WESTERLY — The Economic Development Commission plans to start implementing Westerly’s Route 1 Corridor Study this year, one of several key goals the EDC discussed with the Town Council on Jan. 23.

The EDC is also seeking the new council’s endorsement of the study and to tell the Planning Board to start working on recommendations to incorporate it into the town’s comprehensive plan. The prior council acknowledged its receipt, but EDC members want the council to weigh in and “own it,” EDC Chairman James Torres said.

“The Route 1 Corridor Study is a prime example of how the whole comprehensive plan process should work,” Torres said.

The plan calls for the town to develop and implement a strategy for Westerly’s commercial corridors.

“The EDC teamed up with the Planning Board and planning staff and formed a subgroup called the Route One Corridor Committee,” Torres said.

The committee oversaw the project, worked with consultants and received community input and feedback, including a survey last year of more than 400 people, for the almost 300-page study.

“(The study) represents a vision of what the Route 1 corridor could be and suggests a road map for implementation,” Torres said.

The new council received a 20-page synopsis that highlights five key areas of focus for the study: travel, infrastructure, aesthetics, housing and economic development.

Several times Torres called the study “aspirational,” and a better alternative to the current state of Route 1: jumbled, hard to drive, confusing, out of date and unattractive.

“There’s one thing that was very clear: nobody likes the Route 1 aesthetics, it does not have the character, it is not reflective of what Westerly is all about,” Torres said.

Part of the vision would include extending a sewer line down Route 1, one of the study’s recommendations.

“How and when that happens is for debate and up to the council’s best judgment,” Torres said. “When and how, or if that happens, is up to the council.”

The council, member Phil Overton noted, could find that challenging after just learning that upgrades to the town’s sewer treatment facilities could top $46 million.

“I think it’s a major stumbling block that needs to be addressed,” Overton said.

Torres said he looks at the issue through the lens of whether doing so makes the best sense for Westerly in the long term.

“If the answer is yes, then it’s not going to happen tomorrow, or might not happen in the next decade,” he said. “You are going to determine when and how that’s going to happen.”

It’s up to the Town Council, Torres said, to direct the Planning Board to integrate the strategic elements of the study into the comprehensive plan and make sure the zoning ordinances are in agreement.

“To do this, the council needs to understand the recommendations proposed by the study, identify any issues or concerns that are not in the best interests of the community and provide clear instructions to the Planning Board on the priorities,” Torres said.

The Planning Board then would draft and present recommended changes to the comprehensive plan and ordinances for public comment and council approval.

The EDC also recommends the council reconstitute the ROCC in order to execute the Route 1 corridor vision.

Torres said the process should include “robust” community engagement, as took place during the study’s creation. The council also should work with the ROCC to become educated on the study, Torres said.

“The comprehensive plan requested a Route 1 corridor study to be conducted,” Torres said. “The study’s now complete, and needs to be incorporated into the comprehensive plan.”

The process took two years, Torres said, and he proudly noted that EDC and ROCC members delivered the study on time and under budget.

The Route 1 Corridor Plan can be found on the town website under “Government” and “Current Projects.”

The council members now have a 20-page synopsis of the entire study to begin digging into the full document.

“I did read the entire 297-page document,” council Vice President Kevin Lowther II said. “Endorsement of this plan is not going to mean we are fully accepting every recommendation as-is in this document, because there are way too many recommendations for that to ever be possible. We have a tool in front of us now where we can decide the vision that we see and can pick and choose what we think are the most important pieces of that are going to put together a more cohesive, beautiful and useful Route 1 corridor.”


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