Editorial: Bristol uneasy about university's plans for private estate

Posted 9/21/17

Roger Williams University’s pursuit of the gorgeous Wind Hill estate makes perfect sense for the university. It makes things uncomfortable for the rest of Bristol.

With its location directly …

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Editorial: Bristol uneasy about university's plans for private estate

Posted

Roger Williams University’s pursuit of the gorgeous Wind Hill estate makes perfect sense for the university. It makes things uncomfortable for the rest of Bristol.

With its location directly across from the campus, mostly open 17 acres of land, sweeping vistas of Narragansett Bay and deep-water dock, the former Livingston estate presents so many tantalizing opportunities for Roger Williams. All have witnessed the university’s ambition in the last two decades. Since founding an accredited law school 20 years ago, Roger Williams has invested heavily in its campus, its engineering and architecture schools, its international presence, its sailing program, and most of all, its student population. 

The university has grown remarkably fast in 20 years, literally outgrowing its campus and expanding into the surrounding towns of Bristol and Portsmouth. All locals have felt the effects on traffic, congestion, quality of life (turn down the music!), even housing values and the rental market.

This does not mean the university is a bad neighbor. They are the town’s largest employer, with many high-paying jobs. They bring visitors, prestige and notoriety to Bristol in ways that are not easily measured.

Yet there are very legitimate fears about how far the university will go, and what it will do along the way. Wind Hill is worrisome.

While Roger Williams consumes the southeast corner of Bristol, a unique collection of private homes and historic estates consume the southwest corner. The west side of Ferry Road is home to the magnificent Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum, the Columban Fathers monastery, Wind Hill, the Sisters of Saint Dorothy convent, and the private enclaves of Low Lane and Monkeywrench Lane. This side of Ferry Road has character, unspoiled land, pristine vistas and the historic imprint of a Bristol long ago.

Though Roger Williams has every right to fairly purchase and use this land responsibly, it would be a shame to see this part of town developed or changed in ways not consistent with its character.

The university has not purchased the land yet, and it has not released any details about what it would or could do with it. Until it does, the rest of Bristol will be watching with an uneasy feeling.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.