it relates to the Town's growth as embodied in its Comprehensive Plan.

​The Commission may suggest a program for the protection and preservation of the Town's natural, historic, aesthetic and cultural treasures that affect the Town and its future and well being.

http://www.northsmithfieldconservation.org/

I'll be happy to answer any further questions.

Mike Calo
Vic Chair North Smithfield Conservation Commission

The veracity of my argument is not predicated on my level of anonymity.

I think most people in town understand the role of the conservation commission and what properties they control and that other entities control other parcels of open space in town. Who is controlling what is irrelevant to the topic of conversation which is should we be spending tax dollars at this time to purchase the Gold property for open space. That's the question, period. There is no data to even suggest that this property would get very much use. If we were in great financial shape at this time i would have no problem considering this purchase, but we are not. We have infrastructure issues that must be addressed. We have a school department with looming financial challenges in the years to come. We have public safety concerns such as fire and rescue protection that is no longer adequate for the size and scope of this community and a police department that can't even do radar patrols because of limited staffing. Sorry,but i can't support the purchase of open space until we get these issues under control.

Thanks for the clarification. Parks and Recreation is a department of the town. I don't believe they can sell property. I believe our planner is asking for an appraisal for just such consideration. That would not fall to Parks and Rec. Unloading space in a town trying to keep and enhance its character seems counter intuitive.

As for the 2006 bond, I'm well aware of it. I would suggest that the tax structure of the town has changed immensely in 12 years. It is time to put it back to the public for a vote.

But I do appreciate your response just the same. Agreeing to disagree is part of the process in any discussion.

Art Bassett

Mr. Clifford we found a subject that we agree on. I also believe people should use their real names when leaving comments on this page. I also think the Valley Breeze should not allow comments unless people do use their real name. I think hiding behind a pseudonym is a bit cowardice to be honest. Stand behind your words and what you believe, like you do. However I do find it curious and somewhat hypocritical that you did not chastise those using pseudonyms on this thread that agree with your point of view. You chose to single out "Chase" and implied he was just trying to support a political ally because he took an opposite position than you do? Who's Rocky Hill, Radar, PHD, and Hansel 17? Where is your criticism of their use of pseudonyms? Some of these brave people and a few others are here every week making comments they do not have to stand behind. When did you ever criticize any of them? Please, let's try to be more consistent in the future, your comments will have greater impact.

Respectfully,

John A. Beauregard
Town Council President

Why would you choose to use political tactics to shut people up by making them identify themselves.We see what you do to Mr. Clifford when he has a different opinion, you Chastise,belittle and try to embarrass him. Your not putting a target on me

When calling police or 911 we have a right to remain anonymous.When you call police or 911, state before you start your conversation you would like to remain anonymous.It's the law

Point taken John. Honestly, I focused on Chase because his second comment entitled "Funding" pushed me over the edge.

I was hoping you were going to respond to my comment about the reversal of your position since last October on the purchase of this property. I don’t understand how our financial position has changed so dramatically or how we have gotten ahead of our very significant infrastructure needs.