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Contentious testimony before the Providence City Council on Fane Tower



In the end, the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee voted 3-1 against recommending a spot zoning map change for Jason Fane‘s Hope Point Tower. Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan was the sole yes vote and Councilmember Carmen Castillo abstained. Ordinance Committee Chair Terrence Hassett, and Councilmembers Bryan Principe and Mary Kay Harris voted against. The proposed zoning map change now heads to the full City Council for a vote.

A rough characterization of the public commentary olds that the Building Trades were in strong support while local neighborhood groups such as the Jewelry District Association and the Downtown Neighborhood Association. Ethan Gyles (video 28 below), president of the Summit Neighborhood Association noted that the Fane Tower project has united diverse neighborhood groups in opposition.

Two city councilmembers testified against the map change. Nirva LaFortune (video 02 below) said that in conversations with her constituents, Ward 3 residents are overwhelmingly against the zoning map change. Councilmember Seth Yurdin (video 26 below) received a standing ovation for his testimony declaring his opposition to the project.

In attendance at various times during the hearing were candidates for Providence City Council Kat Kerwin and Deja Garcia, as well as Providence Mayoral candidate Robert DeRobbio. Rhode Island State Representative Edith Ajello (Democrat, District 1, Providence). Jonathan Hernandez, Democratic candidate for Rhode Island State Senate District 6, Jonathan Hernandez (video 29 below), spoke against the project.

One aspect of the project that was not given much attention was the impact it may or may not have on affordable housing in the city. There is, say advocates, an affordable housing crisis in Rhode Island.

Both sides were very vocal, cheering speakers they were in agreement with and booing those they disagreed with. Greg Mancini (video 05 below), lawyer for Building Trades, said there were about 100 members of the union present. Justin Kelley (video 12 below), Business Representative of the Rhode Island Painters Union, said the project was needed for jobs. Keely wrote an oped in favor of the project here.

Union representatives Scott Duhamel (video 14 below) and Michael Sabitoni (video 22 below) angered those against the zoning map change when they characterized the opposition as NIMBYism. Sabitoni asked “How many parks do you need?” and said parks don’t pay taxes. He also said he would be happy to live next to such a project.

Former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino (video 03 below) supports the map change but if such a map change is impossible he would like the city to negotiate with Fane and move the project to Allens Avenue, to get rid of the strip clubs and scrap metal yards.

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Of the many people who spoke against the project, I would note attorney Joelle Rocha (video 17 below) who suggested that the map change may be illegal under the law, Providence Preservation Society President Brent Runyon (video 06 below), Jewelry District Association President Sharon Steele, (video 33 below), Tim Empkie (video 24 below), Nika Lomazzo (video 21 below) and Greg Gerritt (video 04 below).

Other coverage:

After long hearing, City Council panel recommends 46-story tower be voted down

Another ‘no’ vote for proposed 46-story tower in Providence

Council Ordinance Committee rejects Fane Tower zoning change

I left the hearing before the final one or two speakers. My apologies to those I missed.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.