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Providence mulls moratorium on I-195 development

A debate over the waterfront land being made available in Providence by the relocation of I-195 has played out, mostly quietly, in recent years.

To some, like David Riley of the Friends of India Point Park, maximizing public access to the waterfront makes the most economic and civic sense. For its part, the Cicilline administration has seemingly wanted to keep its options open when it comes to the development of this area.

Now, Riley sends word that the Providence City Council's Committee on Ordinances will hold a public hearing at 6 PM tonight, in the council chambers at City Hall, on a proposed moratorium on waterfront development south of I-195, pending completion of the Comprehensive & Neighborhood Plans. According to supporters, "This moratorium will give the city a chance to plan carefully for the future of the strategically located waterfront between the Seekonk & Providence Rivers."

If you scroll to the second article, you can find a piece I wrote about the issue of this waterfront development in January 2005:

To a raft of proponents, the idea is a no-brainer: extending India Point Park to Fox’s Point, considering as a whole the land south of the new Interstate 195 between the Seekonk and Providence rivers, designating this area as public space, and making it into a park that will beautify the city and promote economic development. As David Riley, co-chair of Friends of India Point Park, puts it, "We think it’s critical that there be more public space on the waterfront, for significant and lasting economic and civic reasons."

Riley cites information indicating how the expansion of waterfront parks in numerous cities, ranging from Hartford, Connecticut, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, has fostered a range of positive impacts. "It’s a false dichotomy to assume that parks don’t help the bottom line," he says, and they should be considered just as important to the appeal of a community as such traditional infrastructure as highways and utilities.

Thomas E. Deller, director of the Providence Department of Planning and Development, however, says the situation is more complex. For starters, he says, the city can’t afford to earmark five acres of privately owned land near India Point as public space, because, according to a US Supreme Court precedent, the city would be on the hook for compensation payments in the neighborhood of $8 million to $10 million. And when it comes to remaking the contested waterfront land entirely as public space, Deller says, "There are people who do not agree that it is the best use of the land." He notes that the city’s existing comprehensive plan calls for mixed uses — shorthand, in the eyes of critics, for such uses as high-priced, high-rise residential properties — with an open space buffer along the waterfront.

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