Warwick Land Trust Unveils Plan to Protect City’s Dwindling Green Space
January 17, 2022
WARWICK, R.I. — The Land Trust Committee is proposing a bold initiative to protect what little remains of the city’s green space: a $15 million bond referendum on this year’s ballot to conserve nearly a dozen properties totaling about 500 acres.
During the past seven decades, the city’s open space has rapidly shrunk. In the 1950s, most of southern and western Warwick was farmland and forestland. Today, apart from Morris Farm and the few farms left in the Potowomut area, all the farmland has disappeared, and the forestland has been fragmented, with much of it clear-cut.
Much of the city’s remaining open space can be found in the hillside neighborhood of Cowesett and in the Natick area, according to a PowerPoint presentation the Land Trust Committee will be sharing at upcoming public meetings.
“The large areas of open space left are at risk of becoming solar fields or being developed into housing,” Land Trust Committee member Nathan Cornell said. “This is what is left and we need to protect it for future generations and for the health of the community.”
If successful, he believes it would be the biggest conservation initiative in the city’s history. The bond figure of $15 million was derived from property assessments, according to Cornell.
Land trust members believe if action isn’t taken soon, all the open space areas that are not currently owned by the city will be developed. If that happens, they say the quality of some neighborhoods will decrease because of overdevelopment and a lack of open space; the loss of what forestland remains will lead to the city becoming less hospitable because of rising heat levels; and there will be major issues with animals, such as coyotes, wandering on residential properties because the forests and fields where they lived would be gone.
Warwick has three existing ground-mounted solar arrays: one on East Avenue; one off Jefferson Boulevard on Kilvert street; and one along West Shore Road. The facilities were zoned as electrical plants after project developers applied for variances.
ISM Solar, a renewable energy development company based in East Providence, has secured leases from the Kent County YMCA on Centerville Road and the Little Rhody Beagle Club off Cowesett Road for ground-mounted solar projects. Both leases have been filed with the city, and a freshwater wetlands permit has been approved by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.
Ground-mounted solar projects have also been proposed for Valley Country Club on New London Avenue and Scott Elementary School on Centerville Road.
Here is a look at the properties the Land Trust Committee hopes to protect from future development:
Little Rhody Beagle Club. The nearly 94-acre property is one of the largest remaining areas of open space in Warwick. Zoned A-15 residential.
Valley Country Club. At nearly 154 acres, it is the largest area of open space in the Natick area. Property includes an old-growth forest with mature oak trees. Zoned open space.
Dawley Farm Expansion/Fisher Property. This 17-acre property consists of native forestland, a waterfall, and wetlands. Zoned A-40 residential.
Dawley Farm Expansion/MetLife Property. This nearly 38-acre site was historically farmland owned by the Dawley family. It is currently used as drainage for a Metlife property. Zoned office district.
Kent County YMCA. The two-property site totaling 121 acres feature old-growth forest and beech trees. Zoned A-15 Residential.
Allen Property. This nearly 37-acre property abuts the Beagle Club and the YMCA. Zoned A-15 residential.
Spring Green Pond. The nearly 3-acre property consists of a good portion of Spring Green Pond and has a border along Warwick Avenue. Zoned A-7 residential.
Tuscatucket Brook Properties. The three-property site totaling nearly 13 acres consists of mature woodlands and wetlands that are important protections for Tuscatucket Brook in a watershed that leads to Narragansett Bay. Zoning is a mix of residential and business.
Cornell said the bond funding would be used to buy properties outright, such as Valley Country Club, or to secure conservation easements at other sites, such as the Kent County YMCA. He noted a few property owners have expressed an interest in selling.
The Land Trust Committee has scheduled three forums to get public feedback and inform residents about what the bond would entail. The forums are set for Jan. 24, 26, and 31 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Warwick Public library, 600 Sandy Lane. The meetings will also be on Zoom.