Statement of Joel Cohen – Promet Marine, 242 Allens Avenue

On the Waterfront Plan and the Allens Avenue & Port Redevelopment Plan

November 20, 2009

Just when we thought the Providence Planning Department was moving towards a reasonable compromise position with their Waterfront Plan, a bomb has been dropped on us in the form of the Allens Avenue & Port Redevelopment Plan ordinance introduced by Councilman Luis Aponte on November 5th. This vastly overbroad redevelopment plan would designate both Allens Avenue and ProvPort as blighted, substandard, and subject to condemnation or eminent domain taking by the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA).

What bothers me is why did the Planning Department go through so much trouble hosting the waterfront charrette, charrette follow-up meeting, and drafting a Waterfront Plan, if the real intention all along has been to use this new ordinance to seize any Allens Avenue property the City wants for “redevelopment” via eminent domain? This ordinance reveals the City’s true plans for Allens Avenue – the revival of the ill advised Sasaki Providence 2020 Plan that says industry doesn’t matter, we can put you out of business any time we want, any time we think we have a better use for your property than you’re making of it, any time over the next 40 years.

In Tidewater Realty LLC vs. State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations et al., the Rhode Island Supreme Court specifically found that Allens Avenue and our property were neither blighted nor substandard. To quote from the decision:

“The record is devoid of any document reflecting a finding that the property is blighted or substandard. Indeed, there is no dispute that Promet operates a profitable business at that location . . .”

“Based upon the record before us, we are unable to conclude that the Shipyard is a blighted area; moreover, no legislative body has found that the property is in a blighted or substandard area, as the statute requires. Therefore, in our opinion, the PRA exceeded its statutory authority when it took title to the property for the purposes set forth in City Council Resolution No. 280.”

In April 2008, just one month after the City lost its case in Supreme Court, Thomas Deller acting as the Executive Director of the PRA, hired the Maguire Group to study “blight” on Allens Avenue. In August 2008, the PRA expanded the scope of the study to include ProvPort and surrounding properties. Presumably the point of this study and redevelopment plan are to “fix” the PRA’s previous mistakes by simply declaring all of Allens Ave and the port area as blighted. Incredibly, neither the Maguire Group nor the PRA ever bothered to contact Promet or any other Allens Avenue business to inquire about the status of their business, number of employees, wages paid, taxes paid, or property conditions. Instead, the plan simply declares us all as blighted based on a superficial study of the area using outdated and incorrect information.

Northern Allens Avenue area businesses provide more annual real estate taxes to the city, $1.5 million, than does ProvPort, which is in a large measure owned by the City and therefore not taxable real estate. We have at least as many jobs, and while underutilized properties do exist on Allens Avenue – the Shepherd property and Verizon repair facility — they are occupied and pay substantial taxes. The foreclosed residential areas listed in the redevelopment plan ordinance all exist west of I-95, completely outside of the targeted area.

The Allens Avenue & Port Redevelopment Plan ordinance is a declaration of war by the PRA on Allens Avenue. It will destroy both old and future business investment in order to favor the City’s dream of residential development in an industrial zone. Why invest in a business when a 40 year PRA cloud will hang over your property? Haven’t they learned from the eminent domain debacle surrounding the Kelo case in New London, CT? All New London now has to show for eminent domaining a residential neighborhood is a 90 acre empty lot.

ProvPort, alone, should be the focus of this redevelopment plan. Its pollution problems are clearly defined because of long term scrap and other commodity operations, sewage disposal, a Providence city dump filling in the river, and the legacy of the former Walsh Kaiser Shipyard. ProvPort’s problems are isolated and should be treated as such. By lumping Allens Avenue together with ProvPort, the impending opposition and controversy will put the City’s bid for federal funds at risk. Allens Avenue is not blighted property. By tying us to the necessary upgrades at ProvPort, the City will risk jeopardizing port growth, not just on Allens Avenue but at the City owned port area. I cannot think of a more ill advised policy.

Sadly, I believe the real motive behind including all of Allens Avenue in this redevelopment plan is to rescue Dock Conley (Providence Piers), as revealed in the minutes of the July 16, 2009 meeting of the PRA:

“Mr. Deller also reminded the Agency members that at some point around 2004/2005, the PRA had attempted to purchase the property on Allens Avenue, now known as Providence Piers. At that time, Mr. Patrick Conley purchased the property before the Agency was able to act upon it. Now, Mr. Conley has approached the Agency to see if we are interested in acquiring the property at this time. An analysis of the property and its value is ongoing and dependent upon the outcome of the analysis, the property acquisition may be included in the proposed redevelopment plan for Allens Avenue.”

What a waste of tax payer time and money the PRA and the Planning Department have made these last 10 years with all their waterfront studies; ignoring the charrette results, and finally advocating direct PRA seizure of the entire Port of Providence. They have spent millions on irrelevant experts — Sasaki, Maguire, Ninigret Partners – all to reach a predetermined conclusion that Allens Avenue should be redeveloped with condos, hotels, and marinas.

The entire planning process has now been corrupted by the Allens Avenue & Port Redevelopment Plan ordinance. Who can trust anything that comes out of the Providence Planning Department or the PRA?

With that in mind, I object to merging the M-2 and W-3 zoning into a new mixed use zone, which in effect asks industry to give up their rights and protections based upon the weak reassurances of the Planning Department, and completely unenforceable deed restrictions. I object to the Waterfront Plan’s continued insistence on hotels and residences, uses that are simply incompatible in a working heavy industrial neighborhood.

The Allens Avenue & Port Redevelopment Plan ordinance has destroyed all confidence in anything the City of Providence Planning Department now proposes or promises as “protections” for the area’s long established and successful working waterfront and heavy industrial businesses.

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