PROVIDENCE – R.I. Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, who introduced the original legislation that created the Interstate 195 District Commission, said Monday he would submit a bill next session to grant more authority to the state panel over development decisions.
State law now gives the city power to make zoning decisions and authority to review the design of new buildings.
Ruggerio’s comments, made at the annual meeting of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, came after he said he was disappointed that development progress in the district had been slower than he liked, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
In general, he said, Rhode Island too often takes a negative view of development.
“Too often, we throw up barriers that impede opportunities for economic growth,” said Ruggerio.
Specifically, he said the Fane tower should have warranted enthusiastic support. The project, also called Hope Point Tower, has been stuck for several months as the city wrestles with the rezoning request.
The land is now zoned for development capped at 100 feet.
Developer Jason Fane, president of The Fane Organization, wants to build a residential tower of 600 feet.
The proposal has led to months of argument in city meetings, with residents of neighborhoods and some business entities stating opposition, while construction industry representatives and others have stated support.
“You might think that we would welcome a developer wanting to invest a quarter billion dollars in our capital city. But we have done all we can to chase him away.”
His original legislation to establish the district commission would have empowered it with all the tools needed to move development forward efficiently – including all required licenses, zoning and permits.
“In the next legislative session, I will introduce legislation that removes some of the impediments to redeveloping the rest of our former highway land by granting more authority to the I-195 Commission,” he said.
Peter McNally, executive director of the commission, said the body has already given preliminary approval to the Fane tower, and is not opposed to the height of the building. It’s not a “freakish” proposal given the location, he said.
“We are OK with a tower on that site,” he said. “This falls within conventional wisdom within urban planning.”
Providence City Council President David A. Salvatore disagreed with Ruggerio’s view of the city’s handling of the tower proposal.
“I respectfully disagree with Senate President Ruggerio that the City is standing in the way of any developer trying to build on the former I-195 land, which runs along the downtown corridor of Providence,” said Salvatore in a statement Tuesday.
“The City Council is pro-economic development and pro-growth, and I think the development happening downtown speaks to that very notion. It’s important to grow our local tax base without having to raise taxes, and that’s what we are doing here in Providence.”
The commission will meet on Thursday and is expected to move forward to Nov. 30 the due diligence period for the developer to obtain required city approvals.
Otherwise, the terms would expire on Oct. 18.
“[The] process around Hope Point Tower has been both public and transparent,” added Salvatore. “For every city of our size that is growing, these are the same qualities that have led to success and improved quality of life for residents.”
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at email@example.com.