LINCOLN – Joshua Berry, Lincoln’s newly-appointed town planner, says this town is a beautiful place, full of amazing aesthetic character and with an incredible balance of commercial and residential property.
“Not a lot of communities have that,” he says, explaining that many bedroom communities, or commuter-populated towns primarily made up of homes, don’t have a great economic base.
That balance plays to residents’ favor, he said, as they’re often able to live and work in town, enjoying its wonderful parks and amenities, and many don’t have to commute.
Berry is 38, married, and a father to three young children. The Barrington resident said he grew up in that town, moved a long way away for school and graduate school, then came home in a “full circle” moment to his native Rhode Island.
He told The Breeze he saw Lincoln as right in his “wheelhouse” when it comes to understanding what makes Rhode Island communities special and unique. As a native Rhode Islander, he has some institutional understanding of the importance of balancing community protection of what makes it special, with addressing the pressing needs of our time, including sustainability, housing, and climate change/adaptation management.
Asked what big initiatives he might have planned for Lincoln, he said it’s important for a town planner not to impose their personal biases or goals, but understand the goals of the community and implement its comprehensive plan. He said he looks forward to working with Town Administrator Phil Gould to implement what he assesses as needs, as well as long-range planning processes. That said, housing is at the forefront of needs, he said, and how the town manages its regular topics of housing and development will be important going forward.
Equitable, sustainable housing will be an important goal going forward, he said, as will be rewriting an outdated comprehensive plan, which is seen as the guiding document of communities. He said he’s excited to get that work of modernizing the plan started, and engaging the public and listening to residents on where they want to move forward.
“I’m a firm believer that public involvement is paramount in successful planning,” he said. “We build community when we engage in transparent, equitable, and purposeful planning processes, all while ensuring better outcomes for our natural and built environments. I’d like the people of Lincoln to know that my door is always open.”
Asked for an example of how the comprehensive plan might be outdated, he mentioned that there is sometimes a conflict between zoning and the future land use goals in the comp plan. When one wants to protect single-family neighborhoods but also want to provide new housing stock, there’s a conflict on where to do that, he said, and modernization might look like more mixed-use zoning bringing flexible and permissive uses to allow “multi-modal, sustainable developments that make sense and minimize impacts on environmental resources.”
It’s too early in his tenure here to say where the best places for mixed zoning with more housing might be in Lincoln, Berry said, saying there’s potential in many places, but it has to make sense. If not in one place, it has to be somewhere else, he said, and there are always trade-offs to every development. Infrastructure capacity and impact on abutters must be considered, he added.
Previously the senior planner in Cranston, Berry said he saw Lincoln as the next logical step in moving to the next level in his career. He graduated with a philosophy degree from the University of Hawaii before getting a master’s degree in planning from the University of Florida.
Berry said Assistant to the Town Planner Peggy Weigner has been helpful in getting him up to speed on various matters, and he also had a couple of calls with former Planner Al Ranaldi.
He said he’s appreciated the practical approach of Gould in just wanting to get things done and having a clear communication style in reaching conflict resolution in the name of helping taxpayers. He said they’ve been working actively together during his first couple weeks on the job.
Gould said Tuesday that Berry is a fantastic addition and very qualified, saying he has experience from Cranston to understand some of the challenges facing Lincoln, including housing, development, and planning for the future. He is also experienced with comprehensive plans, he said, which will be a priority over the coming months.
When he’s not at work, Berry said he loves hanging out with his family, playing soccer, guitar, and has a big interest in mixed martial arts.