Providence leaders blindsided by plan to cut city’s zoning oversight on 195 land

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio didn’t tell Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza or City Council President David Salvatore he plans to introduce a bill that would cut the city out of the zoning process on the former I-195 land prior to his announcement Monday night.

Speaking at the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council’s annual gathering Monday night, Ruggerio said the legislation is necessary “so the city doesn’t stand in the way of progress.” He appeared to be referring specifically proposed zoning change that would help a New York developer build a 46-story residential tower along Dyer Street.

“You might think that we would welcome a developer wanting to invest a quarter-billion dollars in our capital city, but we have done all we can to chase him away,” Ruggerio said.

Both Elorza and Salvatore said Tuesday they were unaware Ruggerio was planning to introduce a bill related to the I-195 land when the Senate reconvenes in January. The two city leaders also disputed Ruggerio’s claim that City Hall has slowed down development on the former highway land.

Elorza said it would be “unprecedented for the state to do something like this” while noting that the city has 60 construction projects under development or in the pipeline, including several in the I-195 land.

“I think anyone who’s looking at it will say that the city has been a strong partner to encourage development in our city,” he said.

Salvatore, who unlike Elorza has said he opposes a proposed zoning change that would allow for 46-story skyscraper along Dyer Street, said city leaders have reputedly proved they are “pro-growth and pro-economic development.” He said Ruggerio’s proposal would be an overreach.

“Having a predictable plan, a zoning plan, in place makes sense not only for Providence, but urban planning as a whole,” he said.

Ruggerio’s said he wants to give more authority over zoning to the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, an unelected seven-member board that is appointed by the governor with the input of the House, Senate and mayor.

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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

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