PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Opponents of a 46-story skyscraper that has been proposed on the former I-195 land are seeking to raise at least $50,000 to cover the legal fees that would be needed to file a court appeal of the Providence City Council’s decision to approve a zoning change for the project’s developer.

In an email sent Sunday evening, Sharon Steele, a vocal critic of the proposed Hope Point Tower who serves as president of the nonprofit Building Bridges Providence, said an appeal of the zoning change must be filed in R.I. Superior Court before Jan. 12.

Steele said she and other opponents of the project have been told the appeal process could cost between $50,000 and $100,000.

“The appeal we are taking, however, requires a serious financial commitment & it would not be prudent to sign an engagement letter before we have pledges for at least $50,000 to ensure that we are well funded to see this through to a successful finish,” Steele wrote. “As soon as we have these pledges, Building Bridges will execute the document with the attorneys.”

The zoning change approved by the council raised the maximum building height on Parcel 42 of the I-195 land from 130 feet to 600 feet. Mayor Jorge Elorza vetoed the change, but the council voted to override the veto last month.

The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission also voted last month to enter into a deal to sell the land to New York developer Jason Fane for $3.1 million, but the deal is contingent on the courts not blocking the zoning change.

In the email, Steele said her organization has been working with the Providence Preservation Society to consider next steps. She said their two options include appealing the council’s decision in court or “call[ing] Fane’s bluff by allowing the I-195 Commission’s deadlines to kick in & watch him crash & burn.”

Steele said Building Bridges Providence would take the lead on hiring an attorney, noting that the Providence Preservation Society led the first phase of the opposition. The email links to a pledge card asking for donations.

“As you all know, it takes a village,” she wrote. “Either we take a stand for the rule of law & help shape our future by protecting our public spaces & respecting the scale & historic nature of our City or we allow others to control our destiny. The choice is yours.” 

If an appeal is filed, Providence’s law department would face a rare case where it could be asked to defend the City Council’s vote in favor of the zoning change despite Elorza’s opposition to the project. It is also possible the council could hire outside legal counsel to defend the change.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan