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Process of amending East Providence's comprehensive plan is about to begin

Matter is quite timely considering amount of development occurring, in the works

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/14/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — Likely part of the public domain in recent weeks more so than it has been actually in recent years, the City Council at its Tuesday, Sept. 1, meeting was given an overview of …

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Process of amending East Providence's comprehensive plan is about to begin

Matter is quite timely considering amount of development occurring, in the works

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Likely part of the public domain in recent weeks more so than it has been actually in recent years, the City Council at its Tuesday, Sept. 1, meeting was given an overview of the administration’s efforts to amend East Providence’s current, though admittedly outdated, comprehensive development plan.

The plan was last updated some 10 years ago. Parts of it, especially as it pertains to open space, have garnered substantial attention over the past few months, specifically in regard to the contentious effort to potentially redevelopment the Metacomet Golf Club.

Planning Department and Economic Development Director Bill Fazioli, upon a docket item request of Ward 3 member Nate Cahoon, approached the council at its initial September meeting to address the matter.

The aim of the Planning Department, he said, is to have a preliminary updated comprehensive plan compiled for consideration by August of 2021.

He said as of this month, September 2020, the administration expects to begin a public engagement endeavor through the creation of a dedicated website, the taking of surveys, postings on social media and setting up community meetings.

Mr. Fazioli said by the end of this year, he would like to conduct meetings ward-by-ward between constituents and their respective councilors while also holding city-wide forum.

“There’s going to be on-going public community engagement in this process between now and the end of next August, concluding with public hearings at the Planning Board level and also at the council level,” Mr. Fazioli said.

The director said the revised plan will include goals and parameters set for economic development, land use, transportation, community services, housing, historical and cultural, natural resources, recreation, conservation of open space and a community sustainability element.

“I think we’re probably at a critical time for the city to be having these discussions and these dialogues just to bring in the different, diverse opinions people have about various aspects of our city,” Mr. Fazioli added.

Of note, the director said for the first time to his knowledge the city will take a “different approach” while being assisted during the revision process with the hiring of an outside consultant, Horsley Witten Group headquartered in Sandwich, Mass.

“I think we picked a firm that has a good sense of where the city is and has some recommendations as far as shaping the vision of the city over the next 10 years. So we’re very excited to get started,” Mr. Fazioli said.

Mr. Cahoon urged residents to participate in the process, saying it was likely their only meaningful opportunity to have input for the foreseeable future.

“For those folks who want to get involved in developing the goals and strategies of development in the city, this is the opportunity for doing it,” Mr. Cahoon said. “Once the comprehensive plan is done, it’s really like ‘forever hold your peace’ with regard to planning and approval.”

With that in mind, Ward 3 member Ricardo Mourato asked about the viability of formally seating a group of residents as a continuing means of providing access to and advice on the process.

Mr. Fazioli said other communities have formed “steering” committees to consult on comprehensive plan updates, and the administration would be amenable to the idea. City Solicitor Michael Marcello said the council could do so in this case through a resolution.

In a follow-up conversation after the meeting, Mr. Fazioli said upon his hiring to the director position about a year ago, Mayor Bob DaSilva set a revision of the comprehensive plan as one of the Planning Department’s top priorities.

Delayed a bit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as have many things, the Request for Proposal process moved along at a steady pace earlier this calendar year. He said seven “strong” firms eventually responded to the RFP, three were deemed as finalists and Horsley Witten, which has a satellite office in Providence, was the clear-cut choice. Mr. Fazioli said the firm received top marks for both its written and in-person interviews.

“They have good experience working with comparable cities,” the director continued, noting Horsley Witten’s previous engagements in Rhode Island with Narragansett and Pawtucket as well as in neighboring Seekonk and two other Massachusetts municipalities, Canton and Easton.

Also key to the Horsley Witten proposal, according to Mr. Fazioli, was its partnering with a “very good transportation” consulting firm, McMahon Associates of Providence.

“We’re very excited to have two powerhouse teams working on this process,” he added.

Mr. Fazioli concluded, “Think about last 10 years what’s changed in city, mostly for the better I believe. Financially we’re in a much stronger position and development has definitely picked up. This process is a good chance to have a dialogue about where we want to go in the city for next 10 years.”

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