This week’s Providence Business News has an excellent editorial noting the need to protect the Port of Providence’s working waterfront, first and foremost, for jobs:

It is unfortunate that it has taken the severe contraction of Rhode Island’s economy to generate momentum for alternative uses for the state’s industrial waterfront. But it is about time!

Narragansett Bay is an extraordinary, natural economic resource, in the same league as Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay and the San Francisco Bay. The state’s maritime history dating back to Colonial times gives testament to the bay’s importance in the state’s economic development.

But that development has been stymied of late. Providence’s port is a patchwork of vibrant industrial businesses beside empty lots. The city wants to remedy the situation. However, two questions loom large: Where will the money come from, and whose vision will be realized?

Some private developers see the waterfront as prime for mixed-use development, giving more people access to the shoreline for work, play and living. But existing businesses believe such land use is incompatible with their industrial zoning. They also make a strong case that the city needs more jobs, not more waterfront housing.

A special commission of the General Assembly considering those issues has begun the process with a bus tour of the port of Providence, and plans visits to Davisville and Galilee.

We hope they recognize the importance of a disciplined approach to development that recognizes the city’s waterfront’s most vital role is as an economic engine for the region, not as a playground.

The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance recently commissioned the planning specialists at the Horsley Witten Group to develop planning and zoning recommendations to both preserve existing waterfront jobs AND provide a flexible platform for future economic growth.  Read the Horsley Witten Group’s report, which calls for the creation of “Waterfront Mixed Use/Industrial” zoning that prohibits residential and hotel uses, but maintains flexibility by encouraging the establishment of criteria for the inclusion of lower intensity non-residential uses such as commercial office space.

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