CHARLESTOWN — Finishing the town’s comprehensive plan is essential because it will solidify how Charlestown’s future will unfold the next 10 to 20 years, said Virginia Lee, Town Council president, who is running for re-election.
“The comprehensive plan is almost done and I want to make sure that it’s adopted and represents what the citizens want for their town because that will set the tone for all zoning changes, big financial decisions on how the town gets developed, what kind of open spaces are saved and where the village centers will be for future growth,” Lee, who has lived in Charlestown for about seven years, said in a phone interview last month. “It will give us local control so the town can control its future and not be overridden by state agencies.”
Endorsed by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance political action committee and first elected in 2014, Lee, 70, said the comprehensive plan will hold power against any state and federal decisions that might affect the town.
If the comprehensive plan had been in place, it would have provided the town with extra ammunition against the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposal to build a bypass through the northern part of town, she said. It would also have helped in the town’s fight against Invenergy’s proposal to remove water from Charlestown’s aquifers as a backup supply for use in cooling the power plant proposed in Burrillville.
Finishing the plan would also help the town identify historic village centers, where mixed use would be allowed, and it “would not allow strip development or big box stores that would out-compete our local businesses,” she said.
After a 35-year career at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center, Lee said protecting the town’s drinking water, salt ponds, streams and ponds was a top priority, as was preserving the rural nature of the town.
She said she was proud Charlestown had achieved a “seven” rating in FEMA’s Community Rating System, the highest possible ranking in the town’s category, which saves residents money on flood insurance. She also pointed to the town’s new senior housing development, ChurchWoods, and the approval of a second affordable housing project, Shannock Village Cottages. During her tenure, the town has also undertaken major improvements at Ninigret Park, Wyckland Field and Columbia Heights, including year-round composting toilets and new playground equipment, she said.
If elected, Lee said she also wanted to see continually improved relations between the town and the Narragansett Tribe.
“They were a big help in stopping the railroad and we’ve been urging them to apply for boards and memberships,” she said.
Lee, who lives with her partner, Mark Hinkley, and has two stepchildren and four granddaughters, said she has traveled door-to-door to listen to residents’ “issues, hopes, dreams and concerns for this town.”
“I heard what people care about, why they choose to move here, and those are the things I want to make sure are reflected in the comp plan and in subsequent zoning changes and fiscal policy,” she said.