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Mayor vetoes proposed zoning change for tower

City Council can override Elorza’s decision with supermajority of 10 votes, next meeting Dec. 6

After several public hearings and a litany of high-profile City Council committee votes, Mayor Jorge Elorza vetoed a height ordinance change for the proposed 46-story Hope Point Tower Friday afternoon.

The decision from Elorza comes a little more than a week after the City Council approved the tower in a nine-to-five vote with one abstention. To override the Mayor’s decision, the Council needs a supermajority of 10 votes.

The tower was slated to be built on former I-195 land downtown, which is currently zoned for 100-foot-tall buildings. The height limit was established under a comprehensive zoning plan for the city three years ago, The Herald previously reported. 

In a letter to the City Council, Elorza wrote that his veto was motivated by the Fane Organization’s unwillingness “to provide assurances that the city’s design recommendations would not be disregarded” when developing the tower.

Elorza explained that he requested “that the city, either through the (Downtown Design Review Committee) or the Planning Department, have final approval over the design of the project, rather than merely advisory input,” he wrote. “If this building is going to reshape our skyline, then the city should be able to approve what it looks like.”

Initially proposed by developer Jason Fane in November 2016, the tower would guarantee “public benefits” like maintaining a nearby pedestrian bridge, Elorza wrote. Additionally, the Fane Organization promised to build the tower within a reasonable time frame to prevent the lot from remaining vacant for too long, he added. Elorza wrote that, though these are important considerations, the design of the building remains his top priority and the primary motivation for his veto.

“Jason Fane is disappointed in the Mayor’s action today,” Fane Spokesperson Dante Bellini wrote in an email to The Herald.

Calling the veto a “punitive action against this specific project and the economic development Hope Point represents,” Bellini said that Fane has already made compromises to suit the city and people of Providence.

Leading up the Mayor’s announcement, local neighborhood groups like the Jewelry District Association and the College Hill Neighborhood Association opposed the building, The Herald previously reported.

The Providence Preservation Society joined local neighborhood associations in protesting the tower. In a statement, PPS’s Executive Director Brent Runyon called the proposed zoning change “short-sighted and destructive” and thanked Elorza “for putting the city’s interests above the interest of one developer.”

After the City Council initially approved the height change, Runyon told The Herald that he was disappointed in the decision.

Rhode Island union workers, on the other hand, have been some of the tower’s strongest proponents.

Tweeting at Elorza following the decision, the Rhode Island Painter’s Union wrote, “Shameful ! @Jorge Elorza this is a foolish decision. Sad to see you turn your back on working people of this city!”

If the City Council votes to override Elorza’s veto, the tower would be the tallest building in Rhode Island. The City Council has not yet released an agenda for its next meeting, which will take place Thursday.


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