Streamline? No. Steamroll

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Rhode Island State House. (

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio will hold a meeting later today – 4 p.m. in Room 313 – on his legislation to “streamline” the development process for projects on state land in every city and town in Rhode Island. This is not really an effort to make the process more efficient. It is an effort to violate the right of the public, though local governments, to influence what is built in their communities.

Make no mistake. This legislation was birthed in anger by Ruggerio, who feels personally affronted by the success, so far, of opponents of the Fane tower project on Route 195 land in Providence. Assuming that his care for workers is his main interest in this matter, he has allowed the priorities of his day job as a labor leader to undermine his duty as an elected officer of the state to protect the rights of his own constituents and, as president of the state Senate, those of all Rhode Islanders.

According to an April 11 Senate press release, the legislation would:

[Establish] a process for creating Special Economic Development Districts on state-owned tracts of 20 or more contiguous acres. These special districts would be vested with the authority to adopt development plans that include land use, location of buildings, street systems, dimension and height requirements, parking, landscaping, design review and population density.

In brief, it would take over those responsibilities from any of 39 Rhode Island cities and towns where the state wants to develop land itself or promote private development on state land of 20 acres or more.

Most projects go through easily, as did the Wexford Innovation Center right across the street from the proposed Fane tower. But when a project tries to violate local rules – such as the 100-foot height limit mandated by zoning on land proposed for that tower – the process becomes more complicated and time-consuming. The Fane developer was able to get a weak Providence city council to override a mayoral veto and raise the height limit to 600 feet, but that took time, cost money, and generated a lawsuit.

Efforts to game the system usually take more time, especially if intelligent local civic leaders and groups, such as the Jewelry District Association and its allies in the Fane case, are alert and try to force developers to obey the law. This does not mean that the development process is inefficient and in need of “streamlining.” It means the process is working. Ruggerio’s legislation is not about streamlining the process, it is about steamrolling the process.

Let’s hope many people show up at the State House today for a show of strength against this proposed effort to silence the voice of the people in their own communities.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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5 Responses to Streamline? No. Steamroll

  1. LazyReader says:

    Expect bribes from lucrative development contractors. Keep tabs on the politicians in Rhode Island and where their campaign donations came from.


  2. Steve says:

    Well, the Commission will review the architectural design and has full authority to reject/modify/approve, so I believe we will have a good design and 46 floors.

    We cannot do worse than the IGT or Wexford buildings…while not the Turks Head, at least better than those.


    • Not sure how you find any hope for such a turn in the design phase. It is not impossible for the Fane design to be improved, but it’s unlikely, close to impossible to imagine, for him to agree to the sort of improvement that would make any difference.


  3. Steve says:

    Here we go again…

    “The Fane developer was able to get a weak Providence city council to override a mayoral veto”.
    It takes a STRONG council to override an idiotic veto.

    “…intelligent local civic leaders and groups, such as the Jewelry District Association”.
    To me – arrogant, rude, and damaging to the growth of my city.

    “…in the Fane case, are alert and try to force developers to obey the law.”
    Fane DID obey the law, per the Council and Commission affirmative actions.

    Oh, as to the “voice of the people”; 85% of folks polled by PBN approve of the tower.
    What about them?

    Of course, this legislation would not be an issue if there were not
    1) grossly small town zoning in place in the district
    2) a ridiculous 18 hearing process
    3) a sadly ill-equipped individual in City Hall…more suited for a quiet little suburb.

    My position does not reduce my strong support of architectural design fitting for this great, beautiful city.


    • I was looking at my watch counting the minutes to your comment, Steve. You’re entitled to your opinion. You always plump for a better design, but you seem to realize that Fane has no intention of seeking a better design, nor would he know a better design if it punched him in the face (as it does from almost every direction in Providence, at least for now).


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