Tiverton is one of the few East Bay communities that still has ample forests, pastures and undeveloped land. It was for this reason that, a dozen years ago, I purchased land and built a …
Tiverton is one of the few East Bay communities that still has ample forests, pastures and undeveloped land. It was for this reason that, a dozen years ago, I purchased land and built a home. There are hundreds like me who, attracted by the winding country roads, became Tiverton homeowners as well as taxpayers and patrons of our business community.
Aware of the treasure they had, citizens formulated a Comprehensive Plan that was approved by the Tiverton Town Council and the state in 2018. The plan articulates Tiverton’s need to grow and develop in a way that preserves a small town, historic and scenic character with attractive new commercial buildings and neighborhoods. The lack of such plan in many RI towns is plain, where fast food outlets and cookie-cutter stores have crept in. And yet a plan is good only if it is adhered to and given teeth against opposition.
Tiverton is currently under pressure from outside developers whose own towns are “built out” and are hungry for new territory and the revenue generated by all the development they can squeeze out. At present the town is anticipating more than 500 housing units either approved but not yet built or proposed and under review.
Tiverton Heights is a 275-unit development that includes townhouses, duplexes and three-story buildings bordering Fish and Souza roads. It is by far the largest single development ever proposed in this town. The Oxford development includes 36 mixed-use units and 10 townhouses on nine acres. Immediately abutting these two tracts, Bayview Condos is planning 52 units.
Taken together, these three projects consume an enormous extent of current forest and wildlife habitat that will be gone forever. Additionally, they threaten to place a serious burden on existing and aging infrastructure including narrow roads not designed for heavy traffic and public schools not prepared for a surge of new children.
Developers are back with Seasons Corner Market and gas station, a 24 -hour mega-outlet proposed for the corner of Main and Souza roads. Economic damage to current business owners is certain, as three gas stations, a convenience mart and supermarket already serve the community within a short drive of the proposed site. Seasons alone promises a traffic nightmare on rural roads not intended for high volume. And yet, its application is being fast-tracked through the Planning Board despite residents’ opposition.
These developments raise questions as to who is in charge of planning in the town. Is it the Planning Board, which is assigned by State law with the proper review of development and which must follow the requirements set forth in the Comprehensive Plan? Or is it the shadow cabinet, consisting of the President and Vice-President of the town council, along with the town administrator and current town solicitor? It seems that that the town planner reports to and takes orders from the administrator.
The planning board is under assault from the current town administration.
Its ability to update its own subdivision regulations is challenged, its access to engineering advice from the town consulting engineer is curbed, and even the reappointment of the board’s most experienced member was opposed by the council president and vice president.
The time has come for the town council, instead of taking actions to reduce the planning board’s authority, to give the board the resources it needs to carry out its functions. First, it needs an independent land use attorney to help guide them in their review and decision-making, as well as access to the necessary experts to analyze developers’ claims.
All of us look forward to welcoming future home buyers to a well-planned community that resists residential sprawl and humdrum retail. Following comprehensive plan guidelines, the planning board serves to protect the small-town character of Tiverton even as our town grows. It deserves our support.
For further information, readers can visit the Preserve Tiverton website (www.preservetiverton.org). This citizens’ watchdog group notes and publicizes threats to our town’s irreplaceable character. As so many towns have found, once lost, that character is gone forever.