FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Proposed Open Space Acquisition of Rt. 1 Land

UPDATE: At the August 22 public hearing at the Charlestown Elementary School the Town Council voted to approve the acquisition of this land for open space. Read more …

As Charlestown considers the acquisition for open space of 78 acres along Rt. 1 it is important that we learn as much as possible about this land.

A Public Hearing has been scheduled for 7:00 pm, Thursday, August 22, at the Charlestown Elementary School. We will continue to update this FAQ until the date of the Public Hearing

The following questions and topics are based on information provided in 2011 from the Charlestown Planning Commission, biologists from the RI Natural History Survey, and staff from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Click on the linked “Read more …” to jump to a more detailed discussion.

The land is currently owned by the NIN corporation and is sometimes referred to as “NIN land” in this document.

A. HABITAT PROTECTION

  1. Does the property have critical, uncommon, ecologically fragile, or ecologically unique natural communities? Yes. Read more …
  2. Does the property have community types representative of the typical ecological communities of Rhode Island? Yes. Read more …
  3. Does the property provide tourism or educational values? Yes. Read more …
  4. Does the property support, or is it capable of supporting, rare/endangered species? Yes. Read more …

B.  GREENWAY OR REGIONAL LINKAGES

  1. Is the property contiguous with other protected land? Yes: Read more …
  2. Is the property contiguous to a river or stream as defined in the Rhode Island Fresh Water Wetlands Act? Yes: Read more …
  3. Does the property provide public recreational opportunities? Yes: Read more …
  4. Does the property expand state eco-tourism opportunities? Yes: Read more …
  5. Would there be a parking lot or other access and trails? Yes: Read more …

C.  RESOURCE PROTECTION

What are the sustainable resources that would be protected through acquisition of the property? Read more …

  1. Scenic
  2. Dark Sky
  3. Geological
  4. Biological
  5. Fisheries
  6. Cultural

D.  WATER RESOURCE PROTECTION

  1. Is the property located within the watershed of a Public Water Supply or Groundwater Recharge Area? Yes: Read more …
  2. Does the Federal Emergency Management Agency locate the property within a Special Flood Hazard Area (Zone V or A) as identified on Flood Insurance Rate Maps published? Yes: Read more …

E.  MULTI-COMMUNITY IMPACT

  1. Does this property abut lands owned by the Narragansett? Yes:  Read more …

F. PROPOSED USES

  1. Can the property be used? Yes: Read more …

G. PLANNING CONSISTENCY

  1. Is the acquisition consistent with the Local Comprehensive Plan? Yes:  Read more …
  2. Is the acquisition consistent with a Local Open Space Plan? Yes: Read more …
  3. Is the acquisition identified in a Regional or Watershed Plan? Yes: Read more …
  4. Is the acquisition identified in the Greenways/Greenspace Element of the State Guide Plan? Yes:  Read more …

H.  FARMLAND PRESERVATION

  1. Will the land be used for agricultural purposes, including farming, dairying, pasturage, apiculture, horticulture, floriculture, turf farming, or animal or poultry husbandry? No except possibly apiculture (honey bees) Read more …

I.  FINANCIAL IMPACT

  1. How much will the land cost? $2,114,415.00 Dollars Read more …
  2. Where will the money come from? Previously approved Open Space Bonding Authority: Read more …
  3. What is the property tax impact of the purchase? Eight Cents per $1000 of assessed value: Read more …
  4. Would there be a negative tax impact if the land were developed for housing? Yes: Read more …
  5. Would there be a negative tax impact if the land were developed for wind turbines? Yes: Read more …
  6. Has there been a recent appraisal on the value of the land? Yes: Read more …
  7. What would the negative yearly tax impact be if the land were developed with the 40 houses that was the developer’s last proposed? –$288,584.00 Read more …

J. LONG TERM PROTECTION

  1. Can the town protect the land so that the use cannot be changed to something other than open space? Yes: Read more …

K. SALES AGREEMENT

  1. Why is the property described in places as 82 acres and in others as 78? The size has been reduced to cut out 2 house lots: Read more …

L. AERIAL MAP

  1. Click on the link for a Google aerial map of the property

M. OPINION

  1. The Charlestown Planning Commission held a public site walk of the property in 2011 and again on August 30, 2013. They met in public session on August 7 and prepared an advisory that endorsed and updated their 2011 advisory on this parcel. (Much of this FAQ is based on their 2011 advisory) Read more …
  2. The Charlestown Conservation Commission held a public site walk of the property on August 8 and then met in open session to prepare an advisory. They found “from a geology, ecology and wildlife perspective, the property is considered worthy of conservation as open space.” Read more …
  3. The Chairman of the Charlestown Parks and Recreation Commission wrote a letter. Read more …
  4. The Salt Ponds Coalition wrote a letter in support of the purchase. Read more …
  5. Watch this space for more letters of support soon

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Below are detailed discussions of the topics listed above.
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A. HABITAT PROTECTION  

  • 1.) Does the property have critical, uncommon, ecologically fragile, or ecologically unique natural communities? Yes.

This parcel is the largest unprotected and undeveloped piece of the Charlestown moraine remaining today. The Charlestown moraine is an internationally recognized geologic feature and the ecosystems it supports are unique.  The habitat existing on the moraine may have been more common in the past, but now is uncommon and ecologically unique due to development of the rest of the Charlestown moraine.  Although there have been no formal surveys, biologists from the RI Natural History Survey walked the site in 2003 and then in 2005.  At that time, each of these biologists saw this parcel as having the potential to possess ecologically significant features.  In 2003, Ginger Brown, Coordinator Rhode Island Natural History Survey, Inventory and Monitoring Program, noted this property is located very close to the Burlingame Park which contains identified Rare, Threatened, and Endangered species and this parcel most likely contains some of these species. She recommended a more thorough species survey of the property. In 2005, Karen Puryear examined the special aquatic sites or vernal pools on the property, found vernal pool indicator species and recommended a complete biological inventory of these sites.

There has been no full survey of species on this parcel, so the species on this parcel remain unknown, but there are obvious ways this property contributes to other known Natural Heritage Areas and connects them. The property presently serves as an important forested wildlife corridor between the two State identified Natural Heritage Areas of Watchaug Pond and the School House Pond/Deep Pond complex. This forested corridor enables some species to disperse into or through the area. Acquisition of the land would protect this important wildlife corridor and make it permanent. The School House Pond complex is connected to other lands of USFWS so the wildlife corridor is quite extensive. We believe this parcel is the largest unprotected and undeveloped parcel in the moraine and is a critical link in keeping the different conservation lands connected.

The vernal pools on the property and surrounding uplands are important to amphibians some of which are state species of concern. The pools are used for breeding, but the adults depend on an “area within 100 to 750 feet of the vernal pool’s spring high water mark be forested, with undisturbed ground cover. This land, defined as the “critical terrestrial habitat” for amphibians during the non-breeding season, is necessary for foraging and hibernating, and allows the animals to disperse to other forested areas or breeding ponds.” (From a letter about this property from Kristan Puryear, Conservation Biologist, Rhode Island Natural History Survey) Acquisition of this property for open space would protect both the vernal pools and the critical terrestrial habitat.

The unfragmented forest of this parcel, the stream draining School House Pond, and the rapidly draining soils work together to protect the water quality of the Coastal Ponds. The forest, purifying the water, removes nitrogen in rainwater. That water in combination with the drinking quality water from Schoolhouse sends the highest quality water to Ninigret to dilute more contaminated water that reaches the ponds from other sources. Parts of Ninigret Pond and the surrounding National Wildlife Refuge are also identified as state Natural Heritage Areas.

  • 2.) Does the property have community types representative of the typical ecological communities of Rhode Island? Yes.

The following is from a 2003 letter to the Charlestown Conservation Commission from Virginia Brown, Coordinator, Ecological Inventory, Monitoring and Stewardship program, Rhode Island Natural History Survey. “The property consists of 82 acres of rolling forested land in the Charlestown Moraine. It is situated directly east of Watchaug Pond, but drains south and east into Ninigret Pond. The forest is dominated by Oak with some white pine, and an understory of mountain laurel and huckleberry. Mountain laurel occurs in dense well-developed stands distributed throughout the property. This is a particularly good example of this forest type, in part because it lacks bull briar and because invasive plant species are limited to the Rt. 1 roadside.”

“The forest present on the property is very representative of southern Rhode Island and particularly of forest cover in the moraine. The laurel stands are impressive, many of them so dense that they are impenetrable.” “ forests of this type support a diversity of wildlife species such as nesting songbirds, raptors (red-tailed hawks, great horned owls), small mammals (shrews, voles, squirrels, etc.), (red and grey fox, coyotes, fisher, white-tailed deer), amphibians (red-backed salamanders), and invertebrates.” 

  • 3.) Does the property provide tourism or educational values? Yes.

Local summer traffic and tourism represents many thousands of people every day from all over Rhode Island and other states.

The property currently represents one of Charlestown’s signature landscapes. This property provides nearly a mile of undeveloped frontage on Post Road (Rt. 1). Post Road  in Charlestown is one of only eight designated scenic highways in Rhode Island. For tourists, that unbroken landscape signals that they are someplace special and that the vacation has begun. For our year round population returning home from a long day at work, the peace of that landscape has been described as calming. At night, the skies are dark and the stars are spectacular. This is not an isolated parcel. Even for people who never venture off the pavement and into the woods, this parcel touches their lives.

Behind that unbroken road frontage is an important geological teaching tool. Geologists are very familiar with the Charlestown moraine, but the general public may have limited knowledge of local geological history. Preservation of this property would allow generations of Rhode Islanders and tourists to experience the work of the glacier and see the remains of that 18,000-year history in an undeveloped setting.

This section of the moraine, in combination with the existing USFWS Kettle Pond Visitor Center, which bases its name on unique geologic formations, would make this area attractive to schools, colleges, universities as well as tourists studying New England geology.  There are many National and State Parks focused specifically on geology throughout the country, but none that we know of that focus on the glacial moraine.

The property offers additional potential for bird watching and other nature observation.

  • 4.)    Does the property support, or is it capable of supporting, rare/endangered species? Yes.

Because no natural history survey has been done, what the property contains is still unknown. But it is part of a connected area of state recognized Natural Heritage Areas that contain state and federal endangered species, state threatened species and state species of concern. Since these rare and endangered species surround the NIN land they are likely to also be present on this parcel.

B.  GREENWAY OR REGIONAL LINKAGES

  • 1.)         Is the property contiguous with other protected land? Yes: The protected parcels are as follows:
  • AP 19 Lot 71 connects this property to Deep Pond and School House Pond.
  • There are lots along Prosser Trail that the Charlestown Build Out Map identifies as “will remain un-built at build-out”. These are contiguous with both the NIN land and Prosser trail.
  • The NIN land is contiguous to 17/124-1, which is owned by the YMCA on Prosser Trail.
  • The NIN parcel is very near to Burlingame on Prosser Trail. Kings Factory Road also fronts the property.
  • The property abuts Settlement land of the Narragansett. The Settlement Act requires that the former Indian Cedar Swamp Management Area be left in conservation and that the remainder of Tribal land should be at least 75 percent conservation land. Besides this agreement, the Tribe has shown a strong desire to protect the natural resources of their land.

The NIN property represents the potential to link hikers from this property to the Vin Gormley Trail which travels through much of Burlingame. The Vin Gormley Trail is the oldest marked trail and one of the most well known trails in Rhode Island. The North South Trail, which runs from Blue Shutters Beach in Charlestown to the Massachusetts border, contains a portion of the Vin Gormley Trail. In this area the Vin Gormley is on Prosser Trail so a short walk along this country road to connect one hiking area to another hiking area is already happening.

  • 2.)        Is the property contiguous to a river or stream as defined in the Rhode Island Fresh Water Wetlands Act? Yes.

The property contains a very important stream and wetland system. School House Pond and Deep Pond drain to this stream that runs through the NIN property. The NIN property stream in turn drains to King Tom Pond and to Ninigret Pond beyond.

  • 3.)        Does the property provide public recreational opportunities? Yes:

Tremendous up and down hiking through the geological record of an 18 thousand-year history. As stated previously it could connect to the Vin Gormley Trail and from there to the North South Trail that travels to Massachusetts. The stands of Mountain Laurel are spectacular. There are ocean views from places on the property.

The undeveloped glacial moraine is impressive. This property is part of a mostly unfragmented forest that connects Burlingame to lands owned by USFWS. The combination of all these undeveloped properties with public access could give the hiker an experience approaching a National Park. The glacial geology of the Charlestown moraine is a globally unique landscape. Protecting it and connecting it for hikers increases the recreational value of all the existing open space parcels in this area. Hikers would pass from stream to kettle holes to esker like formations to ocean views around stands of impenetrable mountain laurel and then on to Watchaug, Burlingame, and into the Carolina Management Area. The NIN property is the largest remaining undeveloped and unprotected parcel in the glacial moraine.

  • 4.)        Does the property expand state eco-tourism opportunities? Yes:

Rt. 1 in the summer is an important tourism corridor for Rhode Island. Connecting our different open space properties with this key parcel would expand state eco-tourism opportunities by an amount much larger than the 78 acres.

If a rare species of bird is observed on the property, birders from outside the area will travel to see it, and spend money (food, gas, etc.) in Charlestown while here.

  • 5.) Would there be a parking lot or other access and trails? Yes:
  • There could be a small gravel parking lot on King’s Factory Road. There is access here north of the wetland. Trails could follow existing deer paths and some new trails would need to be cut. There are areas where the mountain laurel is impenetrable and trails would have to go around these areas.
  • There are possibilities for trail access from Prosser Trail. Hikers could park at Burlingame State Park.
  • A through trail could be developed and other shorter loop trails could be cut.

            C.  RESOURCE PROTECTION 

  • 1.         What are the sustainable resources that would be protected through acquisition of the property?

    Scenic

    Route 1 in Charlestown was designated as a State Scenic Road on August 26, 2002. It is one of only eight designated scenic roads in Rhode Island. The following is language from the Rhode Island Scenic Road Board.

    Post Road has wonderful views that create an unusually attractive and integrated traveling experience for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The road possesses outstanding natural, historical, and cultural characteristics, significant recreational opportunities, and other significant visual characteristics.

    There are important natural resources along Post Road that, for the most part, have been well preserved. On the northerly side, being the edge of the glacial Charlestown Moraine, there is thick and beautiful foliage consisting of a variety of species of trees. … On the southerly side, where the glacial flat outwash plain begins, the views contrast with those to the north. The vegetation is lower and ponds and occasional coastal ocean views are visible. The variety of the natural landforms and vistas most certainly create an especially attractive and appealing driving experience.

    The NIN property represents nearly one mile of unbroken frontage on the part of Rt. 1 that makes up Charlestown. The landscape described above is represented by this stretch of road, with forest and glacial moraine on the north and the glacial outwash plain on the south. This parcel is a key piece in this signature Charlestown landscape.

    Dark Sky

    The same unbroken frontage of over 4000 feet that creates the scenic highway is also important to Charlestown’s dark sky. Charlestown is the last dark sky area along the coast between New York and Boston. Besides the spectacular view of stars that we all enjoy, Charlestown hosts the Frosty Drew Observatory. The following is from the Frosty Drew website at http://frostydrew.org/observatory/columns/2002/mar.htm “The dark skies above Charlestown was the principle reason for siting Frosty Drew Observatory in the Ninigret Park in 1989. Dark skies are almost nonexistent in the eastern United States. Reconnaissance photos show a light band from Florida well into Maine along the seacoast unbroken except for a single stretch centered on Charlestown Rhode Island. To find similarly dark skies elsewhere in New England you need to travel to the most rural northern regions of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. … Dark skies are not a luxury but a necessity for astronomy.

    Geological

    The NIN property is located in the Charlestown recessional moraine, a prominent glacial feature considered by many to be a world-class geologic formation, a fact few people living in Charlestown may be aware of. The moraine stretches for roughly 20 miles, from South Kingstown near the border of Narragansett down to Watch Hill in Westerly, where it disappears into the sea. In many places the moraine’s southern edge is located just north of US Route 1, which is the case with the NIN land.

    Moraines are accumulations of glacial debris that form at the leading edges of glaciers. They are composed of material ranging in size from tiny particles of clay and silt, to large boulders. The Laurentide Ice Sheet, a continental glacier that covered vast areas of North America from about 95,000 to 20,000 years ago, created the Charlestown moraine. Here in southern New England the ice made it as far south as Block Island, where it formed an end or terminal moraine. As the climate warmed and the glacier receded, a process that took many thousands of years to complete, there were occasional periods when the climate cooled again and the edge of the ice stopped melting back. It was during these periods when recessional moraines were created. According to glacial geologists, the Charlestown moraine is believed to have formed almost 18,000 years ago.

    A number of explanations have been proposed over the years to explain how the Charlestown moraine came to be. It’s believed that during periods when glacial melting slowed and stopped, the edge of the ice front oscillated back and forth in roughly the same position; receding back some distance as the climate warmed, then moving forward again when it cooled. Some believe the moraine formed during these times when glacial debris –  silt, sand, gravel, rocks and boulders –  was pushed and piled up in front of the readvancing ice, similar to the way a bulldozer moves soil. It’s also theorized that as these warming periods ended and the climate cooled again, it became so intensely cold that large chunks of glacial debris became frozen to the bottom of the ice at its leading edge and was dragged along with the readvancing ice. Then, as the cold periods ended and the climate warmed, the glacier’s forward motion stopped and the ice started melting, causing all the debris frozen to the bottom of the front of the ice to drop in place. It’s believed this process occurred a number of times, the ice moving back and forth in roughly the same place, picking up debris just to the north of the moraine. With each oscillation the moraine grew higher, leaving behind a tall, many miles long hill of glacial debris. It’s possible much of the material making up the Charlestown moraine in the area of the NIN property came from where Watchaug Pond is today.

    From US Route 1 to the northwest end of the property, the land rises 100 feet vertically higher than the highway. In many places, the property is steep, almost all of it is sloped, in some places exceeding a 35% grade. The property is very hilly and is best described as an undulating landscape of small hills and depressions separated by intervening ridges. It is a kind of glaciated landscape known as hummocky topography, and owes its form due to the manner in which the debris and ice was deposited prior to final melting. The depressions or low points in the land were those places where the blocks of glacial ice came to rest, while the hills and ridges were those spaces between blocks of ice, where vast quantities of shifting silt, sand, gravel and boulders collected and settled.

    The Charlestown moraine is a unique landscape. Since much of the moraine in Charlestown has already been altered and developed, this property offers an opportunity to preserve a dwindling resource, and if left in its present state, would preserve an important part of the town’s geology and natural history.

    Biological

    • Important forested wildlife corridor between the State identified Natural Heritage Areas and conservation lands of DEM, USFWS and others
    • Vernal Pools and critical terrestrial habitat for amphibians
    • Stream corridor connecting School House Pond to Ninigret Pond that provides pristine water to Ninigret
    • Permanent stream for fish species requiring both fresh water and marine habitat to complete their life cycle.
    • Biologically active forest filter for rainwater that provides more clean water to the Coastal Ponds
    • Natural History survey of the property has not yet been done, but it may contain Rare, Threatened and Endangered (R,T,E) species due to the uniqueness of the moraine and close proximity to other areas with R,T,E species.

    Fisheries

    This land provides pristine fresh water to the salt ponds. The salt ponds are coastal lagoons; shallow, productive marine embayments separated from the ocean by barrier spits. They provide important ecosystem and habitat functions. These functions include prime habitat for commercial and recreational fin and shellfish.

    Cultural

    Standing on the highest ridge, looking out at the viewscape of the coastal plain can be considered a cultural resource because it provides a sense of how the Charlestown landscape may have appeared prior to European settlement when looking at the Ninigret Wildlife Refuge along with many of the changes that have taken place on developed lands nearby.

    D.  WATER RESOURCE PROTECTION

    1.         Is the property located within the watershed of a Public Water Supply or Groundwater Recharge Area? Yes:

    • The property is entirely within a Non-community Wellhead Protection Area.
    • RIDEM Groundwater Classification and Wellhead Protection Area Maps at http://www.dem.ri.gov/maps/mapfile/gw/jpg/statemap.jpg The property is identified on this map as GA, groundwater resources known or presumed to be drinking water quality but are not assigned GAA. The land around School House Pond, which abuts this property, is classified as GAA, the highest quality.
    • The property is also within the Coastal Pond Watershed.

    2.         Does the Federal Emergency Management Agency locate the property within a Special Flood Hazard Area (Zone V or A) as identified on Flood Insurance Rate Maps published? Yes:

    A portion of the site in the area of the stream is within the 100-year flood zone.

    E.  MULTI-COMMUNITY IMPACT

    1.         Does this property abut lands owned by the Narragansett? Yes:

    This property forms a significant border to lands owned by the Narragansett. Acquiring lands that abut Tribal land can serve as a buffer between the two communities. Charlestown must abide by American property law and state and local zoning laws that give landowners the right to develop their land. Those property rights often put development that isn’t compatible with Tribal land values up against tribal land. For each of us our land is home and can be sacred, but for the Tribe, their land in Charlestown can have more complicated and historically rooted meaning. Creating permanent conservation land around the tribal land reduces conflicts between the different goals of developers and the tribe.

    F. PROPOSED USES – can the property be used? Yes:

    • Passive recreation through hiking, some of which will be up and down and could be strenuous and would add a bit of challenge and variety to hiking opportunities in Charlestown
      • Trail connections to the North South Trail
      • The geology of the site will provide an education to the hiker
      • Geologists from the graduate level down to young children could use this undisturbed parcel directly for education and research of the Charlestown moraine.

    G. PLANNING CONSISTENCY

    1.         Is the acquisition consistent with the Local Comprehensive Plan? Yes:

    [Page numbers are from the 2006 Comprehensive Plan Update].

    Open Space and Recreation – page 5

    The Town has developed criteria ranking for open space preservation that serves as a guide in assessing opportunities for open space acquisition or easements. Criteria include all of the following and we have placed in bold those that this property facilitates. Only farmland protection is not facilitated by the protection of this property.

    Ecologically significant habitat (Connects Watchaug Pond and School House Pond natural Heritage Areas)

    Groundwater and surface water protection

    Adjacency to (contiguous with) protected land or to surface water bodies

    Scenic views and vistas

    Cultural resource protection (The abutting lands of the Narragansett are identified as a state Cultural Resource, there are also views of Charlestown that tell a story that can’t be understood as well from street level)

    – Farmland protection

    POLICIES / ACTIONS – page 7

    Policy 1: Protect natural resources, cultural resources, important views and visual corridors through open space acquisition, dedications or purchase/transfer of development rights.

    POLICIES / ACTIONS – page 8

    Accessibility to residential areas and neighborhoods, to increase use and appreciation of open space and to serve as a buffer to more intensively used areas.

    2.         Is the acquisition consistent with a Local Open Space Plan? Yes:

    The Town of Charlestown’s Open Space Plan resulted in Open Space Acquisition Procedures. This parcel is consistent with the ranking criteria for open space in those procedures.

    3.         Is the acquisition identified in a Regional or Watershed Plan? Yes:

    The CRMC Salt Pond Region Special Area Management Plan identifies the moraine as critical area for land conservation to protect the Coastal Ponds.

    Chapter 10 – Land Preservation and Acquisition

    1. The most effective method to reduce potential water quality pollutants from land based sources is through property acquisition.

    2. Property acquisitions are not only beneficial for resource protection, they have been proven to be an economic benefit to Rhode Island communities.

    Chapter 2: (210.2) Incentives for Growth Management and Water Quality Protection

    A. Manage growth and existing pollutant problems

    The manner in which open lands are developed or preserved will determine the future water quality in the salt ponds and health of the ecosystem throughout the watershed. These lands hold the region’s fate as either a unique environment of exceptional quality, or as another densely developed suburb where such character is reduced or destroyed. The Salt Pond Region is located in one of the fastest growing areas of the state and has experienced steady growth over the past forty years. Development pressures continue to place powerful economic incentives on the conversion of open space to residential use.

    Chapter 3: (310.3) Water Quality, Future Trends

    Because large parts of the watershed are already developed at high densities that exceed sustainable water quality for both groundwater and the salt ponds, it is critical to immediately preserve existing areas of very low density in the watershed.

    4.         Is the acquisition identified in the Greenways/Greenspace Element of the State Guide Plan? Yes:

  • The property is near a spur of the North-South trail known as the Vin Gormley Trail, which travels near the property along Prosser Trail. This is specifically identified in the Greenways/Greenspace maps. The Rhode Island Greenway Plan includes two maps. One is the State of Rhode Island Greenways map. The North South Trail is a prominent feature on this map. The other map on this page, the State of Rhode Island Greenspace and Greenways Plan has the North South Trail as a main identity of the plan. If this land acquisition took place, it would expand and enhance the trail system associated with the North South Trail and give hikers an opportunity to hike in the glacial moraine.
  • The state guide plan follows, is consistent with this possible acquisition.
  •  Relevant excerpts from Element 121, include the following:
    • “2. The Greenspace System

    Goal: A statewide network of greenspaces and greenways that protects and preserves the environment, wildlife habitats, natural resources, scenic landscapes, provides recreation, and shapes urban growth.

    Objectives

    • Permanently protect critical natural resources.
    •  Upgrade and maintain urban and community Greenspace.
    • Provide a diverse, well-balanced system of public outdoor recreation facilities.

    Excerpts from Element 155, “A Greener Path,” “Greenspace and Greenways for Rhode Island’s Future,” include the following:

    • “PROGRAM INITIATIVES AND ACTION RECOMMENDATIONS

    Protection for a Sustainable Landscape, including

    • “Greenspace’s ecological functions”

    “Maximize reliance upon greenspace and greenways as natural infrastructure for nonstructural solutions to water management problems, including: … water quality maintenance and restoration, and stormwater runoff and flood control.”

    • “Greenspace and people”

    “Promote public access to and usage of the greenspace system, wherever feasible and consistent with protection of the system’s resource values. “

    “Use various aspects of greenspace and greenway projects as vehicles for advancing public environmental education, promoting public service and volunteerism...

    H.  FARMLAND PRESERVATION

    Will the land be used for agricultural purposes, including farming, dairying, pasturage, apiculture, horticulture, floriculture, turf farming, or animal or poultry husbandry?No:

    It could be used for apiculture (honey bees), as there is a source of flowers and water, but the soils are not suitable for crops or even growing a lawn.

    The soils on the property are Gloucester- Hinckley C and D (GhC and GhD). According to the Soil Survey of Rhode Island, these soil complexes have the following characteristics:

    • Slopes range from 3 to 15% (GhC) and 15 to 35% (GhD)
    • The permeability of Gloucester soils is rapid
    • The permeability of the Hinckley soils is rapid in the surface layer and subsoil and very rapid in the substratum
    • Lawn grasses, shallow-rooted trees and shrubs require watering in summer
    • Seedlings are difficult to establish
    • For GhD, the hazard of erosion is severe and is moderate for GhC

I. FINANCIAL IMPACT

  • 1.) How much will the land cost? $2,114,415.00 Dollars:

This land had been offered to the town by the previous owner at prices ranging from three million dollars to 5 million dollars. The current owner has settled for a significantly lower price. Two million dollars is not a bargain sale, but it does not seem unreasonable considering the importance of the property to the character and environment of the town and the controversies it has caused and the cost of continued litigation.

  • 2.) Where will the money come from? Previously approved Open Space Bonding Authority:

Members of the Charlestown Conservation Commission circulated a petition in 2004 to add a question to the Charlestown Financial Referendum asking for two million dollars in open space bonding authority. The Conservation Commission obtained enough signatures to place this on the ballot and the voters approved the funding. To date, this money has not been spent and there is an additional amount of more than one hundred thousand dollars left over from previous open space bond issues.

  • 3.) What is the property tax impact of the purchase? Eight Cents per $1000 of assessed value:

The cost to the town, including interest on the bonds, is $212,800 a year for 20 years.

This would amount to $24.55 for a house valued at $300,000.00 for the 20 year life of the bonds.

  • 4.)Would there be a negative tax impact if the land were developed for housing? Yes:

The developer never gave up the right to develop this land with housing. During the hearings for the wind turbines, the applicant’s experts and others would occasionally compare the environmental impacts of wind turbines to housing, but when asked if there would be no housing if the turbines would be approved, the applicant said they would do both eventually. Certainly if the wind turbines had been turned down, the applicant would have resubmitted a plan for housing.

Although the town collects taxes on housing, the taxes collected do not necessarily cover the costs of community services associated with the roads and increased population.

CCA has a cost of development calculator. It is based on methods developers use to estimate tax impacts on the community from a proposed development. The calculations use the  Charlestown tax rate, the average assessed value of houses in the subdivision in thousands of dollars, the average number of public school students per dwelling unit, the tuition cost per student in dollars, the municipal costs per dwelling unit in dollars, and the number of houses in the subdivision to estimate the tax impact of development.

To estimate the value of houses that might be built in this neighborhood, we looked at values of surrounding properties. The closest neighborhoods to the property are the elderly housing on Tribal land, abutting properties on King’s Factory Road, East Quail, and Woodcock. We used the East Quail and Woodcock vales as these are probably more similar to housing that might be built on the property proposed for open space and the values are much higher on East Quail and Woodcock.

The 27 properties on East Quail and Woodcock range in assessment from $255,800 to $468,000, with a median assessment of $331,500.

If we use a house value of $350,000 for the 30 houses that could be built on the property and assume 9 public school students for the entire development we calculate a negative tax impact of $88,359.00. This means the cost of community services exceeds the taxes collected with a net cost to the taxpayers of nearly 90 thousand dollars a year forever. Even if the houses built are assessed at the same value as the most expensive neighboring house at $468,000.00, the town still has a net yearly tax loss of $56,286.60.

  • 5.) Would there be a negative tax impact if the land were developed for wind turbines? Yes:

The Town had hired an expert to give testimony in the Zoning Board Hearing on the two wind turbines about the negative impact on surrounding property values. Those hearings were interrupted by the negotiations to purchase the land for open space so we don’t have a number to report, but the negative impact was described as significant.

  • 6.) Has there been a recent appraisal on the value of the land? Yes:

The property underwent a complete appraised on August 13, 2013, and the remaining 77 acres given a value of $1,875,000.00. In 2004 the entire 82 acres was appraised at $3,612,500.00. The sales price is $2,114,415.00. This is more than the appraisal, but the savings the Town will gain by putting an end to all litigation will make up much of this difference. The current appraisal takes into account the current recession in the housing market. The property value will likely increase in the near future as that housing market recovers.

  • 7.) What would the negative yearly tax impact be if the land were developed with the 40 houses that was the developer’s last proposed? –$288,584.00

The Wind Turbine developer also has a proposal for 40 houses at this site. It is unclear if this was intended to be in addition to the Wind Turbines or is an alternative. The proposal was made under the RI Low and Moderate Income Housing law that allows developers to increase the number of allowed houses in a subdivision. Ten of the houses were for families of three or four and earning 100% or more of the median income. The other 30 houses were market rate. The rules for affordable housing have constraints on income and occupancy that result in a larger population than the market rate houses. Using the same calculations that applicants use to determine the fiscal impact, we conclude that the proposed subdivision would have resulted in a net tax loss of $288,584.00 per year for the life of the subdivision.

J. LONG TERM PROTECTION

Can the town protect the land so that the use cannot be changed to something other than open space by a future Town Council? Yes:

The best way to do this is with a conservation easement. In fact Charlestown requires developers of cluster subdivisions to attach a conservation easement to the open space in subdivisions.

Conservation easements are usually held by an organization whose mission is land protection. Charlestown Land Trust and The Rhode Island Nature Conservancy are examples of such organizations. RI Department of Environmental Management can also hold easements and they have an easement on South Farm for example. The Town of Charlestown also holds conservation easements, but as the land owner a town easement would not have much meaning.

K. SALES AGREEMENT

Why is the property described in places as 82 acres and in others as 78? The size has been reduced to cut out 2 house lots:

The entire property is currently 82 acres, but the owner is offering only 78 of the 82 acres to the town for preservation as open space.

The proposal from the seller is to create two house lots, of two acres each, in the corner of the property abutting existing developed lots on East Quail and fronting on Rt. 1. That creates a remaining undeveloped lot of 78 acres. The subdivision of the two lots is currently before the Charlestown Planning Commission.

L. Aerial Map

Click on the link for a Google aerial map of the property

The property is the undeveloped area at the center of the map bounded by King’s Factory Rd. and Rt. 1. Watchaug Pond is on the left in this image.

8 Comments

  1. CCA - emailer
    August 19, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

    I think it is great to take the action to eliminate the wind turbine proposal. Also, I support open space, but it is not obvious that spending all of our open space money on this one project is a good idea. Why not permit development of 4-6 more lots on the property for private homes as a means of defraying about half of the acquisition cost?

    Reply

    • Steering Committee
      August 25, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

      According to the appraisal, it would take about 15 to 17 lots to offset half the acquisition cost. With that level of development most of the value for conservation of the land would be eliminated.

      Reply

  2. Frances Topping
    August 14, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    Since ongoing deliberations about this parcel of land have sapped tax dollars and energy I think it is about time to put it to rest and acquire this parcel for community use and wildlife and plant habitat. It contributes to the scenic value of Rte 1, groundwater, habitat and dark sky, all features that make Charlestown attractive. Uses proposed have all been contentious and caused much time consumption for council and commission members, lawyers and other experts. Since it looks unlikely that the town and the owner can come to agreement on other uses I believe that open space is a far better town use for this parcel as it meshes well with other parcels too. I hope this Town council will negotiate with the owner for a satisfactory outcome for Charlestown residents.

    Reply

  3. Steering Committee
    August 13, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

    The Charlestown Conservation Commission held a site walk of the property on August 8 and they have draft minutes of that meeting at the Town website.

    They made a unanimous motion as follows “From a geology, ecology and wildlife perspective, the property is considered worthy of conservation as open space.” The full text of their draft minutes are at the town website.

    We are not aware if any other Town boards or commissions have submitted advisories.

    Reply

  4. CCA - emailer
    August 13, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    What are the advisories from Conservation Commission and other town entities?

    Reply

  5. Vic Dvorak
    August 13, 2013 @ 11:11 am

    Very useful info however why don’t we get information like this from our town which doesn’t communicate regarding important issues such as this. Why doesn’t our town have a regular newlestter informing its citizens about important issues – an e-mail based newlestter has been suggested on several ocassion but our town simply refuses to communicate with its citizens – why???? We elect and pay our town – why doesn’t it communicate with us??

    Reply

    • Ruth Platner
      August 13, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

      Vic,

      CCA has a better website and communication tools than any town I know of. Expecting Charlestown’s website to be as good or better isn’t fair. What you want from government are good decisions, not a great website.

      To be fair, much of this information is at the town’s website. As it says at the top, the FAQ is based in part on information from the Planning Commission advisory from 2011. The Planning Commission is elected, but they are not paid anything. The Planning Commission did update their 2011 advisory at a meeting last week.

      The town does have an email list you can sign up for. The town also uses Clerkbase so you can see all the meeting documents at the town’s website.

      It is this Town Council’s initiative to consider the purchase of the land. Preservation of this land has been proposed since at least 2000, but there has not been a town council majority willing to consider acquisition until now. That new willingness to have an open discussion is something to be very pleased about.

      Reply

  6. CCA - emailer
    August 12, 2013 @ 8:24 am

    Thank you. Your website has been very informative.

    Reply

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