Three local vocal opponents of RhodeMap RI – Rep. Anthony Giarrusso, Sen. Lou Raptakis and Senator-elect Mark Gee – remain skeptical of the plan, even as none of them have fully read it (find the plan here).
“I got to the first six or seven pages and I saw duplication and and I had all of these questions,” said Gee. “I said I’m going to make an assumption here that these following pages are just the same treatment.”
Sen. Giarrusso said he had not read the full report but had read the executive summary and other “bullet points.” He said State House staff had done a lot of research into the plan, on which he had relied.
“I don’t trust government. I don’t trust the Planning Council,” Raptakis said. He plans to file a bill in January exempting East Greenwich, Coventry and West Greenwich (communities he represents) from the plan.
RhodeMap RI came about after the General Assembly passed a law calling for the creation of an economic development plan for the state following the state-backed 38 Studios fiasco. The state Planning Council got a $2 million grant from the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to draft such a plan.
The conservative Center for Freedom and Prosperity has spearheaded the effort to discredit RhodeMap, citing fears of HUD-funded low-income housing projects and a loss of local control.
There are no such projects attached to RhodeMap, although the plan does call for better access to basic needs – food, housing, health. (Over the weekend, the Providence Journal’s “politifact” team took up a HUD claim made by the center’s Mike Stenhouse here, deeming it false.)
“I will file the bill because I want to make sure we protect the communities we represent,” said Raptakis about the exemption bill. He noted town officials in Coventry and WG signed statements opposing the plan and four EG Town Councilors signed a letter asking the Planning Council to delay its vote.
Raptakis said he was worried there could be mandates overriding local zoning laws in the plan. Only the General Assembly or local government bodies can pass laws that mandate zoning changes, but, Raptakis said, “I would rather be safe than sorry.”
He expressed particular frustration with what he perceived as a lack of communication on the part of the RhodeMap team during their nearly two years of work on the plan.
“They should at least have consulted with us,” Raptakis said, as well as town and city councils.
The RhodeMap team held a series of public meetings around the state, including one at the EGPD Community Room in October 2013. No local public officials attended the East Greenwich meeting.
Raptakis said he had not read the plan, which is 186 pages, but had read “some of the outlines.” He said he had based his knowledge about the plan from opinion pieces he had read and meetings he attended organized by the group Property Rights Alliance of Rhode Island (PRARI), which is opposed to RhodeMap.
He said his opposition was not about HUD or a fear of low-income housing.
“I’ll always welcome affordable housing projects,” he said. But he reiterated that he wanted to make sure RhodeMap was “not a new conduit for accepting HUD dollars, not a loophole to circumvent our existing zoning laws.”
Sen.-elect Gee said he also was concerned about the potential loss of local control if RhodeMap was enacted, even as he acknowledged there was no specific language in the plan indicating a loss of control.
At the state Planning Council meeting last Thursday, before the panel voted on RhodeMap, Gee was one of those who spoke, likening the plan to communism (find the video here).
When asked why he was opposed to RhodeMap, Gee cited a 10-unit East Greenwich Housing Authority project now being built on South County Trail. The former Town Council member said EGHA projects were not subject to town oversight and that that was wrong.
“The development on Route 2 did not go through the normal vetting process. You have some neighbors there who were very, very upset,” he said. “You’ve jammed 10 units into a space big enough for a single home.”
Gee resisted the idea that opposition to RhodeMap was based on fears of low-income housing.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with poor people moving into the neighborhood,” he said. “I do think it has something to do with social engineering. And there are some people who feel they’ve chosen a particular community and they’re concerned with change.”
In addition, Gee said he thought an economic development plan should have included more business people.
“Planners are not business people. They’re not decision-makers in the world of commerce. They’re very versed in planning,” he said. “Given all the controversy and lack of confidence and trust in government, this could have waited a few more weeks,” he said.
Like other opponents to RhodeMap, Giarrusso expressed a fear that even though there was no language in the plan that would compel communities to abandon their zoning laws, there might still be something hiding in the plan.
“We’re hoping there’s not a devil in the details,” he said. “The big fear is they really want to abolish the single-family home.”
Giarrusso said opposition was not about keeping poor people out of affluent neighborhoods.
“I think everybody wants everybody to do well,” he said. But, he added, “there’s this perception that if you don’t live on the water in Jamestown, somebody’s doing you a disservice. Not everyone can drive a Ferrari.”
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