Episode 65 Transcript: Smart Growth
CLARICE: Good morning and welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking, the first recorded of the new year.
MARISA: Hey, everybody. Oh, no kidding. That’s right. It’s January 6th, 2023.
CLARICE: Happy new year, everybody.
MARISA: Happy new year. I’m Marisa Desautel. I’m an environmental attorney here in Rhode Island.
CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. I’m coming in with questions, topics, and things we want to chat about. And before we start, Marisa, are you a resolution person?
MARISA: Not at all. Are you?
CLARICE: If I’m in a group, I’ll make something up.
CLARICE: But I wouldn’t create them on my own.
CLARICE: And I say this because it looks like the Rhody Awards talked a lot about their resolutions for ’23.
MARISA: What are the Rhody Awards?
CLARICE: The Rhody Awards are a – it started with the – let me see. It’s a long name. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission — the RIHPHC if you’re in the know, apparently — and Preserve Rhode Island, it’s two organizations that come together and every year they give out a select few awards to people who are working on projects or have these goals to historically preserve Rhode Island as well as their resources. So it could be as literal as an old home or as big as a resource renewal or preservation project. It’s a relatively old award. It’s been happening since ’93. I know.
MARISA: It is kind of old.
CLARICE: Yeah. And recently this December they – or December or November. I can’t remember now. They gave out their annual awards and Road Smart Rhode Island won the community impact award and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
MARISA: The community impact award.
MARISA: What does that mean? Is there a further definition of that particular award?
CLARICE: More specifically I don’t see a definition of the award, but I do see that on their website. This is PreserveRI.org’s website. They are recognizing Grow Smart RI’s 25 years of leadership and advocacy in historical preservation and smart land use.
[0:02:33] MARISA: Ah. Okay. So for those of you that might be watching this recording on YouTube, the reason that my head is so giant on the computer screen right now is that my computer is freaking out, so I’m having to hold my finger on a certain spot. My brother called this my Fisher Price laptop, so you can imagine how old it is. Anyway, sorry. I digress. The Rhody Awards was something that I had not ever heard of and I wonder if that’s because it’s generally an award given to or for an initiative that’s not necessarily related to environmental or energy.
But this year or this past awards season is relevant to what we talk about here on the podcast because it was granted to a group called Grow Smart RI. We’ve talked about them in other episodes briefly, I think, because of the work that they’ve done in other areas. But for purposes of today’s episode, Grow Smart RI is very busy, involved, and vocal about land stewardship, development, and progress going forward in a responsible way and it sounds to me like their 25 years’ worth of work in that arena is being recognized, so that’s wonderful to hear.
CLARICE: Yeah. And you’re right in saying it’s not – this Rhody Award isn’t typically something that has an environmental focus. A lot of the winners this year and in past years are homeowners or folks working on preservation projects and it’s typically restoring a historic landmark or a historic home or something like that, so it’s exciting to see them acknowledge a group that does have a heavier environmental focus.
MARISA: I agree. And the area that I focused in on, of course, had to do with solar siting because I’ve got experience in that area and I think it’s important. The work that Grow Smart RI does has a lot to do with a concept called smart growth and that concept relates to development which contemplates environmental stewardship, conservation, and a concept called smart growth, which I highly recommend that you either Google or go to the Grow Smart RI website to learn more about. It’s a convoluted principal, but it’s meant to foster environmental stewardship.
[0:05:42] CLARICE: And I noticed in – Grow Smart RI had included their award winning in their recent newsletter and as part of that newsletter and as part of that newsletter they included their 2022 policy highlights and it talked briefly – it was just sort of bullet points – about all of the projects that they’re working on relating to this growth project that you talked about. And we had a conversation earlier about the solar sitting reform and that piqued your interest a bit.
MARISA: I think you mean solar siting. Yeah.
CLARICE: Yeah. Solar siting.
MARISA: Because it’s just got the one T.
MARISA: One T makes it a siting. So, yeah, solar siting was a very controversial issue in 2022 and 2021 but personally more in 2022 because you saw a lot of conversation around proposed solar developments in various municipalities. The developments were contested and in the municipal context because – why are they municipal, Marisa – because the developments, generally speaking, have to receive approval from the city or town in which they are proposed to be located. They sometimes need to apply for something called a special use permit or a dimensional variance or a use variance or any combination of those three.
Once that process gets going, the public has an opportunity to attend public meetings and provide objection or substantive comment. The projects get a lot of media attention because they’re emotional. Folks don’t want a giant solar array located in their neighborhood or adjacent to their property. It becomes a catalyst for, in my opinion, bigger picture arguments because solar siting is just a subset of land development. Grow Smart RI gets involved because their focus is on that smart growth concept that I mentioned before. Solar projects aren’t exclusively to blame for urban sprawl and deforestation and loss of open space in Rhode Island, but given the public forum solar projects are susceptible to a lot of public objection and discourse.
[0:08:57] CLARICE: Uh-huh.
MARISA: Why am I talking about this, Clarice? Because, you know me, land use, land development, and conservation are not in alignment. In my opinion the State of Rhode Island needs to come up with a comprehensive policy on how it wants to conserve what I call upland habitat. That means forested, non-wetland, non-developed, pristine habitat that is likely in private ownership and only becomes subject to development when the owner decides they want to do something with that land.
It could be a solar project. It could be a subdivision. It could be a farm. Generally speaking people don’t like change, so any time there’s a change in use that’s when you start to see people coming out of the woodwork to object. My point is unless undeveloped pristine land is conserved through a legal process either through a conservation easement or conveyed to some organization that has conservation as its main goal the land is going to be developed whether it’s a solar farm or a subdivision or some other use. Just because you see a parcel of land that’s wooded doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to remain that way.
And I think that concept gets lost when I hear people come forward to object to solar projects because, I don’t know, it’s this weird thought process or assumption that people have and I see it happen over and over and over and over, so I feel confident talking about it as a generality here. People think they have some kind of ownership interest in undeveloped land even though they don’t own it, even though someone else own it. They feel like, well, I go walking through there, so I don’t want to see that property developed. And I’m not sure how to overcome that mental hurdle, but I think having the State of Rhode Island come up with a comprehensive policy and plan to assist with upland conservation would be a marvelous next step.
[0:11:58] CLARICE: I love that. Yeah. And it’s funny because as you were saying that I was thinking about I am currently living in a neighborhood that my grandparent lived in, so I’ve been in this neighborhood since I was a baby. And when I was little, there was much more wooded area. There were undeveloped patches. Actually, our neighborhood didn’t connect to the next neighborhood over because there was just sort of – it was a small patch, but it was a wooded patch.
And now being here as an adult, all of that’s gone. The neighborhoods are fully connected. There are so many new houses. And it was funny because as that was happening I was like, oh, that’s a bummer. I liked that spot. That was a place to walk. That was a place to do whatever. And now that it’s gone – and it’s this idea of just because it’s been here forever doesn’t mean we can rely on it to remain here forever. We need to take action to keep it and have some sort of ownership in keeping it preserved, or it won’t.
MARISA: Yes. I’m still stuck on this concept in my head about people thinking that because land is vacant they have some kind of ownership interest in it. It’s got to be a genetic thing —
CLARICE: Probably. Or a taught thing.
MARISA: — because it’s not taught in school. It’s not really talked about. It just kind of happens. I’m going down a mental rabbit hole on this thing. Well, kudos to Grow Smart RI. They do really good work and I’m glad to see them being recognized.
CLARICE: While we contemplate the meaning of ownership in our existence on this plane, you guys can go to Grow Smart RI and see all of the other projects that they’re working on. Not all of them are environmentally focused, but, as Marisa was saying, there’s that concept of smart growth. They talk about a new downtown transit center, working on municipal infrastructure grants. They do talk about forest conservation, so there’s tons of different topics to look at. I’m sure we’re going to pick some of these up for future episodes.
And after you’ve read that, do yourself a favor and go find another podcast called The Decision Hour. We were very lucky to have been invited on Adam Bird’s podcast. He is also our producer, so we thank him for listening to us once a week and then inviting us on his show to listen to us some more. So go check that out. It was really fun to be on that podcast and spend some time with Adam.
MARISA: Yeah. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, pretty much anywhere you would generally listen to a podcast. So it’s called The Decision Hour with Adam Bird. Great guy, very knowledgeable. He’s been in the business for a long time so thanks, Adam.
CLARICE: Yeah. And after all of that, let us know what your thoughts are. Let us know what stuff you want us to talk about. You can reach out to us on the socials at Desautel Law. Excuse me.
MARISA: You can choke.
CLARICE: We can cough on our coffee. We’re doing great, guys. The first one of the new year. I got to get this right. So hit us up on the socials at Desautel Law. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. You can watch video of Marisa dealing with her Fisher Price computer up close and personal.
MARISA: With my giant head.
CLARICE: And then e-mail us at DesautelESQ.com. Thank you so much. Happy new year, everybody.
MARISA: Wait. Wait a minute. What kind of e-mail address is that?
CLARICE: Desautel – no. No. I got it wrong. No.
MARISA: Blooper reel.
CLARICE: Oh, guys. You know how to find us. Love you.