Future open space policy up for debate in North Smithfield

Future open space policy up for debate in North Smithfield

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The fallout from the sale of a possible open space purchase to a third party resulted in a debate over the best way to guide the process, with town officials resolving this week to develop a policy for considering future purchases.

Last month, proponents of preserving open space and town officials found themselves at odds after David Gold, owner of a 144-acre parcel known as the Gold property, sold the land to a solar developer after several years of negotiations with the town. Though a portion of the land could still come under town ownership through an agreement with the developer, members of the Conservation Commission and other groups expressed frustration with what they saw as the failure of town officials to transparently negotiate an agreement that would preserve the land.

Shortly afterward, Douglas Osier Jr., a town councilor elected to his first term in November, announced he planned to propose an “open space committee” that would promote and advise on future open space purchases. The announcement immediately drew backlash, with several town groups, including the Conservation Commission and the North Smithfield Land Trust, sending letters to The Valley Breeze expressing their opposition. Opponents maintained the new committee could be redundant with existing town boards and was simply a political maneuver seeking to gain the favor of those who support open space.

“Now, in an attempt to pacify voters and appear receptive to open space suggestions, (Osier) is planning to assemble an open space committee,” wrote Carol Ayala and Paul Soares of the Conservation Commission. “However, he has already demonstrated his lack of interest and follow through on the open space suggestion made by the town’s Conservation Commission.”

On Monday, Osier defended the proposal, describing it as an opportunity to engage residents and establish set guidelines for purchasing open space. The committee, he said, would consist of at least nine members from various town boards and the community and serve a similar function to open space committees in other Rhode Island towns, including Tiverton and Middletown. In addition to setting targets for open space acquisition, the committee would ensure any future purchases are consistent with the comprehensive plan and research financing options.

“The focus is on our town. This has nothing to do with political games,” he said. “This is for all of us, our future, as residents of North Smithfield. We should be supporting and collaborating in addition to working together to achieve common goals for our community.”

The proposal got a cool reception from fellow councilors, who repeated residents’ concerns that the committee would simply add another board to a lengthy list of town advisory committees. Council President Paul Vadenais said he didn’t feel another committee was necessary and the ultimate oversight for purchasing open space lies with the Town Council.

“We have professionals that work for us in the Planning Department, we have the Planning Board, we have outside groups in town that are looking to do this such as the Land Trust, and by creating another committee with members from all of those things, it doesn’t solve the issue,” he said. “It’s going to add another layer to something that’s already confusing and possibly misguided at times.”

Town Administrator Gary Ezovski proposed a possible middle ground when he offered to sit down with Osier, Town Planner Tom Kravitz and members of other town boards to develop a new policy for considering open space purchases. Though the initiative would not involve creating a new board, the policy would establish guidelines to help avoid future conflict over open space.

“I’m not a fan of another committee, but I do think that a policy could be developed to affirm the process for which an open space recommendation could be vetted,” he said.

The proposal received the unanimous approval of councilors, including Osier, who passed a measure authorizing the initiative in a 5-0 vote. The new policy will be subject to final approval by the Town Council.

Comments

The Town Administrator and Town Council President do not listen to existing Council personnel- in fact, I have witnessed a disdain by the Town Counicils and Last two Town Administrators going back to 2008 when the then Town Council President, Paulette Hamilton and an elected Town Council walked away from a signed P&S and a $50,000. Deposit, another $50,000. in over a year studies, plans, etc AND a $250,000. DEM Grant !
11 years later the next Town Administrator and Town Council decided, in CLSED DOOR MEETINGS, to apply for then walk away from a $400,000. DEM Grant(!) as well as an $850,000 discount offered to the Town...a purchase of 150 acres for $1.55 million dollars- a bargain for a Town Park with 6-miles of honed trail system and an enchanted forest.
GEEZ.
No business acumen displayed here methinks- IGNORING a bond mandate by Townspeople to spend the monies ! And in a recent study Townspeople re-stated the want and need for Open Space.
Do we need an ADDITIONAL Committee the Town Administrator and Town Council can ignore ?
NO.
What the Town needs is a strong intelligent Townspeople who have a say in Town policy and decision.