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Critics rap Providence's waterfront plan

UPDATE: I meant to note that the Fox Point Neighborhood Association has also registered concerns about this, particularly how the City Council will be voting on the comp plan just slightly more than three months after it put a moratorium on any non-standard development of property along soon-to-be removed sections of I-195. "Without the moratorium," Councilman Seth Yurdin said at the time, "it's likely that developers will swoop in before the process is complete, and end up frustrating the city's vision for the area."

. . . .

A public hearing of the Providence City Council tonight (6 pm, council chambers) promises to be quite lively. the subject of the hearing, Providence Tomorrow: The Comprehensive Plan, is under attack from critics who find serious fault with the city's approach to waterfront development.

Among the opponents is the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance, a new advocacy group for businesses that operate along the Allens Avenue corridor.

The ProJo has editorialized in favor of maintaining the working waterfront, and I tend to agree. Thanks to public access, Boston does a far better job than Providence in making use of the waterfront along the Charles River and parts of Boston Harbor than we do with comparable areas. While some envision more economically productive uses for the Providence waterfront, it shouldn't come at the cost of public access, and longstanding businesses could be an important part of this mix.

Meanwhile, William Touret, president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, has articulated a thoughtful critique of the city's comprehensive plan (some of this rap, about putting the cart in front of the horse, extends back several years):

Dear Council President Mancini:

 

We urge the City Council not to approve the proposed comprehensive plan (formerly referred to as the draft interim comprehensive plan) unless and until all of the neighborhood review meetings (charrettes) have been completed. There are several principal reasons why the proposed plan should not be approved.

 

First, there is no urgency to approve the proposed plan in its present, incomplete form. The Council re-approved the prior and now current comprehensive plan, and thus the state deadline for updating the prior plan is no longer a concern. The neighborhood plans should serve as the heart of any comprehensive plan.

 

Second, if the proposed comprehensive plan were approved now, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) would begin to implement zoning changes based upon this incomplete proposed comprehensive plan and upon the former proposed revised zoning ordinance -- the latter of which this Council declined on November 10, 2005 to consider because the comprehensive plan had not been updated. Any such zoning changes -- once implemented and to the extent that they would vest new rights in property owners -- likely could not legally be reversed in the event that later neighborhood meetings indicated that some or all of those zoning changes should not have been made. Many of those previously proposed zoning changes, which form the basis of much of the content of this proposed comprehensive plan, are unwarranted and inappropriate.

 

Third, we believe that considerable further discussion is needed otherwise with regard to the substance of this proposed comprehensive plan. The overarching theme of this proposed comprehensive plan is acceleration of development -- along the waterfront, in the neighborhoods, and in the downtown -- apparently with the short-term goal of somehow increasing the city’s general revenue. But in the city administration’s rush to increase development throughout the city, based on a series of what we see as at best unsupported and otherwise very dubious economic and demographic assumptions, the proposed comprehensive plan ignores extraordinary longer-term opportunities for creative planning that we believe are vital to Providence’s future.

 

For example, the city administration seeks to populate the waterfront with new, so-called “mixed use” buildings. In this regard, city administration employees speak of proposed waterfront “view corridors,” which is another way of saying that such new buildings would significantly interfere with the public’s view (and use) of the waterfront. But rather than selling off the waterfront’s future potential in order to obtain some additional property tax revenue from private developers, we would prefer a plan that would seek to keep and acquire as much of the waterfront as possible for use as open space for this and future generations -- as we described on page four of our May 1, 2007 letter to the City Plan Commission (copy attached). Although it may seem counterintuitive, planners appear to agree that by maximizing the waterfront’s open space, the value of the existing city tax base would thereby likely be enhanced to a far greater extent than if development of new waterfront buildings were permitted.

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