October 29, 2012
The billboards on the Boulevard Nurseries property next to East Main Road are not an appropriate way to welcome people to Middletown and distinguish that community for economic growth.
In 2008, the Aquidneck Land Trust ("ALT") asked the Town of Middletown to help it conserve 29.46 +/- acres of the Boulevard Nurseries property. After many discussions, Middletown agreed to contribute $1.5 million from voter approved open space funds to the over $2 million project provided the billboards be allowed to remain on the land despite ALT's request to the contrary. We agreed to proceed with this condition as Middletown's significant financial contribution was critical to the project and achieving the larger conservation goals.
Engineers' plans demonstrated that the Boulevard Nurseries property could have been developed into about 35 house lots which would have burdened the Town's tax base with additional requirements for expensive community services, added hundreds of extra vehicle trips a day to this already dangerous stretch of East Main Road, and destroyed the property's remaining scenic and other conservation values such as the land's prime farmland soils, recreational and wildlife habitat values. When ALT acquired the perpetual Conservation Easement on the Boulevard Nurseries land in October 2008 this threat was extinguished, but the billboards remained.
When the current Town Council decided to remove the billboards they made a wise decision to perfect our joint conservation transaction while also making an economic investment in that strategic area and important gateway property into Middletown. What would be a better and more complimentary gateway for the unique businesses in that area (like Boulevard Nurseries, Newport Vineyards, Chaves Gardens, Fatullis Bakery and Deli, the farmers' market, and Rhode Island Nurseries) sweeping scenic vistas or billboards? Do the billboards compliment the new nearby segment of the Sakonnet Greenway Trail, Aquidneck Island's largest public nature trail? Those billboards are like a dangerous precedent or cancerous growth, and seem more like something you would see on West Main Road. You may recall the New York Times article a few years ago bemoaning sprawl in our country and pointing to its devastating impacts including the "anywhere USA effect." That article used a picture of West Main Road in Middletown showing its congestion, utility poles, signs and lack of character to demonstrate the problems of sprawl. Strategic efforts to preserve and improve the beauty and charm of Middletown will further distinguish the Town and help make it an even more attractive place to live, work and visit. That represents more visionary and significant economic policy than a billboard lease. As the real estate truism goes, "Location, Location, Location!" Middletown, protect your location.
Executive Director, Aquidneck Land Trust