The Route 195 District Commission bill was before the House last night. Common Cause had this to say on Facebook last night:
The I-195 bill was heard in House Finance tonight. There are substantial amendments and the hearing is set to continue tomorrow at noon. I’ll hopefully be able to share some details in the morning. Two quick changes of note–it restores some of the zoning/planning power of Providence, and it expressly prohibits a casino.
ProJo reports this morning on changes the House made to the Senate’s bill:
- Language that no casino could be built on the former Route 195 land;
- The Speaker of the House could recommend three names to the governor for one of the seven members of the powerful commission; the mayor of Providence would continue to recommend three; the governor would appoint all seven;
Wait what? Why is the Speaker of the House recommending appointments now? The Speaker of the House at the moment may well indeed be a Providence resident, but that could change. What on Earth could be the reason for this?
- Approval by the Providence City Council would be needed before the commission’s powers could expand to include abutting property if the owners of such land seek to buy former highway land and build on it and the abutting property;
And if the Council denies their approval… then what?
- Johnson & Wales University would continue to be allowed to buy two irregularly shaped parcels directly from the state and not have that land fall under the commission’s authority. The university would go through the city’s Planning and Zoning boards and not the commission because they’re ready to begin developing the land and the commission would take time to set up, Director of Administration Richard Licht told the committee as he briefed them about the changes that he said have been made in response to concerns about the Senate bill.
- Language to avoid “land banking,” a term used when a developer buys land and then doesn’t develop it, while waiting for the economy to improve.
And then there’s the process here. Even if one approved of everything in this legislation, the process stinks to high heaven, from the Journal:
People addressing the committee Wednesday night expressed concern about the process – they had signed up to testify about the bill but didn’t see it until 8:20 p.m. as the committee began discussing that specific legislation.
“Of course, we can’t really comment on what we received at the beginning of the hearing,” Common Cause Executive Director John Marion told the committee at 9:20 p.m. “We’ve really questioned the assumption that a commission is needed. “¦ We feel they’re less accountable than using other mechanisms. It’s a city within a city that’s being created here that will be governed by seven people who don’t necessarily have the city’s best interests in what they would be doing.”
We really, as an electorate, need to start getting more agitated about how the Assembly conducts itself. There is no excuse for spending the bulk of the session dicking around, mandating that we say “Christmas Tree” then spending the last hours of the last days with their own rules suspended, passing truly important legislation with little or no thought and even less opportunity for public input.
Common Cause and others will probably have more info as the day wears on, we will update this post as needed.