Slow Start to Cranston’s Comp Plan Update Process

Last night was the first public workshop to discuss the updated draft of the 1992 Comprehensive Plan. The good news is that Director of Planning, Peter Lapolla, said that he has never been to a Comp Plan update workshop with more than 15 people; I estimated that there were at least 40 people in attendance last night. The buzz among those in attendance was that they had not seen the one article advertising the meeting in May 9’s ProJo but had learned about it through emails sent by SCOS, CCRZD and Friends of the Pawtuxet.

There was no agenda for the workshop, which Mr. Lapolla acknowledged at the beginning of the evening, and he plans on having a format for the subsequent workshops. Hopefully the future workshops will have a new location and format that are conducive to promoting dialogue among the attendees and Planning Department. Prior to beginning the discussion of the Housing Element, Mr. Lapolla gave some background on the State Comprehensive Plan process and the status of Cranston’s 1992 Comprehensive Plan and this update of it.

Cranston’s 1992 Comp Plan was adopted by the Planning Commission and City Council, but was rejected by the State of RI due to a conflict between the City and the State regarding the amount of control Cranston could exert over the development of the Howard Complex/State Prison land. This sparked a lengthy conversation, which I’ll try my best to summarize.

1. By 1988 State Law (RIGL 45-22.2), municipalities are required to prepare and adopt a Comprehensive Plan, which is then approved by the state if the State finds the plan is consistent with the guidelines it set

2. If, like Cranston’s 1992 Plan, the State rejects the Plan, but the municipality adopts it, then it has local force of law. (Translation: Since the City had adopted it, the plan became enforceable law in Cranston even though it was never recognized at the state level). There are no sanctions taken by the State if a municipality does not have their Comp Plan approved at the state level.

3. The State requires that Comp Plans be updated every 5 years, however the last Comp Plan approved by the City of Cranston dates to 1992. There are no sanctions taken by the State if this 5-year forecast is not followed.

4. As those involved with the Cullion land dispute are aware, the zoning in a City is supposed to be changed to become compatible with what the Comprehensive Plan calls for, but this again, has not been enforced. (That also sparked conversation about the role of the zoning board).

The goal of last night’s session was to have public discussion on the first 3 elements of the updated draft of the Comprehensive Plan: Housing, Natural Resources and Open Space/Recreation. The Housing element was discussed, although not in entirety, until the meeting was adjourned around 9:45pm. The workshops will each focus on specific elements of the Comprehensive Plan and the future Land Use Plan will be discussed lastly. THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PLAN, IN REGARDS TO PROTECTING OUR NATURAL RESOURCES AND MAINTAINING THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF CRANSTON RESIDENTS!!!!

Although the meeting was extremely long and the majority of the attendees did not remain through its entirety, residents need to continue to attend these workshops and offer feedback. The current draft also includes some feedback from workshops and surveys from 2004-2005. The final draft of the Comprehensive Plan Update will need approval from the Planning Commission and City Council, which will require public hearings. The Planning Department will be posting the updated elements of the Comprehensive Plan for all to review in the upcoming weeks, as well as feedback that they receive, I will share that link once it is sent out.

I feel that the most important thing is to find out is how much of the plan has already been decided or “set in stone� and how much it can be influenced not only by residents, but also by our elected officials. We need to continue to work together to protect our neighborhoods and the future of the City.

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3 responses

  1. Thanks, Rachel, for a good summary of the meeting. I made it from 7-ish to 8:30-ish — then it was time to help with the housework. I appreciated that many of our local officials were there, including Art Handy, Paula McFarland, Bob Jacquard and Emilio Navarro. Also in attendance were mayoral candidate Allan Fung and some familiar faces from the concrete plant battle including Suzanne Arena.

    One interesting part was when Peter Lapolla talked about how the planning department is going to allow people to comment on the comprehensive plan by email and then would post comments, as long as they were not derogatory or “political.” It seems that our local government is taking a page from the blogosphere’s book on how to enjoin discussion — and much to their credit! I hope this works to bring more civic participation in planning.

  2. Kiersten, I was glad that you were able to make it. I knew that Art Handy was there, but not Bob Jacquard. Later in the evening (after the fire department ceremony that I believe all of the Council members had to attend), Councilmen Santamaria and Lupino joined us.

  3. Suzanne Arena

    Rachel, you did a great job at summarizing.

    For me, the statement Mr. Lapolla made that re: Housing…Zoning trumps Comp Plan bothers me.

    The Zoning should reflect the Comprehensive Plan to meet the conforming land use.

    They spent hundreds or thousands of hours on this 1992 Comp Plan. The taxpayers paid for this in addition to the Cecil Group which had consultant take a 1,000 resident survey in 2005 and cost additional $$

    Now, the total adopted Comp Plan is NOT enforceable. Councilwoman McFarland brought up an excellent point – around Eastern Cranston, there has been a Densification factor. This means lots that were zoned under the housing mandate to be 6,000 sq.ft., were allowed to put a house on a 4,000 foot lot and before you know it…this densification of unlawful allowance of building permits for a conforming lot added to flooding in the area.

    Another point about Housing, Mr. Lappolla explained about the Affordable Workforce Housing and how we should have 1,500 units of that type of housing and yet we have none. Clearly that is not right, but what bothered me was when I asked about the City acquiring land (ex: I gave the Cullion land example, but is not meant to be exclusive) and if it could put Housing because we need it even though it is zoned Open Space according to the Comp Plan. He said yes, the City could rezone and put housing on a portion of the land to gain grant money and comply with the Affordable Housing. I find it interesting that we are so interested in complying with everything, but, we can’t even comply with a 1992 Comp Plan which we have NO RECOURSE for if the City chooses not to follow it. This is really a State issue that the State needs to make it enforceable. There is no incentive for the City to follow the Plan.

    For me, I would have preferred to see a handout and had the first 5 minutes to read it.

    I love the interactive website idea…..definitely the blogsworld is becoming far reaching ~ most interesting.

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