Dee from the Desk: Road bump on the RhodeMap

Have you ever sat in on a zoning or planning board meeting? If you have, you probably recognize that it is one of the biggest snoozers unless town planning and zoning is your thing. So, it is no surprise that Rhode Islanders paid little attention to these “RhodeMap RI” meeting going on throughout the state over the past several months.

The meetings asked for public input and comment into the proposal which specifically addresses housing and planning for the future growth.

It wasn’t until just recently, when the election was over and the plan was expected to be adopted by the State Planning Board that people have really paid any attention.

Vocal advocates on both sides of the plan have been attending these meetings, and some of them have gotten pretty heated. Meanwhile, while the few actively engaged Rhode Islanders have been participating in the civic process the rest of the state seems asleep at the switch. No surprise for a state that only turned out 44% of voters in the midterm elections.

The plan, which most people have no idea what even is, has been touted as an economic development plan but its true focus is on zoning and planning in local communities.

Proponents of the plan say it will eliminate social inequalities and bring more diversity to Rhode Island communities while opponents say it will be costly to property owners and eliminate local cities and town’s roles in their own zoning ordinances.

As the debate gets heated, a petition against the plan has formed urging Rhode Island lawmakers and officials to stall its adoption until Governor-elect Gina Raimondo and her administration has a chance to review the plan.

On the eve of the meeting where the plan was expected to be adopted, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pushed the brakes. The Speaker requested a delay on the vote so that he and his office could review it further. He didn’t say yes or no to the plan, just that he would like a chance to look it over some more.

The move showed leadership. Instead of pushing the plan through the Speaker is going to take some time to look it over and assess the concerns of the community. That’s right, instead of rushing into things the House Speaker is going to consider the issue further. Perhaps this is a lesson learned from the 2010 38 Studios loan deal which was rushed through the General Assembly before most lawmakers were able to truly understand the impact of the deal and what the loan money they were approving was actually earmarked for.

Meanwhile, the adoption meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 11, less than a month before the new administration takes office. Not quite what the opponents were asking for but it does give both sides of the issue time to make their arguments to lawmakers and the public.

The delay not only gives lawmakers a chance to look over the plan but it also gives Rhode Islanders a chance to read up on it and get informed. The problem is zoning and development issues are really difficult to understand unless of course your work in planning or a similar field. The other problem is that most of the state is concerned about their daily lives and the health and safety of their families not statewide zoning proposals.

Here, it will be up to lawmakers in the end to properly vet the plan and make the best decision for the state. Advocates and opponents of the plan will have their role too. If the decision to delay the vote says anything, it says lawmakers are listening and considering what their constituents are saying. Over the next three weeks, people who feel strongly about the plan one way or the other will have to mobilize the community to voice their opinions to local lawmakers and state leaders.

Meanwhile check out the proposed plan for yourself, here.

Follow me on Twitter @Deedequattro


Dee DeQuattro is the assignment desk manager and digital news coordinator for ABC6. She studied politics and communications and holds a master’s degree from Providence College. Follow her on twitter @deedequattro and log on to ABC6 .com for her latest in depth coverage of politics and news.