Capital Center Comm. members oppose state parking lot plans
PLANS BY THE R.I. DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION to build two surface parking lots near the Statehouse violate land-use rules in the Capital Center region of Providence, say Capital Center Commission members.
PROVIDENCE – Members of the Capital Center Commission are appealing to lawmakers and the city for help enforcing land-use rules its members say have been flouted by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s administration in parking lot projects at the Statehouse.
Commission Chairman Deming Sherman said Thursday at a commission meeting that work now underway to expand the parking lot on the east side of the Statehouse into the capital lawn violates a 1982 agreement between the state, city, federal government and private landowners that paved the way for the creation of the Capital Center area.
Under the agreement, redevelopment in the area must be approved by the commission, a hybrid city-state entity with members appointed by the governor, mayor and local nonprofits.
Sherman said the state Department of Administration restarted old plans to expand a parking lot into the Statehouse lawn in June and, when the commission asserted its jurisdiction, argued its authority supersedes the commission, just as it trumps local zoning laws.
The Capital Center master plan, like the city’s downtown zoning, prohibits surface parking lots in an effort to encourage more active uses.
Sherman said the customary way to enforce the commission’s authority would be to sue, but that would quickly exhaust its modest resources.
Instead, a number of commission members resolved (with no quorum, a formal vote could not be taken) to request support from the city and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, who grew up not far from the capitol.
Normally, legal support for the Capital Center Commission would come from the city solicitor, and Sherman said when the Statehouse lawn project was first proposed in 2010, and again this year, Providence had written in support of the commission.
But after the state asserted its intention to go through with the parking lot plan, in August City Solicitor Jeffrey Padwa declined to oppose it, Sherman said.
Edward “Ted” Sanderson, the executive director of the R.I. Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, also declined to get involved. Earlier this month Chafee appointed senior adviser Jonathan Stevens, who initially proposed the parking lot expansion, to be state preservation officer.
On top of state legal issues, commission members suggested a violation of the 1982 agreement could cause issues with the federal government, which poured millions of dollars into the state to help move the Northeast Corridor rail lines and create the current Capital Center.
In addition to the expansion of the capital parking lot onto the lawn, the state is also proposing a larger surface parking lot on a Francis Street parcel recently purchased for $3.1 million. That plan would also be a violation of Capital Center regulations.
Todd Turcotte, vice president of Capital Properties, a major landowner in the Capital Center, told commissioners he was concerned about the state undermining rules his company and other property holders had followed for years.
Calls to Providence Mayor Angel Taveras as well as to Chafee’s office were not returned immediately.
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