Making land use decisions is all about tradeoffs. Land is a finite resource, and there are consequences or “tradeoffs” for however land is used. Below are some very basic examples of the tradeoffs the Town must consider when making policy for land use and housing.
Growth vs. Taxes
It can be very tempting to wish for a community that doesn’t change or grow. Most people like South Kingstown the way it is today and may think that a future with little to no new development is a good thing; that this will lead to lower expenses for schools and will maintain the existing character of the town. However, all towns and cities are dynamic by their very nature. Slowing or stopping growth has consequences. In brief, even without growth, the costs of providing services and paying municipal employees will increase. New equipment will need to be purchased, roads will need plowing and repairs, and municipal buildings will need to be replaced. With no growth to feed the tax base, a higher tax burden will be placed on fewer people over time. The question is how we grow in a way that reflects our community values and improves quality of life for everyone.
Commercial vs. Residential Development
One tradeoff common to many small towns like South Kingstown is the extent to which commercial development is allowed versus maintaining a predominantly residential and agricultural community. This may be obvious, but it is worth noting that the less commercial development in a town, the more local government must rely on residential property taxes for its revenue. For some communities, residents are comfortable paying higher property taxes in order to maintain a strictly residential/rural environment. However, other communities find that the benefits of investing in viable commercial areas in targeted portions of town can help shift some of the tax burden to commercial property owners and away from residential property owners, while also providing space for locally-serving businesses and services. It has long been South Kingstown’s intention to promote this sort of targeted commercial growth along the corridors of Old Tower Hill Road, Main Street, Kingstown Road, and South County Commons. More recently, there has been community debate about whether more locally-serving businesses should be allowed along the Route 138 corridor in Kingston. On a related note, many of these areas are primed not just for commercial use but mixed-use, where residential homes are mixed with retail, office, and other appropriate uses. The Town needs to consider what specific commercial uses are compatible when mixed with residential.
Scarcity of Land and Land Values
As noted above, there is a finite amount of land in South Kingstown. The Town has done an excellent job over the years in protecting and conserving forestlands, wetlands, sensitive coastal areas, active farmlands, and other properties with ecological and cultural value. There is no question that the Town should continue to identify and protect the most valuable of these lands into the future. However, we cannot forget the earlier discussions about accommodating growth. Hand in hand with conservation efforts goes policies for encouraging development where we want it. If the Town only focuses on conservation, the price of the remaining land will go up and up, further exacerbating the cost of homes. Development and investments in the Central Villages and in responsible new subdivisions will be needed to offset conservation efforts and meet our fiscal and social needs.