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Truth about the Ninigret Park Master Plan Update


Charlestown Residents United (CRU) strives to publish factual information, and not engage in a campaign of fearmongering, as another Political Action Committee is currently doing.  A link to the town of Charlestown’s website with the documents regarding Ninigret Park is included at the end of this article.

 

Contrary to articles circulating online, there is currently no construction plan for anything at Ninigret Park.


This article will focus on the facts.

  1. The Town is required to update the Ninigret Park Master Plan every ten years, The last plan was adopted in 2008.  That was fifteen years ago.  The town is five years past due.

  2. A Master Plan update was drafted in 2014 but it was never approved by any Town Council.  Therefore, the current plan approved by the town is the 2008 plan,

  3. On January 23, 2023, the Town Council first discussed updating the Master Plan (as required).  The Town Council unanimously approved the following motion: Motion to direct the Parks and Recreation Commission with the assistance of the Parks and Recreation Department to compile a draft Master Plan detailing the steps necessary to implement improvements to Ninigret Park utilizing the 2008 Ninigret Park Master Plan and the 2014 Ninigret Park Master Plan Update draft, the 2020 Comprehensive Plan and the 2021 Townwide Survey documents. The information should include, but not be limited to, the following objectives, with no preference given to the order listed:

    1. Using as a guide, the 2008 Ninigret Park Master Plan and the 2014 Ninigret Park Master Plan Update draft, specifically the Master Plan Project Areas Map found on page 46 of that plan, compile the report so as to have separate project areas and the details of each individually identified so they may or may not be implemented as stand-alone projects, in groups, or as a whole.

    2. Within the Project Areas, make updates and recommendations taking into account existing infrastructure and any physical changes that have occurred from 2014 to current.

    3. Identify and recommend the order of priority in which each project area may be implemented if done individually.

    4. Analyze, update where needed, and combine the information from the 2008 and 2014 plans, respectively and include such in the draft Master Plan.

    5. Seek input and include participation from the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Frosty Drew Observatory and Science Center, the Charlestown Senior Center, Police, Fire and Rescue agencies, the sports groups that utilize the current fields, the Chariho Cowboys, the Public, and additional interested parties.

    6. Compile a list of all steps needed to take project areas from current to completion for each project. The Parks and Recreation Commission Chair and the Director of Parks and Recreation, or their designees, shall appear at the April 2023 Town Council meeting with a preliminary update. Any additional resources needed for the Commission to accomplish its report can be addressed at that time. The Commission shall have one-hundred and twenty (120) days to complete this report or request additional time from the Town Council.” 

  4. The Parks & Recreation Department requested assistance with this task. In part, the memo reads, “As the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, I do not feel that the volunteer Parks and Recreation Commission members have the time nor expertise for this task. I feel an impartial and professional assessing of the information would be the best path for this major endeavor. We would like to seek proposals from a consulting firm in Park and Recreation Master Planning and community engagement. The Commission Chairman and I feel an outside qualified professional agency would create the most effective master plan that will reflect the unique environmental and community interests of Ninigret Park for years to come. We do not feel that we are able to meet the necessary design standards, editorial skills, environmental expertise nor are we equipped for the graphic capabilities that a full-time firm would provide.

  5. On February 13, 2023, after receiving this memo from the Parks & Recreation Director, the Town Council discussed this matter during the Town Council meeting and approved the following motion with a vote of 4-0 (Councilor Serra was absent): Motion to authorize the Parks and Recreation Director to seek proposals from a consulting firm in Park and Recreation Master Planning and community engagement for the creation of a 2023 Master Plan for Ninigret Park and the potential appropriation of $35,000 in budgetary funding for this purpose, to be taken from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds, Budget Line Item 43.000.5100 (ARPA FUND Expenses), and to authorize the Acting Town Administrator and Town Treasurer, each, to take any and all such actions, and to execute and deliver such certificates, receipts or other documents as may be necessary to carry out the foregoing.

  6. On April 25, 2023 the Parks and Recreation Commission formed the subcommittee for the Master Plan.

  7. On July 10, 2023 the Town Council unanimously approved the following motion: Motion to award the Ninigret Park Master Plan Update 2023 Bid to Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) in the Amount of $31,300.00 as Budgeted in Line Item 43.000.51400 (ARPA Fund Expenses) and Authorization of the Acting Town Administrator and Town Treasurer, Each, to Take Any and All Such Actions, and Execute and Deliver Such Certificates, Receipts or Other Documents as May be Necessary to Carry into Effect the Foregoing."

  8. The Charlestown Town Council has not met nor discussed the Master Plan update since July, when VHB was awarded the bid. The Plan has not yet been presented to the Town Council. The Plan being developed in the subcommittee is not yet finalized. The Plan will likely be presented to the Council in January or February.

  9. The Charlestown Town Council has not proposed building anything in Ninigret Park.  There are no plans for implementing a $20-30 million construction plan.

  10. The Master Plan is not a construction plan.  It is a guide for possible future improvements.  The approved 2008 plan included a list of items that were never implemented.  For example, removing invasive species of plants, reducing the amount of paved areas and replacing them with grassed fields, clearing an area of the park for the festivals so as not to impact other areas of the park.  This is a short list.  The point is none of these things were ever done. Nor wre they required to be done.  

  11. During the November 30th meeting of the Master Plan Update Subcommittee, the consultants from VHB showed a new community center in their plan.  This is not something the Town Council asked them to include.   If a new community center were to be built, the cost would likely be over ten million dollars.  The new community center that South Kingstown built a few years ago cost over seven million dollars, and they have public water and public sewer.  Charlestown does not.  That alone would increase our costs.  Also, Ninigret Park is in the hurricane zone, which has stricter, and more expensive building requirements.  This Town Council never expressed an interest in constructing a community center.  The consultants included it so that if in the future the town decided this is something the town wants to build, then the location in the plan would be a logical place to put it, but not required.  Also, if in the future the residents of Charlestown decide this is something we want to construct, then there would need to be a construction plan, along with associated costs, which would ultimately be voted on by the voters of Charlestown. In 2019, the other Charlestown Political Action Committee (Charlestown Citizens Alliance) held the majority on the Town Council. Those Councilors proposed taking $3 million of the town’s surplus money and transferring it within the budget for a new “community center”.  If they had been successful, and the budget passed that year with that transfer, the Town Council majority could have used that $3 million towards any construction project they wanted.  If approved, the money did not have to be spent on a community center. Charlestown Residents United publicly opposed this proposal and approach.  The voters of Charlestown agreed and, for the first time, voted down the town’s budget.  If a community center is ever proposed, then an actual plan with associated costs would need to be developed.  Any proposal of that magnitude should be voted on as a separate warrant item question as was done when the voters approved building the Police Station; not done in the manner that the other Charlestown Political Action Committee proposed in 2019.

  12. Just because something is not in the plan, that does not mean it can't be built in the park.  For example, two years ago the town put in an outdoor exercise area.  That was not in the plan, but it was added.  About seven years ago, the town installed a "multiuse" path, near the playground.  This also was not in the plan, but it was added to the park.

  13. The Master Plan is a guideline for what could possibly be done in the park, should the people of Charlestown vote to fund these items.  Nothing in any plan is being implemented without funding.  This is not the equivalent of a school construction plan where the school district would present a plan, with costs and ask the voters if they want to expend a certain amount of dollars to implement the plan.  If in the future the taxpayers decide they want to fund improvements, then they will allocate the funds.


Link to documents associated with Ninigret Park: Ninigret Park - Charlestown, RI (charlestownri.gov)

 

Please email any questions to CRUNITED1@GMAIL.COM and we will happily address them.

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