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E.P. Council talks contentious short-term rental, sidewalk matters

Attempts to respond to concerns, complaints about troubling situations

By Mike Rego
Posted 8/6/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council at its Tuesday, Aug. 4, meeting spent substantial time discussing two lingering issues on the minds of many residents: short-term housing rentals and the …

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E.P. Council talks contentious short-term rental, sidewalk matters

Attempts to respond to concerns, complaints about troubling situations

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — The City Council at its Tuesday, Aug. 4, meeting spent substantial time discussing two lingering issues on the minds of many residents: short-term housing rentals and the condition of sidewalks throughout East Providence, but in particular over a large stretch of Pawtucket Avenue.

The short-term rental matter was brought to the floor by At-Large Councilor Bob Rodericks, saying he and his colleagues have received “a couple dozen” complaints and concerns from abutting property owners.

Ward 3 Council Nate Cahoon raised the sidewalk situation, explaining his district includes several paths on roads owned by the state, like Pawtucket and Warren Avenues, which have been left largely unattended for several years, if not decades.

Short-term rentals

Mr. Rodericks noted the current ordinance calls for short-term rentals to be owner occupied, though in one particular instance the proprietor of the home is known be incarcerated. That house, he said, was being rented and neighbors are being subjected to “late night parties” and “a lot of out of state cars coming in and out.”

Mr. Rodericks continued, though he was “not to trying to stop” rentals of so-called “bed-and-breakfasts,” he was “looking to go after anyone who is abusing the policy.”

Edward Pimentel, Zoning Officer for East Providence, joined the talks, telling the council a violation notice has been issued to the aforementioned owner in question, and several more have been sent to others across the city.

In the existing ordinance short-term rentals are defined as “anything less than 28 days,” Mr. Pimentel explained. The owner-occupied requirement is there, in part, so the proprietor maintains “control” of the actions taken on the property.

Mr. Pimentel said the city needs to take a multi-faceted approach, using the powers of the council, zoning authorities and law enforcement to address the situation.

“If people are causing excessive noise or trespassing on private property you have to get the police involved,” Mr. Pimentel said, adding his office through the courts have the ability to render monetary fines to property owners that eventually total more than any potential profits, “so it behooves them to follow the law.”

He continued, saying in long range the matter can be more stringently overseen through zoning, but in the immediate circumstance it will take “a lot of us working together.”

Asked by Ward 4 Councilor Ricardo Mourato is the current ordinance can be improved, Mr. Pimentel said though it is well-written as is, it could be buffeted. To that end, his office is reviewing those short-term rental laws in places like Newport and South Kingstown, tourists areas where the process is much more prevalent. Those updates will be provided to the council for its consideration.

“I think we could add more to it,” Mr. Pimentel said. “It can be tweaked and we’re in the process of looking at other ones.”

Sidewalks

As an introduction, Mr. Cahoon acknowledged his peers are “all dealing with this issue to an extent,” but that in his “neck of woods there’s a little more to it” because of the prominent state roads running through Ward 3.

Mr. Cahoon labeled the Pawtucket Avenue sidewalks as “disasters” with spots ground down to gravel that puddle and freeze. He noted the sidewalks in the Kent Heights neighborhood, specifically, are heavily traversed by students attending the elementary school and by communicants of St. Martha Church.

Like other state roads, Mr. Cahoon said Pawtucket Avenue was among the thoroughfares to be included in the original Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s “RhodeWorks” reconstruction plan, but has been deferred at least once. Any state intervention isn't expected to take place until at least 2023.

To remedy the matter, Mr. Cahoon suggested, after consulting Mayor Bob DaSilva and Department of Public Works Director Steve Coutu, “peeling off” existing Capital Improvement monies earmarked for road repair in city for use on sidewalks in all four wards. The temporarily repaired walkways would be paved with asphalt instead of the more costly and durable concrete.

Council President and Ward 1 member Bobby Britto backed Mr. Cahoon’s initial cure, saying he gained a newfound appreciation for the deteriorating status of sidewalks while exercising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You get a whole new perspective when you walk as opposed to driving,” Mr. Britto said, adding he’s seen first-hand the sidewalks on Pawtucket Avenue are in “horrendous” shape.

“I’m all on board for identifying certain areas that are really in deplorable condition,” Mr. Britto said.

Ward 2 Councilor Anna Sousa, who supported the previous council’s roughly $12 million, five-year road reconstruction plan, said it’s likely another long-range proposal would be necessary to address the situation. She suggested a similar five-year plan, though at a reduced allocation, be instituted to repair sidewalks and streets not currently included in the existing effort.

Near the end of the discussion, Mr. Cahoon light-heartedly noted “WPA” emblems can still be seen embedded in some sidewalks, referring to The Great Depression Era federal “Works Progress Administration” initiative used to help spur the economy in the 1930s.

The WPA emblems “tells you (the sidewalks) are nearly 100 years old,” Mr. Cahoon said, referencing their long-ago construction. “They need to be history,” he added.

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