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Views clash on the future of the Providence waterfront

To a raft of proponents, the idea is a no-brainer: extending India Point Park to Foxís Point, considering as a whole the land south of the new Interstate 195 between the Seekonk and Providence rivers, designating this area as public space, and making it into a park that will beautify the city and promote economic development. As David Riley, co-chair of Friends of India Point Park, puts it, "We think itís critical that there be more public space on the waterfront, for significant and lasting economic and civic reasons."

Riley cites information indicating how the expansion of waterfront parks in numerous cities, ranging from Hartford, Connecticut, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, has fostered a range of positive impacts. "Itís a false dichotomy to assume that parks donít help the bottom line," he says, and they should be considered just as important to the appeal of a community as such traditional infrastructure as highways and utilities.

Thomas E. Deller, director of the Providence Department of Planning and Development, however, says the situation is more complex. For starters, he says, the city canít afford to earmark five acres of privately owned land near India Point as public space, because, according to a US Supreme Court precedent, the city would be on the hook for compensation payments in the neighborhood of $8 million to $10 million. And when it comes to remaking the contested waterfront land entirely as public space, Deller says, "There are people who do not agree that it is the best use of the land." He notes that the cityís existing comprehensive plan calls for mixed uses ó shorthand, in the eyes of critics, for such uses as high-priced, high-rise residential properties ó with an open space buffer along the waterfront.

This debate about the future of Providenceís waterfront seems likely to grow only more heated. The city recently hired Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Massachusetts, to develop a planning strategy for a broad area encompassing downtown and the waterfront.

Part of the discussion centers on Foxís Point, a piece of waterfront best known for the current presence of several tug boats (which park proponents would like to maintain in a nod to the cityís maritime heritage). In a letter to Deller dated January 14, a coalition encompassing the Friends of India Point Park, Save The Bay, the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, the Fox Point Citizens Association, WaterFire creator Barnaby Evans, and Providence City Councilman David Segal, among others, cited Foxís Point as "the cityís most dramatic waterfront promontory. If it is allowed to be developed privately, it will be lost as a public asset forever. We urge you and Kathryn Madden, as planners charged with taking a long-range view, to recognize this fact in the downtown master plan and the zoning ordinance, and to emphasize the responsibility of the governments in Providence and Rhode Island, as protectors of the common wealth, to preserve this extraordinary shoreline for public use in perpetuity."

Deller says draft recommendations from Sasaki are expected some time in March, and that public meetings will subsequently be held.

Issue Date: January 28 - February 3, 2005
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