On April 14, the Charlestown Town Council and the Charlestown Planning Commission will have its first joint public hearing regarding the rewrite of its Comprehensive Plan, which is 367 pages in length.
For those of you who may not know what a Comprehensive Plan is, here is a generic definition: “Comprehensive planning is a process that determines community goals and aspirations in terms of community development. The result is called a comprehensive plan or general plan, and both expresses and regulates public policies on transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, and housing.”
Now, the last Comprehensive Plan was in 1991, which was started in 1990 and completed in 1992, taking about 15 months to complete. An update was done in 2006 and approved by the Rhode Island Department of Administration in 2008. This five-year update expired in 2013. So, from 2013 to 2021, the Charlestown Planning Commission has been working on this new rewrite. Why has it taken so long you ask? Good question.
Let’s do a little exercise in comparison:
Issue #1: The 1991 plan allowed numerous groups of citizens to participate in the process. Each element of the plan had it own Citizens Advisory Committee which held public meetings. Seven committees were formed with 35 citizens participating in total.
There were also four public workshops, two public hearings and 10 Citizens Advisory Committee meetings for the public to provide input.
Along with meetings with the Town Council, town administrator, town staff, board and commission members and outside agencies, there was a total of 110 individuals who worked on the 1991 plan.
In comparison, for this rewrite, no public hearings have been scheduled until April 14 and no Citizen Advisory Committee has ever been formed. The result? Citizens have had difficulty participating in the process.
Issue #2: The Pipeline, which contained a survey for this rewrite, was mailed out to the entire list of Charlestown households and P.O. boxes in 2015, which consisted of 5,177 recipients.
Copies were also left in the library (50) and Town Hall (150).
As of July 13, 2015, the Planning Department received 87 responses. 78 from residents, 7 from seasonal residents and 2 from non-resident Charlestown land-owners.
Only four questions were asked, with one having a rating chart.
In comparison, the 1991 questionnaire had 16 questions, with one being an essay-type question. Another was a 15-question ranking system. In total, there were 31 questions.
Opinion: This process has not been inclusive. 78 residents responding to the 2015 Comp Plan survey is not representative of an open forum for discussion. Neither is it when the Planning Commission, which is made up of one partisan group, places the Comp Plan at the very end of their monthly meeting agenda where you would need to sit for three or four hours before being heard.
When the public is allowed to participate, the Comprehensive Plan gets completed in 15 months. When the process is not inclusive, the process takes more than 7½ years.
We now have a perfect opportunity to step back, complete the Townwide Surplus Survey, form Citizen Advisory Committees, hold public hearings and most importantly, let the residents fully participate in the process.
Frank Glista, Charlestown
A version of this letter was published in The Westerly Sun on Friday, April 9.