PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has vetoed a controversial zoning change that would allow a 46-story skyscraper to be built on the former I-195 land, brushing off intense pressure from General Assembly leaders who support the project.
The veto appears to lessen the chances that the Hope Point Tower will move forward, but it doesn’t guarantee that the project is dead, for two reasons.
First, the City Council could still override Elorza’s veto with 10 votes, although that would require at least one councilor who already voted against the zoning change to switch sides and support the proposal.
Second, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a vocal supporter of the project, has already said he intends to introduce legislation that would strip Providence of its zoning authority on the former 195 land, which render Elorza’s veto moot.
The mayor’s veto came after the City Council voted last week to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to increase the maximum building height on Parcel 42 along Dyer Street from 130 feet to 600 feet. Jason Fane, the New York-based developer of the project, has said he wants to spend $300 million to build the state’s tallest skyscraper on the land.
But Elorza made it clear he would only sign off on the zoning change if Fane agreed to a set of conditions, including a commitment to expedite construction and make a public investment to the city. Elorza also wanted final approval over the design of the building.
Dante Bellini, a spokesman for Fane, said the developer was “disappointed” in the mayor’s decision. “We have endeavored to compromise in good faith in an effort to get an agreement done that best serves the interest of all the citizens of Providence,” Bellini said. “His veto is an extraordinarily punitive action against this specific project and the economic development Hope Point represents.”
Fane’s team “will have more to say next week,” he added.
The veto infuriated Ruggerio, D-North Providence, and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, who sent a letter to Elorza last week urging him to support the zoning change. The pair immediately issued a rare joint statement condemning the mayor’s move.
“The proposed Hope Point Tower represents a major private investment in our capital city,” the two legislative leaders said. “It would not only change our skyline, it would send a signal to developers far and wide that Providence is a worthwhile place to invest.”
“We are extremely disappointed that Mayor Elorza has chosen to stand in the way of progress for our capital city, and we encourage the City Council to override this veto as soon as possible,” they added.
The Providence Journal has published at least eight editorials supporting the project since May 1, frequently labeling opponents as BANANAs, an acronym for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.
But the zoning change faced a wide range of criticism, including over the decision to engage in the practice of “spot zoning,” the lack of an affordable housing component for the project, and an irregular approval process that included the City Council Ordinance Committee initially opposing the project and then flipping to support it. The City Plan Commission also recommended the zoning change be denied.
The Providence Preservation Society’s executive director, Brent Runyon, praised Elorza’s veto “for putting the city’s interests above the interest of one developer.”
“Standing strong, the mayor has shown that he respects, values and believes in community members’ input,” Runyon said. “With so many questions still left for Fane to answer, we call on the City Council now to uphold the Mayor’s veto and reject this questionable proposal that would have significant long-term negative impacts on Providence and our state.”
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.