Comp plan talks focus on East Providence waterfront

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ep-aerial-260x193EAST PROVIDENCE — The city’s continued focus on its valued and valuable waterfront property was an overriding theme of four public forums hosted by the East Providence Planning Department and Council members in May, seeking input from residents on the development of a new Comprehensive Plan for coming years.

Each of the city’s four wards and their representatives as well as members of the department gathered, concluding with a roughly two-hour discussion Thursday, May 22, in the Myron Francis Elementary School Library with Ward 1 Councilman and Mayor Jim Briden, Planning personnel Diane Feather, Patrick Hanner, Wayne Barnes and Jim Moran, and a handful of residents.

The attendance at Francis mirrored that of meetings held in Ward 3 at the Kent Heights Elementary with Councilman Tommy Rose and in Ward 2 at the Santa Maria Club with Councilman Helder Cunha. The Ward 4 event held at Riverside Library with Councilman Chrissy Rossi had a sizable audience focused closely on the possible redevelopment of the former Oldham School building as a recreation center as well as the grounds there being turned into a soccer complex.

The comprehensive plan entails a wide swathe of the city from roads to potential schools, parks and recreation, police and fire, public works and economic development projects.

Mr. Barnes, the city’s Land Use Planner, said the comprehensive plan is important to the future of the city because “if funding opportunities come about we can say we’ve identified projects in our capital improvement plan. Obviously the money is not always going to come through city bonds. Having this plan in place opens up the opportunity for us to seek grants.”

Ms. Feather, East Providence’s Chief Planner, noted discussions at all four locations were fruitful and each similarly turned at points to the waterfront, which remains of keen interest to most residents of the city.

Tockwotton on the Waterfront, the renowned eldercare facility which opened last year, is the anchor tenant of district. Among the other projects to benefit from the location’s regeneration have been Baer Supply Center, Sky Zone, Eaton Corporation, Ross Commons, Village on the Waterfront/Chevron, Aspen Aerogels and Kettle Point.

The latest company to take advantage of the burgeoning waterfront area was Speedpro Imaging, a high-tech printing company. Mr. Moran, the city’s Economic Planner, said Speedpro is one of the roughly 2,000 small businesses that are the backbone of East Providence’s economy. These companies “contribute a lot to the city.”

Of the waterfront in general, Mr. Moran added, “It’s a pallet that’s a bit empty right now, but its long-term possibilities are excellent.”

Mr. Hanner, the city’s Senior Planner, said residents appear to be in favor of so-called “live-work” development, which is a mixed use between residential and commercial property. The Planning personnel pointed to the Rumford Center project on the grounds of the old Rumford Baking Soda plant as a prime example of this.

At all four meetings, residents talked about using areas along or near the waterfront for arts and crafts and musical festivals as well as other various forms of entertainment.

“People seem to be interested in bringing more arts and entertainment into the community,” Mr. Hanner added. He also noted the city’s attempt to sell the former Union Primary School building for this very purpose. The endeavor, fell through, however, and it remains on the market, though Mr. Hanner said he feels the property could work well  as a “live-work” development in that neighborhood.

“We want to put mixed uses back together where it makes sense and do it in a good way,” Ms. Feather added.

Mayor Briden discussed his vision of sensible governance. He posited how the city should be governed in what he termed a “philosophical question.” He continued, “What is the role of government and should we pull back and do less better? I believe if we are more efficient, we will be better.”

Mayor Briden added, “I think we need to elect people in the future who appreciate the balance of what we can afford to accomplish and what we need to do to govern effectively.”

The meetings conducted in May were the first of several expected throughout the rest of the year. For the remainder of 2014, public outreach such as drop-in open houses, Planning Board workshops, presentations, and a survey are planned. A final draft plan is slated for completion by the end of 2014 and will follow a review and adoption process established by the State. The State requires a new Plan every five years from each Rhode Island municipality. Locally, the City Council is charged with reviewing and adopting the Plan.

Residents and business owners are encouraged to send their email addresses for notice of future meetings and if they wish to participate in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan 2015 Survey. Emails should be sent to planning@cityofeastprov.com.

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