It is citizens’ own right and obligation to participate in state and local government. Citizens’ active engagement in the governance will be able to foster better changes in the environment of the city. The City Hall in Providence, Rhode Island offers the public open meetings, sponsored by Council members, in order to show city government in action. On January 23rd, the Committee on Ordinances held a regular meeting at 5:30 pm in the City Hall in Providence. While attended Council members were Councilman Nicholas J. Narducci Jr., Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, Councilwoman Carmen Castillo, and Councilwoman Rachel Miller, Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris was absent. During the evening meeting, the City Clerk was Tina Mastroianni. A number of different people, such as journalist, college students, and city dwellers, watched the meeting from the side. In the agenda of the meeting, there were 9 specific points: one organizational meeting and 8 amendment discussions.
1. Organizational Meeting
The first step was to elect Chairperson and a Vice-Chairperson. Through a process of nomination, Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan was elected as Chairperson, and Councilwoman Carmen Castillo was elected as a Vice-Chairperson.
2. An Ordinance in Amendment of Chapter 8 of the Code of Ordinances Entitled; “Courts”, amending Section 8-17 – Tenure of justice; filling of vacancy.
The matter was introduced by former Councilman Hassett. This issue is about a succession plan for housing court judges. Because terms are currently expiring on the first Monday of January, this ordinance amends a language to extend the term to the First Monday of March and allows the court to continue the work. In the end, the amendment had a motion to approve.
3. An Ordinance in Amendment of Chapter 27 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Providence, Entitled: “The City of Providence Zoning Ordinance”, Approved November 24, 2014, As Amended, to amend the Use Definition of a Rehabilitation Center.
For this amendment, the City Clerk presented the matter about treatment facilities. The concern was that the facility was licensed by the state, but no specific public process is proved. The original proposal was to change the language slightly in the use definition. This rehabilitation center’s original definition is mandated as inpatient facilities, where people are receiving treatment, but they are provided housing. Original amendment generalized the definition, however, City Plan Commission (CPC) thought that it was a little bit too broad, and it could also encompass not just facilities that are dispensing medication but also doctor’s offices that are providing services but do not recruit dispensing medication. According to the exhibit, the revision, or specific definition, of the rehabilitation center should be “a facility for treatment of alcohol or drug addiction that is licensed, certified, or accredited by the appropriate local, state, or federal agencies, in which patients are provided addiction diagnosis and medication to treat addiction. The facility also provides housing, food, and supportive services.”
Furthermore, CPC’s other opinion was that where rehabilitation centers are currently allowed in the city is extremely restricted. He suggested that there should be some other zones that doctor’s offices and rehabilitation centers are allowed so that people should have free access to this type of facility. On the letter from CPC, what they proposed in the amendment is that rehabilitation center should be allowed for the use by right in the C-3 zone and by special use permit in the C-1 and C-2 zones. Also, CPC proposed a further amended to permit rehabilitation centers by right in the M-MU zone and by special use permit in the R-P zone. After the City Clerk finished his explanation, Councilwoman Ryan stated that their job is to set a public caring for those type of problem. Thus, she scheduled to run the ad on three consecutive Mondays (4th, 11th, and 18th) with the public hearing holding on 20th in the chamber.
4. An Ordinance Amending Chapter 27, “Zoning”, Article 20 concerning Nonconforming Uses.
The City Clerk stated that this particular item was introduced last meeting. There are many uses that are allowed by variance in Providence, Rhode Island. However, in some cases, those uses have been abandoned. The way that the zoning works is that once the variance is granted, it runs with the land and with the property indefinitely. He acknowledged that this is a problem, and the councilman had this ordinance drafted, saying that if there was a use by variance that if it was abandoned, and if there were some overaction where the owner stepped away from the use, then that use would go away.
On the other hand, the law department took a hard look at this study, studied the case law, and concluded that this was not something that was allowed under the current zoning. The City Clerk stated that he still acknowledge this as an issue and has been talking with planning directors in the city and other departments about it.
5. An Ordinance in Amendment of Chapter 27 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Providence, Entitled: “The City of Providence Zoning Ordinance, Approved November 24, 2014, As Amended, to modify Section 1204 – Use Definitions, Regarding Group Quarters.
6. An Ordinance in Amendment of Chapter 27 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Providence, Entitled: “The City of Providence Zoning Ordinance,” Approved November 24, 2014, As Amended, to change certain text in Article 12 regarding College Student Occupancy of Dwellings.
The City Clerk explained the two amendments above together that they are related to a topic of student housing. Specifically, the amendments are to regulate student housing and limit the number of students who can live together. The 5th amendment is focused on the change in the definition of group quarters, and the 6th amendment is concentrated on zoning regulations. CPC has recommended an approach that the Council members can just clean up the record and focus on one ordinance, regarding student housing. At the end of the discussion, Councilwoman Ryan stated an additional clarification on the matter; when she looked at the definition of group quarters, she felt that by making a change and use definition of group quarters, they could easily make some changes and get some order on to a part of the neighborhood that had been single family home. Also, the ordinance was passed by the council, regarding no more than three students. (College students in single family dwelling and residential neighborhood in R-1 and R-1A.) This one is recommended by CPC to continue indefinitely.
7. Petition from John J. Garrahy, John J. Garrahy Law, LLC, 2088, Broad Street, Cranston, Rhode Island 02905, requesting a Zone Change for the property located on Assessor’s Plat 67, Lot 274 (38 Bath Street), from an M-1 zoning district to M-MU-90 zoning district.
This matter is about a peace property on Bath Street, which is on the industrial zone. (Very much industrial zone, and not much residential areas around there.) When the petition was first came before the CPC, it was explained that the owner wanted to be able to convert this property to residential. CPC felt that given the industrial nature of the area that residential uses within this building would be incompatible with that area. Thus, their recommendation denied this. One of Councilwoman stated that she has met the City Clerk and talked about his well-awareness on the situation, and if they still want to continue the amendment, they will start the process all over again.
8. Petition from Joelle C. Rocha, Esquire, Kelly, Souza, Rocha & Parmenter, PC, 128 Dorrance Street, Suite 300, Providence, Rhode Island 02903, requesting a Zoning Change for the property located on Assessor’s Plat 28, Lot 527 (16 Piedmont Street), from R-3 to C-1.
On the map of Providence, lot 527 is a part of residential three-family zone while lot 526 is in C-1, which is a commercial zone. The owner owns lot 523, which is a piece of commercial property, and behind lot 526 and lot 527 are a residential piece of property. The intention of the owner is to combine all three lots into one piece of property and develop to mixed use property. This amendment is also scheduled on 20th when the public hearing is going to hold.
9. Petition from Jon M. Anderson, Brennan, Recupero, Cascione, Scungio & McAllister, LLP, dated January 7, 2019, requesting a zoning change to the text of Section 1204, “Use Definitions.”
This issue is from Lincoln School. The school is contemplating of constructing a daycare center on its property at lot 301 on Butler ave. Daycare is not permitted use in a school setting. In the reality, the situation is if you look around the city of Providence, there are private or parochial schools that are providing daycare. This amendment would simply clarify that it is a permitted use. In addition, large daycare centers are not allowed in residential zone, but only small daycare houses are allowed.
Throughout the meeting, all the statements, rules, and engagements of the people demonstrated an activity of democracy in Providence, Rhode Island. Even though the meeting was only 30-minute regular meeting, there were a number of amendments discussed. Also, it was surprising that one has to go through many complex steps in order to change the city. Again, this open meeting in the local government indicated that people’s voices are gathering to set the world to rights.
Resource of the Featured Image
: City Hall, Providence, R.I.. ca. 1910. Artstor, library.artstor.org/asset/SS7731896_7731896_12983107