Date of Award

1981

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Community Planning

First Advisor

Thomas D. Galloway

Abstract

Rhode Island, like most of the United States, has experienced a shift in population and settlement patterns from the central city to less developed suburban and rural communities. This pattern within the state is expected to continue and to be amplified by an industrial extension of development which follows the major inter-state highway south to West Greenwich. This area has the lowest population density in the state. Digital Equipment Corporation, the world's largest maker of minicomputers, is expected to construct a new facility in this area on a 147 acre site acquired from the state Port Authority and Economic Development Corporation for $1,673,314. (Providence Journal 7/29/80).

The State acquired the land in October of 1978 for ten thousand dollars per acre to forestall speculation and/or the increase in land value until such time as Digital could finalize the plan to locate in Rhode Island (Providence Journal 7/2/80). In addition to an attractive price, the State gave Digital a strong commitment to public improvements. The State's entire 1978 federal public works allotment, $3.9 million, was used to extend sewers to the site. A project to provide better access to this site is underway costing three million dollars, which will build a Route 95 interchange at Hopkins Hill Road (Evening Bulletin 4/16/81). The State's policymakers obviously expect Digital to provide a significant boost to the state's economy.

The new facility will be designed for research, engineering and administrative purposes. It is expected to employ up to 700 persons within a year after its projected completion in late 1983 (Evening Bulletin 4/16/81). The location of Digital establishes a new node of employment which may lead to further development. The Town of West Greenwich has proposed to rezone 100 acres on the west side of Hopkins Hill Road from farming-residential to industrial (Evening Bulletin '1/16/81). Satellite companies and service firms are expected to capitalize on the opportunities initiated by Digital and supportive public policies. Demand for residential development is likely to increase in the surrounding areas.

Clearly, the market demand for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes will compete for land which is presently allocated to rural uses. This process of urban growth has been condemned for the unnecessary loss of agricultural land, timber stands, and open space, the ugliness of sprawled development and its inefficiency (e.g. Clawson 1962, Real Estate Research Corporation 1974, Wallace 1970, Whyte 1968). On the other hand, proper management of rural development can renew and enhance the quality of life in rural towns (Foster 1981, Barber et al 1980, Bendavid-Val 1980).

Local policymakers are faced with the challenge to formulate and evaluate measures which address problems and opportunities associated with urban expansion. Implementation of public plans for retaining open space or, conversely, for bringing land into development would be facilitated by a better understanding of those factors which affect sales decisions. Land ownership characteristics can contribute to our understanding of which land use regulations and policies are likely to work.

As a contribution to such understanding, a study has been made of the characteristics of both rural land and its ownership in West Greenwich. The study universe included all 177 parcels of ten or more acres in West Greenwich as of November, 1981. Property characteristics were determined by a logical analysis of environmental constraints and land use conflicts through the use of overlay land use planning maps of West Greenwich. Landowner characteristics were determined by a search through the public records and a survey of individual owners. An indicator of land development probability was then calculated for each parcel.

The purpose of this study is to generate new knowledge about the Town of West Greenwich. The findings of this study, due to its limited scope and size of sample, may not be generalizable for use in other areas. Nonetheless, it is hoped that this study's findings will contribute to an understanding of urban fringe land tenure for a rural town undergoing economic development.

After a brief introduction to the community of West Greenwich, the underlying concepts of this study are explained with a description of the dynamics of non-metropolitan industrialization. This report will then review the literature concerning landowner behavior in the urban fringe in order to determine its relevance for this study. The methodology of this study will be explained in the subsequent section along with a description of the landowner survey. Following the formulation of the hypotheses will be a presentation of the empirical analysis. A forecast of private land use decisions will then be used to suggest policy recommendations.

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