The #MiddletownRI Center Citizens Advisory Committee suggests ways to make the "Middletown Center" project safer and more a part of the community, ideas embraced by the Town Council at a meeting Monday night.
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ADVISORY BOARD RECOMMENDS CHANGES
TO “MIDDLETOWN CENTER” PLANS
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (MAY 1, 2023) – A citizens advisory board has a bunch of recommended improvements to the “Middletown Center” project.
According to their 59-page report presented Monday night to the Town Council, the Middletown Center Citizens Advisory Committee (MCCAC) would like more active recreation included in the proposed mixed-use development along with better bicycle and pedestrian access, nicer landscaping and other upgrades.
Even though members acknowledged it was outside the volunteer group’s purview, the MCCAC asked the town to do everything possible to reduce the impacts from a proposed hotel, traffic and stormwater runoff connected to the project at 600-740 West Main Road.
Representatives for the town and a trio of developers remain at the negotiating table, working on finalizing a lease agreement to transform the 15 underutilized acres in the heart of Middletown.
Based on feedback during the meeting in Town Hall, council members said they liked what they heard and saw in the MCCAC report, thanking the volunteer board for its extensive efforts. Council members generally agreed they wanted the items raised by the MCCAC to be broached with the development team moving forward.
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t want to get together,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “I think Rocky (Kempenaar) and his group would be more than happy to listen to anything that could help enhance (the project), especially when you get citizens’ input because there’s been some pushback about some of those things. There could be a compromise here potentially beautifying and repurposing some of the original plans.”
The MCCAC has been meeting since October 2022 to go over every aspect of plans for the former Navy Lodge, West Main Road recreational complex, Middletown Public Library and former Kennedy School sites.
The group was established at the request of residents Karen Barbera and Melissa Welch, who said there needed to be more public input on the process.
On Monday night, Welch spoke in depth, thanking everyone for their hard work and support, comments echoed by Barbera.
It’s the first time the full council has heard from MCCAC about its efforts.
Looking to generate new revenues and capitalize on the central location, the town put out a Request For Information in the summer of 2021 seeking proposals to redevelop the site.
Out of that process, the town entered into an “Exclusive Negotiating Agreement” with developers Chris Bicho, James Karam and Rocky Kempenaar, each who have a long-track record of successful projects in Middletown.
Plans presented in the spring of 2022 showed about a third of the development site would be dedicated to housing. If approved, 15 three-bedroom units, 95 two-bedroom units and 40 one-bedroom units would be built in several three story buildings.
On the southern end of the property bordering Coddington Highway, a 144-room hotel is planned. Developers have said about half the hotel would be upper mid-tier rooms under the Hilton or Marriott flag. The remainder would be upper mid-tier extended stay rooms with kitchens and other amenities for travelers staying in the area for awhile.
Mixed retail and office space was planned in the middle part of the property, with a new Middletown Public Library on the boards along the northern section.
Based the review by MCCAC, several changes were needed.
For one, the group suggested the library be placed close to West Main Road, with a playground and indoor/outdoor community space planned as well. The group’s report said such a move would create a much needed playground area for children, who now have nowhere to play even though there’s plenty of demand.
The area could also be used for a town Christmas tree lighting, Fourth of July ceremonies and the home for the local farmers’ market, which Melissa Welch said has had to move five times in three years.
The MCCAC also noted the proposed corner at West Main and Coddington should be redone to connect better with Middletown. MCCAC suggested the creation of a “Landmark Corner Park” instead to send a positive environmental message and commitment to sustainability in the future.
The way the park would be designed, it would feature a working small-scale vertical wind turbine to power lights, phone chargers and other devices, all while paying homage to Middletown’s historic windmill roots. A uniquely designed “wave” stone wall made of local stone would also be featured as a nod to the community’s agricultural roots and beautiful beaches.
“Our vision for this area is that it would be a focal point and a gateway welcoming people into Middletown Center but also Middletown generally so they don’t just pass by on their way to Newport, but actually take note of this being a key center of Middletown,” Welch said. “We’re thinking of something that can be a landmark that both honors our history and projects our future and our vision for the town.”
The MCCAC also suggested bicycle and pedestrian safety be more of a priority. In addition to rerouting motor vehicle traffic, MCCAC said changes would help make navigating the property that much easier — and better — for everyone. There was talk about installing a pedestrian safety island on West Main Road itself to help those crossing the busy four-lane stretch.
The group said the town should consider shared parking at “Middletown Center” instead of requiring individual parking spaces for each use. Welch said in developments like South County Commons, businesses in the South County mixed-use center need parking during daytime hours, but not at night, when the homes there use such spaces. By sharing spaces, Welch said the project is able to maximize “green” spaces, not asphalt, helping to reduce stormwater and environmental impacts.
To check out a complete copy of the MCCAC report, visit https://mdl.town/MCCAC online.
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/8542/NYCU-MCCAC