Ruggerio eyes speedier development

The power of cities and towns to block, or even shape, development they don’t like could be dramatically altered under an economic-development bill introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio.

His measure would make state-appointed commissions the sole authority over development decisions on state-owned properties of 20 contiguous acres or more.

Although the bill is often linked to the Hope Point tower and to a review process in Providence that many developers have criticized as being too cumbersome, Ruggerio said it is broader in scope.

“This has nothing to do with the Fane building,” he said, referring to developer Jason Fane, who hopes to build the Hope Point tower on land now owned by the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission.

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“I don’t think people are seeing the big picture,” Ruggerio said. “I just hate to see developers not wanting to come into the state because they know they’re going to be spending serious [time and] money here.”

Under his proposal, in any community with 20 acres of developable or “blighted” state lands, a state economic-development district commission would be established and have the final authority over development plans.

As for individual cities and communities, which now may have design or zoning review over projects on state land, the bill would make their opinions advisory only.

Where would the bill apply? Ruggerio said conceivably any area with more than 20 acres of contiguous land, including Newport, where land is being cleared for innovation-oriented development near the Newport Pell Bridge.

In areas that are already under the jurisdiction of state commissions, the bill would expand their authority.

For example, an economic-development commission would have the power to move lot lines within the state lands, to foster development, rather than getting such approval through the General Assembly or a local community.

In Providence, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, through a spokesman, criticized the bill soon after it was introduced. Spokesman Victor Morente says the redevelopment of the Interstate 195 parcels has been collaborative and resulted in a close working relationship.

The district is undergoing a development boom, he said, with projects, including Chestnut Commons and the Wexford Innovation Center, underway.

“[Ruggerio’s] bill sets a bad precedent by removing any local oversight or input from the community and its leaders, while dismissing existing regulations that were crafted based on extensive input and involvement from residents,” Morente said.

Ruggerio says the state will lose projects to other cities if it isn’t more efficient.

“I’ve spent almost my whole life in construction,” he said. “I know what developers think. They don’t want to come here and wait around.”

Mary MacDonald is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Macdonald@PBN.com.