The year 2010 could well be remembered as the Great Land Rush of Aquidneck Island after Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport municipalities, organizations and developers are faced with the opportunity to acquire and develop 225-acres along the island's western shoreline.
The U.S. Navy deemed the acres, five main parcels, as surplus land in February 2010. A public information session and trolley tour of the properties on Wednesday officially kicked off a six- to nine-month public input and conveyance process designed to enable the three communities to work together to decide how the lands ultimately shall be used.
Elected officials and representatives from the three Aquidneck Island municipalities serve on the Aquidneck Island Reuse Planning Authority (AIRPA).
"No one town can override the other, so the three towns will be coordinated on a regional level," said Tina Dolan, executive director of the AIRPA, an independent group which serves to coordinate the three communities' planning during the conveyance and public outreach process, and also acts as an intermediary between the local redevelopment authorities and federal governments.
"This is such a stellar opportunity, not only to Aquidneck Island, but for the state of Rhode Island, with these beautiful waterfront properties," said Dolan, voicing a sentiment shared by many in the room.
At stake are five main parcels with an as-of-yet undetermined or appraised market value:
- In Newport, a former Naval Hospital at the current Naval base consisting of seven waterfront acres of land with eight buildings and three submerged acres.
- In Middletown, a former Naval Lodge property on the western corner of West Main Road and Coddington Highway, consisting of a vacant lot with small utility building that will remain on the property under an easement.
- Straddling Middletown and Portsmouth, approximately 67-acres comprised of portions of Defense Highway, Stringham Road and Midway/Greene Lane Segments.
- In Portsmouth, known as Tank Farm 1, located adjacent to the Melville Fuel Loading Area in Portsmouth, made up of 50 acres of land for fuel storage that ceased in 1973 and includes partially buried, underground and above-ground storage tanks and support facilities.
- In Portsmouth, Tank Farm 2 is made up of 96 acres of land for fuel storage that ceased in 1970 and includes 11 underground fuel storage tanks and three support facilities. This land abuts undeveloped woodlands to the west.
A crowd of nearly 100 interested parties representing government officials and planning staff, community organizations and private developers from Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport attended the public hearing at the Community College of Rhode Island Wednesday and about half that number joined the hour-long trolley tour and caravan that browsed the vacant Navy properties.
Navy and AIRPA officials said that redevelopment blueprint will need to incorporate two key components: a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plan that will work with homeless service providers to create housing, as well as a redevelopment plan based on the marketability of the area, environmental issues and community needs, as determined throughout the coming months through the public outreach process.
The next steps in the process includes continued public outreach of three to four more public information meetings. Additionally, the AIRPA is conducting a survey to gain further public input.
Interested parties must submit proposals by the following deadlines:
- Notices of Interest must be submitted by Nov. 22.
- Reuse plans for housing for the homeless must be submitted by Aug. 19, 2011.
The AIRPA will work with the regional redevelopment authorities to determine the best plan to put forward on behalf of Aquidneck Island, officials said. But ultimately, the federal government will have the final say in the vetting process and final approvals in the land conveyance.
Interested parties who were unable to attend Wednesday's information session or tour may arrange for private tours or an advisement meeting with a representative of the AIRPA, said Julie Oakley.
Oakley, the AIRPA public reuse coordinator, will serve as the AIRPA's liaison between local and federal governments, and will serve as the primary public contact.
Oakley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (401) 845-9400.