Greater City Providence

Route 195 land reuse bill moving swiftly, too swiftly?

News on legislation at the State House to decide how the Route 195 land freed up by the relocation of the highway has been moving swiftly today. So swiftly it is hard to keep up. Forgive me as I drop some links instead of write my own post about it.

First, this morning ProJo published, State, city at odds over Route 195 land panel.

The governor would appoint four members and the Providence mayor, three, according to legislation introduced Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-Providence, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government.

Until now, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has expressed skepticism about the idea of creating a powerful commission with authority to determine how the land is sold and to whom.

The committee voted to continue its hearing until Tuesday, after a few speakers said they had not had the chance to read it. The legislation was kept under tight wraps until the hearing began. The bill received support from the Chafee administration and a private developer.

Ian Donnis over at WRNI expands on the ProJo’s reporting, Concerns grow on Ruggerio bill for reuse of I-195 land and highlights the fact that the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government, which is reviewing the legislation, sent out an online notification this afternoon that the bill would be voted on by that committee on Tuesday afternoon. Gee, thanks for the late notice on a Friday before the holiday weekend that an important bill will be voted off the day after the holiday weekend.

Be sure to click over to WRNI to read Ian’s post which includes some concerns about the legislation expressed by John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island.

The Bill can be found here [.pdf]

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • You do know WHY they’re doing it this way, it’s because the deal is already done. Brown and JWU will get the lions share of the land.

  • It was already assumed by the city and state that Brown and JWU would get the lion’s share, which was implied in reports based on stakeholder outreach.

    “The bill received support from the Chafee administration and a private developer.”

    “The legislation sets up the redevelopment district as an independent body with a separate legal existence from the city and from the state.”

    “The commission shall serve as the sole permitting authority for all development within the district.”

    Who is the developer?

  • Panel would have power over redevelopment of Route 195 land [The Providence Journal]

    In addition to deciding on all redevelopment plans for the soon-to-be-vacant highway property, the proposed quasi-public commission would have the power to buy and sell land, borrow and lend money, invest money and negotiate tax agreements | all without state or city approvals. Employees of the commission would not be considered employees of the state or the city.

    The legislation would give the commission such powers as setting zoning regulations and granting sales-tax exemptions to the companies it chooses to redevelop the land.

    “Reading this bill set off a lot of alarm bells in terms of good government,” Common Cause Executive Director John Marion said in an e-mail. “Quasi-public entities should only be created when absolutely necessary. This entity will have the ability to tax, fine and hold elections. That is incredible power for an appointed entity.

    “Even more worrisome is that this quasi-public [agency] will possess the powers of a number of city and state agencies, including planning and zoning, among others,” Marion said. “Essentially, this creates a separate city within the City of Providence, and one that is not controlled directly by the people.”

    The powers of the proposed commission would stretch beyond the former highway land if a developer chosen for a project within the highway zone also owns abutting parcels. In that case, the abutting land would be subject to all the “powers and authority of the commission,” and not subject to any local review or approval.

    The commission is authorized in the legislation to sell two parcels to Johnson & Wales University, provided that construction would begin within 12 months of the contract date and be completed within three years.

    The university wants those irregularly shaped chunks of land along Friendship Street that adjoin its campus | known as parcels 31 and 36 | for student housing and academic buildings.

  • So, what does that mean for your commission that you’re on Jef? Or is this that?

  • Well, we are working on re-zoning all of Downtown, including the Jewelry District and the Hospital District in order to prepare them for the “Knowledge Economy” businesses the city wants to attract. If the state creates a quasi-public authority that has zoning and regulatory jurisdiction over the 195 land and connected properties, that to me, means that the work we do, will not apply to the 195 land.

    Perhaps the 195 authority will defer to the city’s zoning, but the legislation, as far as I understand it, does not require that.

    I’ll just reiterate this:

    “Essentially, this creates a separate city within the City of Providence, and one that is not controlled directly by the people.”

    And, anyone who is aware of my personal politics might be surprised by this, but I would encourage people to read this article at Anchor Rising.

    And, finally, the Senate has put off voting on this until Thursday, so people still have time to express their feelings on this issue to their Senators…

  • I have to wonder if there are any other instances in the state where the legislature currently does, or has tried to wield such power.

    Would Providence get the property taxes or would they go right to the state? Would Providence Police patrol these areas? And Providence firefighters serve that area? Or would the state be responsible for all the things that happen on these lands?

  • Senate committee won’t vote Tuesday (yesterday) on land bill [ProJo 7 to 7 Newsblog]

    The idea that a mayor might appoint commission members appears to be in conflict with the state’s Separation of Powers law, Ruggerio said. Thus, he’s having the Senate’s legal counsel double check how members of the commission would be appointed.

    Then, he intends to re-post the bill for Thursday, but he’s not sure yet whether he will post the bill for a hearing — when people would be allowed to testify about proposed changes — or simply a vote.

    Even if public comments won’t be taken on Thursday, anyone can submit written testimony prior to that hearing for the committee to consider, Ruggerio’s assistant, Stephen Iannazzi, said.

  • Vote delayed on land panel [The Providence Journal]

    After asking the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government to postpone its vote until Thursday, [Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-Providence] said recrafting the makeup of the commission is now his main focus.

    However, he spoke of other changes made to the legislation over the holiday weekend — including eliminating the commission in 21 years instead of 15.

    [The Capital Center Commission] | which oversaw the creation of Waterplace Park, Providence Place mall and the train station | had a process outlining exactly who would pay for its work and who would pay for the development of roads and other infrastructure projects necessary before development, Orenstein said.

    [Ken Orenstein, a real-estate broker] saw no such detail in the legislation about who would pay for infrastructure work and the commission’s own work.

    Then Ruggerio spoke up.

    “I just want to remind this gentleman that the City of Providence does not own this land,” he said, hammering home a point he made last week, also, that the state owns the land.

    Why, is the honorable Senator representing Providence’s North End so gung ho to strip the city of any power over land within its borders? Yes, this is land the city does not own, but the city does not own any land it wields zoning and regulatory authority over, and it won’t be state land when the new owners look for rulings on zoning and other regulatory issues of their proposed developments.

    Who exactly is the the Senator’s constituency on this issue? It is certainly not the residents of Providence.

  • ProJo: Route 195 commission unanimously passes out of Senate Committee. Full Senate vote likely next Thursday.

  • You know, if the City has no say over how the land is used, that would make it much easier to stick a casino in Providence. Though I am sure that thought never crossed the Senator’s mind.

  • Fox submits Kelly, Shamoon, Sherman for I-195 panel [WRNI]

    From the Statehouse comes word that Speaker Gordon Fox has offered to Governor Lincoln Chafee his three recommendations for the I-195 Redevelopment Commission:

    John Kelly, Samuel Shamoon, and Merrill Sherman. More details at WRNI.

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